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Stardust - Michelle Pfeiffer interview

Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MICHELLE Pfeiffer talks about the appeal of Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust, the horrors of getting made up to play an ageing witch and coping with some rugged Scottish locations.

She talks about returning to movies after spending time away to raise a family, getting a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and the advances in special effects since she last played a witch in The Witches of Eastwick

What appealed to you about Stardust?
Michelle Pfeiffer: What I loved about the script was that it wasn’t your typical fantasy and it really wasn’t any one genre, it was a lot of different genres all mixed into one. It was an adventure story, it was romantic, it was magical, it was dark, it was incredibly funny and it was very epic and yet at the same time it had a very contemporary modern tone to it. The humour was very modern. I then sat down and talked to Matthew [Vaughn, director] and he talked to me more specifically about where he wanted to go with the character and the commentary he wanted to make on society’s obsession with youth, beauty and perfectionism and kind of really poke fun at that and see how far we could take it.

I thought that was kind of risky, courageous and unusual for a man to be thinking about, so that intrigued me. And he’s also so young, so why would he even be thinking about that? So, for all of those reasons… and then the cast, of course! It was one of those things where I knew if I didn’t do it I would end up regretting it and I didn’t want someone else playing this part!

How did you take to the Isle of Skye locations – any fond memories of Scotland?
Michelle Pfeiffer: Well, I had never been to Scotland and it was spectacular, the landscape, but I have to say it was very rugged and not the easiest location I’ve ever been on. The weather was fierce at that time of year but apparently we had to shoot then because if you waited another month there were these little bugs that would eat you alive – so, you either got hailed on or eaten alive! But it’s one of the gifts of being in this business – you get to go to places you wouldn’t otherwise visit.

I heard it was also very windy at times…
Michelle Pfeiffer: Yes, they had to anchor me… they literally cabled me to the mountain because they feared I was going to blow off the cliff! And if that wasn’t enough, I also then discovered that what I thought was my make-up artist jabbing me with the powder brush was actually me being hailed on – it was brutal! He [Matthew Vaughn] didn’t care – he just kept the cameras rolling.

Can you tell us a little bit about the make-up process? How did you find it and what did you do to fill in time while it was being applied?
Michelle Pfeiffer: I really hate it when I hear actors whine about things but it was difficult I have to admit. The very first time they applied the prosthetics, which was in California, it took about six hours. It never occurred to me what that would feel like, or the claustrophobia that would set it in, or that my entire face and neck were encased in rubber and the only thing that was left of me was the tip of my nose and my eyeballs. I panicked and immediately thought: “How do I get out of this?” I didn’t honestly think that I could do it. All of these people had worked so hard and for so long on the whole look of this and I didn’t want them to know how upset I was, so I went off into the bathroom and called Matthew on my cell-phone and he basically talked me off a ledge.

But it took an hour to get the make-up off once it was applied. It wasn’t one of those situations where you could say: “OK, I want to get out of this now!” It took an hour to get it off because they pealed it off your skin and they could only go so fast. If they tried to go any faster, you could lose a layer of skin. So, it was a lot of books on tape and fortunately we had a great crew, who had a great sense of humour and we laughed a lot. I think it was the humour in the trailer that kept our sanity.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen you on the screen… where have you been and why Stardust?
Michelle Pfeiffer: I’m completely selfish when I choose the films that I make and the parts that I play. I’m committed and focused on my kids when I’m not working and when I got to work it’s for me. I had done a movie before this [Hairspray] which was a year before this and that was like getting my feet wet again and finding my way and discovering that it really isn’t like getting back on a bike after all that time. I really did feel like, as hard as this movie was – and it was it was very challenging – by the end of it I felt like all the pistons were going and fired up and I remembered what it was I love about the work and how much it really gives me as a person. I knew my children would love it but I didn’t do it for them.

The only thing I consider in terms of my family in my decision making process is whether it’s anything that could embarrass them or cause them grief in any way. Other than that it’s purely selfish on my part. However, I did love this summer having two films coming out that I could share with them because they have hardly seen anything that I’ve done.

How does Stardust compare with The Witches of Eastwick in terms of playing a witch and the advances in special effects since then?
Michelle Pfeiffer: I think it’s just coincidence that I’m playing a witch again. I hadn’t really thought about it. It’s interesting though that it’s three witches again. Witches of Eastwick didn’t really start out being a special effects movie – neither is Stardust really but this one has more of a fantasy element and Witches of Eastwick was a metaphor for the power struggle between men and women and definitely more of an adult-orientated film. I think they’re very different…

But have special effects moved on since then?
Michelle Pfeiffer: Well, the blue-screen is now a green screen, so that’s changed. It has become more sophisticated. When I met Matthew not only did he have the entire film story-boarded but throughout filming he had these “pre-vis” pre-visualisations, a computerised 3-D image of the actual scene that included all of the angles, cuts and the figures moving. It was extraordinary, so that was completely new and high-tech.

How much sword-fighting and physical stuff you do yourself?
Michelle Pfeiffer: I did my own sword fighting, but it was last minute learning how to do that. The physical aspects, other than the wear and tear of the prosthetics, weren’t too bad.

You recently got your own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Did you ever dream of having your own star?
Michelle Pfeiffer: I don’t think I ever… well, maybe when I first started acting, but I don’t think I ever spent a long time thinking about it and come the day I was very surprised by the enormity of the event. I don’t know why I didn’t anticipate it and when you see it on the news it doesn’t really capture it. But it was a big honour to be included in such an old Hollywood tradition. They also gave me a little miniature one, which is very cool.

b>Read our review of Stardust