Creating an account with gives you access to more features and services, like our weekly newsletter and other special features just for the film community.


Cheri: Michelle Pfeiffer

As Cheri hits theaters, the luminous Michelle Pfeiffer talks about French novels, motherhood, turning 50, and yes, plastic surgery.

Michelle Pfeiffer is beautiful in any era, but give her a slim-silhouetted petticoat and pre-Raphaelite curls, and she's even more elegant than usual. Throw in a sexy young paramour (in this case, Rupert Friend), a reunion with the director (Stephen Frears) and writer (Christopher Hampton) of Dangerous Liaisons, and you've got a movie! Chéri, to be exact, based on two seminal books by the fascinating French author Colette (Gigi). The film, which opens this Friday (June 26) marks a triumphant return for Pfeiffer-as-leading-lady.

Read more about Chéri here, but in the meantime, here's the roundtable interview with Pfeiffer, presented in its entirety.

What drew you to this film, apart from working with Stephen Frears again?

Well that was a big draw. I was thrilled—thrilled—when I got the call from Stephen. Honestly, I would do the phone book with him. And I was of course thrilled and delighted when I read it, and it was so good, and of course, Christopher [Hampton] wrote it, so that was no surprise. You know, it’s just a great part and they don’t come around that often, and it was very unexpected. I think when you say the word courtesan, or prostitute, you don’t think of things like integrity, and somebody who’s highly moral, and all of those things. [So] it was sort of a contradiction, something that was unexpected.

Were you familiar with Colette?

No, no. But of course, when I found out it was from a piece of French literature [rolls her eyes]—oh my God, I was sort of dreading to have to plod my way through the novel. And then, you know, this little tiny book shows up. Her writing is so precise and economical. At first blush, the first time through, it almost seems frothy, [but] the more you look at it, the more you realize it’s actually quite profound. It’s like a lot of great work, I think. If you apply that to actors… [take] Jeff Bridges: he always makes it look so easy that he’s constantly overlooked. It’s because he’s so perfect, so real and effortless. And that’s Colette’s writing—effortless. Anyway, I read the book a number of times, and each time I read it, I just got more and more out of it. It was incredibly moving.

What moved you most about it?

There were particular passages, and I can’t quote them to you, because I don’t have that kind of brain. It’s the tragedy of nobody really saying what they’re feeling or following their heart and their passions, and allowing the social taboos of the time to ruin their lives, really, when it would have been so easy not to. I think we can all relate to that—I think that we’ve all made choices in life because it was the appropriate thing to do, and it was the socially acceptable thing to do. I think we all can relate to what it would be like to live your life completely honestly, if there weren’t some sort of really high consequence to pay, to live your life honestly and truthfully. To just say everything you wanted to say and do everything you really wanted to do. It’s always weighing that, those two things.

Because there is a price to pay, and Léa [her character] does pay a price. I think all of these characters pay a price. Because on the one hand, Léa does go against social convention and break a lot of rules, and as a result of that, she gains independence and she’s wealthy and she doesn’t have to worry about money, and she doesn’t have to be under the control of a man. But she sacrifices having children, she sacrifices having close relationships, which is what she faces at the end of the story. Looking around, she has a lot of things, but she doesn’t have what really matters.

But both of the other two courtesans in the film have children—her two friend/rivals.

Well, and look at Chéri [Rupert Friend's character]. He’s a mess. I think Léa was the daughter of a courtesan, and I think she grew up in that world, much like Chéri did—exactly like Chéri did—and I think she made a decision early on not to have children, which again is part of the moral integrity that she has, and her wisdom. She’s incredibly wise, and so yeah, I think she knew that if she had offspring, they would pay a big price for being her children.

How did you feel playing an older woman who is wrestling with the issue of the fact that she’s aging, and has a boy lover? A delicious boy lover, I might add.

Adorable. How cute is he [Rupert Friend]? And so smart, and funny, and incredibly articulate.

He said you bonded from the moment you met.

Yes. You never know. You show up and haven’t met each other, and you have all these intimate scenes. And you think, I just want to like them! Rupert was a dream. He was just an absolute dream.

I think it was interesting to me that I was shooting this film on my 50th birthday. And I thought, Well, isn’t that ironic? I am really heading into the eye of the storm here, heading right into it, and that’s good. So it was interesting, because [my birthday] came and went, and that was it. It wasn’t really anything. My situation is different than Léa’s. I thought, if I didn’t have my family, if I didn’t love my life the way that I do, if I didn’t have my health, if I didn’t have all these things to be grateful for, this would be tough. This would be a tough birthday to have.

What was it like turning 50? Because that’s a big milestone.

It was nothing! It was nothing. It’s only the anticipation of this thing that comes and goes, and then it’s nothing.

But apart from your personal life, in the world of Hollywood film, this is a milestone. It corresponds to a character who has to confront the fading of her wonderful looks. And Hollywood, of course, is always looking for ever younger stars.

Yeah, but you know, they are going to be my age one day, too. We all get there, hopefully! It’s better than the alternative, is what I think.

You started giving a lot of priority to family ten years ago...

Sixteen years ago, exactly. [Pfeiffer’s daughter, Claudia Rose, is 16.]

Because of that, you’ve been pretty selective in your choices for more than a decade.

I probably would like to do more than I do—because I love working—but I can’t work more than I work, because I have to have some facetime with the family. The work that I do is just all-encompassing. It’s not like an 8 to 5 job; much of the time, you leave before the kids are up and you get home and they’re in bed, and so I just feel like I can’t be away all the time.

And if you are on a distant location…

Yeah, it’s hard. But now there’s Skype—it’s great, I love that!

What kind of mom are you? A lot of fans don’t see you as a mom, yet, you’re being very selective with your roles.  I think you’d be the coolest mom ever!

Oh thanks, tell my kids that! They would probably say that I’m too strict. They probably would say that, and I try not to be, but I’m probably more on the conservative end [of the scale]. At the same time, I know full well that ultimately I don’t really have control over them. I am sort of a guide, I try to look at myself as a guide, to help them navigate their way through. And that’s it. I love spending time with them. I love summer vacation. I hate school as much as they do—hate carpool, getting up early. I am not that eager to send them off to camp for the summer. I like having them around.

Do they want to follow in Mom and Dad’s footsteps? Do they have [show business] aspirations?

No. But they’re young—I mean, they are 14 and 16—they are still figuring out what they want to do.

Now that they are getting older, do you think you will be trying to work more?

I don’t know what will happen once they leave, other than I will have serious empty nest syndrome, I am sure. But I probably will work more, because I do love working. And I’ll continue to work now when I can. If I am able to get things scheduled in the summer, it makes it easier—then they can travel with me. For instance, Hairspray was during the school year, but because it was a smaller part, I was able to come and go and not be away for long periods of time.

What is it you love most about working? About approaching a character?

I think I like the sort of psychological nature of it. I like understanding what’s underneath, what’s really motivating people. When I was younger, I wanted to be a psychiatrist, so I think it has to do with that. I love the research, and there’s a certain amount of escapism that’s sort of seductive—[you can] really get outside of yourself. It’s a hard thing to define. My guess is it’s actually something motivating me that I’m not aware of.

Can you talk about the vulnerability? Your performance as Léa is brave. She’s such a strong woman, but then there’s that vulnerability that we see—can you talk about how you were able to find that side of her? Balance what she shows to the outside world with what was inside?

That’s always the challenge, doing that kind of period movie, where people didn’t really…. Even today, people rarely are saying what they’re really thinking. And Colette talks about how kind Léa is, that she’s not hard, and so she kind of lays it all out. I really just tried to stay true to Colette’s writing. The beauty of it too was that whenever I would go to Stephen and he wasn’t clear [about Léa], and I’d go to Christopher and he wasn’t clear, I’d go back to Colette, and she’d always clear it up for me.

You look amazing! What are you doing to look so attractive, so vibrant? You look so fresh.

Really great makeup artists, who are right outside the door! [Laughs.] You know, when I am working, I take really, really good care of myself. I eat really well, and I exercise, and again, I have this team of people pulling me together every day. It really changes the way you look. And I’m happy. When I’m not working, you know, I’m going to eat a big bag of potato chips, and I’m going to be puffy, and I’m not going to look so good. It’s not always such an accurate representation of me when I show up to do [press], or when I’m working. It depends on the part, and when you catch me.

I am a runner. It’s the thing, though, I can’t push myself like I used to. That’s the thing I hate the most [about getting older]. If there’s one thing I hate, the only difference I feel, is that with my body, I can’t abuse it like I used to.

What do you mean abuse?

In terms of exercise. If you get an injury when you are younger, you can kind of push through it, and [now] you can’t. You have to pay attention.

Did it bother you that in the film, Chéri is often shown undressed, and your body is never shown in that way? Were the filmmakers shying away from showing the body of a woman of a certain age?

Oh God, no! Stephen Frears would never shy away from that. That’s the story, it’s turning it on its head. Chéri is the object of desire.

What are your thoughts on plastic surgery?

My thoughts on plastic surgery are, I don’t care. I honestly don’t care if people want to do go something. Just don’t turn yourself into a freak. I want to be able to recognize you when I run into you on the street, that’s all, or not be distracted by something odd. I just think there is so much emphasis on it now, and really, in the scheme of things, is it really that important? Does it really deserve all that airtime?

So no plans for you then?

The older you get, the harder it is to say “never.” But my feelings are, it doesn’t matter.

Do you see age in some ways as an opportunity? If you were younger, you would never have been given this part. And this is a marvelous part. Sure, they don’t come around as frequently—and they should—but at some point, does age become an asset?

The parts may get fewer, but in some ways they are better. You look at people like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren and Judi Dench—they’re still going strong.

Jessica Tandy won an Oscar at 80.

See? There you go. There’s still hope for me.

Maybe this coming year.

Well, we’ll see about that.

opens Friday, June 26. Find tickets here.


What you need to know today