Michelle Pfeiffer: The Bat's Meow

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Who can tell her when the pearlescent eye shadow is defrosting?

"Michelle's very difficult to know," says Cher. "I told her this once, and I believe it: 'If you came up to me one day and said, "Cher, this is my son, he's six – I just didn't think I could trust you until now," I wouldn't be surprised.' She has to know that she can trust you, and you have to really go through a whole lot of stuff."

Pfeiffer concedes Cher's point. "I don't get close with many people," she says. The bigger her bubble grows, the fewer she trusts. She says she met her best friend when her career was "sort of in the toilet." Kate Guinzburg was the production coordinator on Sweet Liberty, which was filmed on Long Island. When it was over, Pfeiffer spent a few weeks at Guinzburg's New York apartment. They have been the best of pals ever since, and three years ago, they teamed up to form a production company. They have come up with properties that include Dear Digby, about the letters editor on a feminist magazine; an adaptation of Jane Smiley's Pulitzer-winning novel, A Thousand Acres (in conjunction with Jessica Lange's production company); an adaptation of Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country; and a project on the relationship between painter Georgia O'Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Oh, and there's a tasty little something with Cher.

Coupla actresses were sitting around bitching on a California afternoon. Michelle called howling: They're doing it again. Jackals. Assholes. Writing stuff that hurts, that's not true, HOW CAN THEY GET AWAY WITH IT? Cher was sympathetic but tough-minded. Get ready for it, babe.

What shit, they both agreed. And then they started to fantasize. A story about an actress, a soulless tabloid editor and a young writer who wants to be a journalist but gets mired in the supermarket muck. There will be a fat, juicy part for both of them. Labeled simply Tabloid, the project is still in development, but they figure the story will stay fresh. "It's real," says Cher about the loss of privacy. "I have to shred my garbage now. Michelle is just starting to feel what it's like to lose it. I was famous when I was eighteen, so I knew it was part of my job description. Michelle is an actress. And she really doesn't want to give up that other part."

"Actressy" is what they call a star who carps when the Today Show invades her working day on a Moscow shoot of The Russia House. "Attitude" is what they murmur when she snaps at the piggyback film crews intent on getting the making of Batman Returns. This whole Behind-the-Scenes market makes her wild, fractures concentration, dilutes the Work. Pfeiffer could not believe, watching Hearts of Darkness, the documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now, that Francis Coppola and his wife approved the release. Eleanor Coppola shot the dark, freaky, on-the-set footage; she secretly taped her husband's midnight confessions.

"Are they still together?" Pfeiffer asks, looking amazed at the affirmative. "See, I'm not very sophisticated. I guess I'm a little old-fashioned. As Cher would say, 'That's not very Valley, is it?'"

Cher says she first used the phrase to describe a mutual lapse in Ventura Boulevard savoir-faire. "We're both Valley girls," says Cher. "And I've been through everything you can go through in this business. I mean, we think we're pretty cool. But every once in a while, I'm real naive, and so is she. And we have to say, 'That's not being very Valley – is it?'"

"Girl code," Pfeiffer explains. "A life necessity." She has to confess that what she calls "the idea of girlfriends" has been recent. "Growing up, my stronger relationships have been with men, my friendships. I think that my relationships with women have become more important the older I become."


Back on the couch, listening to the distant screech and rumble of a toddler's bath time, Pfeiffer says sure, she knows she wants a family and fairly soon, but she's not about to issue a Connie Chung my-eggs-are-pining press release about it. She's taking the rest of the year off, but she hasn't thought beyond installing artwork and a sofa in her office. She will be painting, cruising the Rose Bowl flea market with Guinzburg, traveling and scrapping with the Lizard King. And reading more scripts. Ask her if she keeps those old, scribbled-in scripts she uses to build her characters, and she looks horrified. "If I have a script that has a lot of personal notes in it, I end up throwing it away," she says. It's a corollary to the old always-wear-clean-underwear Rule of Life: "What if I die and they find it? I couldn't bear the thought of anybody reading it." She keeps no record of others' impressions, either – no reviews, no clips, no magazine covers. "I've always had this fear of living in the past, particularly in this profession. I guess you'd say this is my moment of glory."

It makes sense, then, that she'd cultivate the perpetual present. "I always want to be living in my moment of glory," she says quietly. "I know that my career will change, and I won't have the choices I have now in ten, twenty, thirty years. And yet I want my life to be rich and full. . . ."

And so her closets are only populated with today's Suits. Unlike Cher, who's been known to hold garage sales to purge last season's Vegas froufrous, she will not suffer public rummaging. And there's little private memory hoarding. The only scripts she keeps now are clean copies, no traces of Michelle. Should she endure, as Pacino predicts, the biographers and filmographers will bloody well starve picking over these slim remains.

This story is from the September 3rd, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.

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