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For Michelle Pfeiffer, aging gracefully is her role
June 27
Published on 27 Jun. 2009 11:51 PM IST
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Michelle Pfeiffer insists it was all in the "lighting." The 51-year-old actress is discussing an arresting scene in her new film, "Cheri," where she literally seems to age a decade, all under the unflinching eye of the camera. It's one take -- no cuts, no special effects. Clearly lighting helped, as did director Stephen Frears, who insisted that her character, an aging French courtesan, smile luminously throughout the early part of the film, purposely saving the shock of what Pfeiffer calls the "droopage" for that moment. "When your face is in repose, everything drops and you age," she explains, with a chortle. "I'd like to say that we used prosthetics but we didn't." What she glosses over is the utter pathos she brings to the scene, that of a beautiful woman staring into the abyss of age and loneliness. For those who grew up on Pfeiffer's icy beauty in "Scarface," or watched her writhe on top of a grand piano in "The Fabulous Baker Boys," or giggled during " Batman Returns," when, as Catwoman, she snapped her whip with sadomachistic glee, a senescent Pfeiffer is almost an unimaginable concept. In person, she appears as a beautiful, mature woman of indeterminate age. The skin is still creamy, the cheekbones curvy and pronounced, the eyes that eerie green-blue. Over tea at the Four Seasons, she is dressed for anonymity, arriving in a gray top, black slacks, and black Jackie-O glasses that almost completely obscure her famous visage. Yet, when the glasses come off, she is unexpectedly straightforward. "Cheri," which opened Friday, certainly dives headfirst into the feminine dilemma of the aging beauty. Based on a pair of novels by Colette and set in pre- World War I France, "Cheri" tells the story of the professional siren Lea de Lonval, who falls unexpectedly in love with a much younger, slightly vapid, but exceedingly beautiful young man, played by Rupert Friend. It's the tale of a refined cougar written about 90 years before cougardom entered the cultural lexicon, and the new film pairs Pfeiffer again with her "Dangerous Liaisons" director Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton. "It certainly was walking into the eye of the storm, in terms of the whole issue of aging. I turned 50 on the set," Pfeiffer says. She was happy that she was working, so she didn't have time to dwell on crossing the 5-0 rubicon, although she notes, "Honestly, there's certainly a mourning that takes place. I mourn the young girl, but I think that what replaces that is a kind of a liberation, sort of letting go of having to hold on to that. Everyone knows you're 50. So you don't have to worry about not trying to look 50. And then it becomes, 'Hey, she looks good for her age.' She took off five years after 2002's "White Oleander" to devote to her family, her two teenagers and husband David E. Kelley, the creator of such TV shows as "Ally McBeal" and "L.A. Law." Even now she and her agent, Chris Andrews of Creative Artist Agency, have a code name for worthy scripts. They call them "dead of winter" as in good enough projects that they "warrant me leaving my family during the middle of the school years and knowing they can't come with me actually," she explains. "Cheri" was one of those rare projects. Pfeiffer was sitting in the makeup chair on her film "Personal Effects" (a little-seen effort with Ashton Kutcher) when her hairdresser got a call and handed the phone to the actress. It was Frears -- whom Pfeiffer hadn't spoken to you in long time -- telling her about "Cheri." Pfeiffer can be delightfully blunt -- which is partly why several years ago, she gave up her production company. "The process is too heartbreaking for me," she says about making movies on the other side of the camera. "It's years out of your life and mostly a lot of dead ends. And I also don't think my temperament is right because I'm really a straightforward person. She and Kelley also moved to the Bay Area for a life "that was just ever slightly slower." When she's not working, she is perfectly content to hang out with her kids. "I'm not like one of these moms who can't, like, wait for school to start in the fall so they can get rid of their kids," she says. "I hate school. I hate getting up in the morning. I hate the homework. I like summer days with my kids. I have fun with them."

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