Michelle Marie Pfeiffer (born April 29, 1958) is an American actress. Known for pursuing eclectic roles from a wide variety of film genres, she has frequently received acclaim for her versatile performances, and is recognized as one of the most prolific actresses of the 1980s and 1990s. Pfeiffer has received numerous accolades throughout her career, including a Golden Globe Award and a British Academy Film Award, in addition to nominations for three Academy Awards and one Primetime Emmy Award.
Pfeiffer began her career in 1978 with minor television appearances before attaining her first leading role in Grease 2 (1982). Disillusioned with being typecast in nondescript roles as attractive women, she actively sought more serious material until earning her breakout role as gangster moll Elvira Hancock in Scarface (1983). She achieved further success with roles in The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Married to the Mob (1988), for which she was nominated for her first of six consecutive Golden Globe Awards. Her performances in Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) earned her two consecutive Academy Award nominations, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress respectively, winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for the latter. Continuing to establish herself as a leading lady with high-profile roles in The Russia House (1990) and Frankie and Johnny (1991), Pfeiffer became one of the decade's highest-paid actresses.
In 1992, Pfeiffer starred in Batman Returns as Selina Kyle / Catwoman, one of the most admired portrayals of the comic book character. She continued to draw praise for performances in The Age of Innocence (1993), Wolf (1994), What Lies Beneath (2000) and White Oleander (2002), while producing and starring in several successful films under her production company Via Rosa Productions, including Dangerous Minds (1995) and One Fine Day (1996).
In 2007, Pfeiffer returned from a five-year hiatus with acclaimed performances in the blockbusters Hairspray and Stardust. Following another hiatus, in 2017 she earned rave reviews for her performance in Where Is Kyra? before returning to prominence with supporting roles in on the Orient Express, and in 2020 she earned her eighth Golden Globe Award nomination for French Exit.
Awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Pfeiffer has remained one of Hollywood's most bankable actresses for four decades. Labeled a sex symbol, she has been cited among the world's most beautiful women by several publications, with her physical appearance being scrutinized by the media since the beginning of her career. Notoriously private about her personal life, she has been married twice: to actor Peter Horton from 1981 to 1988, and television producer David E. Kelley since 1993.
Michelle Marie Pfeiffer was born on April 29, 1958, in Santa Ana, California, the second of four children of Richard Pfeiffer (1933–1998), an air-conditioning contractor, and Donna Jean (1932–2018), a housewife. She has an older brother and two younger sisters, one of them also actress. Her paternal grandfather was of German ancestry and her paternal grandmother was of English, Welsh, French, Irish, and Dutch descent, while her maternal grandfather was of Swiss-German descent and her maternal grandmother of Swedish ancestry. The family moved to Midway City, another Orange County community around seven miles (11km) away, where Pfeiffer spent her early years.
Pfeiffer attended Fountain Valley High School, graduating in 1976, and attended Golden West College where she was a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority. She won the Miss Orange County beauty pageant in 1978, and participated in the Miss California contest the same year, finishing in sixth place. Following her participation in these pageants, she acquired an acting agent and began to audition for television and films.
Michelle Pfeiffer made her acting debut in 1978, in a one-episode appearance of Fantasy Island. Her TV movie debut was in "The Solitary Man" (1979) for CBS. Pfeiffer transitioned to film with the comedy The Hollywood Knights (1980), with Tony Danza, appearing as high school sweethearts. She appeared in a television commercial for Lux soap, and took acting lessons at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, before appearing in three 1981 television movies – Callie and Son, The Children Nobody Wanted and Splendor in the Grass.
Pfeiffer obtained her first major film role as the female lead in Grease 2 (1982), the sequel to the smash-hit musical film Grease (1978). With only a few television roles and small film appearances, the 23-year-old Pfeiffer was an unknown actress when she attended the casting call audition for the role, but according to director Patricia Birch, she won the part because she "has a quirky quality you don't expect". The film was a critical and commercial failure, but The New York Times praised her performance.
Director Brian De Palma, having seen Grease 2, refused to audition Pfeiffer for Scarface (1983), but relented at the insistence of Martin Bregman, the film's producer. She was cast as cocaine-addicted trophy wife Elvira Hancock. The film was considered excessively violent by most critics, but became a commercial hit and gained a large cult following in subsequent years.
She scored a major box-office hit as Sukie Ridgemont in the 1987 adaptation of John Updike's novel The Witches of Eastwick, with Jack Nicholson, Cher, and Susan Sarandon. The film grossed over $63.7 million domestically, equivalent to $145 million in 2020 dollars, becoming one of her earliest critical and commercial successes.
For her role in the mafia comedy Married to the Mob (1988) Pfeiffer received her first Golden Globe Award nomination as Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, beginning a six-year streak of consecutive Best Actress nominations at the Golden Globes.
At Demme's personal recommendation, Pfeiffer joined the cast of Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liaisons (1988), with Glenn Close and John Malkovich, playing the virtuous victim of seduction, Madame Marie de Tourvel. Her performance won her widespread acclaim. She won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
During the 1989–1990 awards season, Pfeiffer dominated the Best-actress category at every major awards ceremony, winning awards at the Golden Globes, the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress and the Chicago Film Critics Association.
By 1990, Pfeiffer began earning $1 million per film.
In 1990, Pfeiffer formed her own boutique film production company, Via Rosa Productions, which ran for ten years. The company allowed her to produce and/or star in films tailored for strong women. She asked her best friend Kate Guinzburg to be her producing partner at the company. Via Rosa Productions was under a picture deal with Touchstone Pictures, a film label of The Walt Disney Studios. The first film the duo produced was the independent drama Love Field, which was released in late 1992. Reviewers embraced the film and she earned nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe for Best Actress – Drama and won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.
Pfeiffer took on the role of Selina Kyle / Catwoman in Tim Burton's superhero film Batman Returns (1992), Batman Returns was a big box office success, grossing over US$267 million worldwide. Pfeiffer received universal critical acclaim for the role, and her performance is consistently referred to as the greatest portrayal of Catwoman of all time by critics and fans alike, and is also one of the best regarded performances of her career.
In Martin Scorsese's period drama The Age of Innocence (1993), a film adaptation of Edith Wharton's 1920 novel of the same name: The Age of Innocence, Pfeiffer starred with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, portraying a Countess in upper-class New York City in the 1870s. For her role, she received the Elvira Notari Prize at the Venice Film Festival, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture. Also in 1993, she was awarded the Women in Film Los Angeles' Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.
Following the formation of her producing company in 1990, Pfeiffer saw a growing professional expansion as a producer. While she continued to act steadily throughout the decade, she and her producing partner Guinzburg experienced a winning streak of producing back to back films next under their Via Rosa Productions header.
In 2003, Pfeiffer took a four-year hiatus from acting, during which she remained largely out of the public eye to devote time to her husband and children.
Pfeiffer returned to cinemas in 2007 with villainous roles in two summer blockbusters, Hairspray and Stardust. In the former, a film adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, she starred as Velma Von Tussle, the racist manager of a television station.
Released to widely positive reviews, Hairspray grossed $202.5 million worldwide. Pfeiffer's performance was also critically acclaimed.
In the film Chéri (2009), an adaptation of Colette's novel of same name, Pfeiffer reunited her with the director (Stephen Frears) and screenwriter (Christopher Hampton) of Dangerous Liaisons (1988). Pfeiffer played the role of aging retired courtesan Léa de Lonval, with Rupert Friend in the title role. Chéri premiered at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival, where it received a nomination for the Golden Bear award.
In 2012, Pfieffer reunited with Tim Burton, her Batman Returns director, in Dark Shadows (2012), based on the gothic television soap opera of the same name. While Dark Shadows grossed a modest US$79.7 million in North America, it ultimately made US$245.5 million globally.
Pfeiffer has stated that her lack of acting throughout the 2000s was due to her children, and now with both her children away at college, she intends to "work a lot". She has commented that she feels that her best performance is "still in her", and that she thinks that's what keeps her going. The slew of films that would follow in 2017 would prompt the media to dub her career resurgence a "Pfeiffer-sance".
Pfeiffer landed the role of Ruth Madoff for the HBO Films drama The Wizard of Lies, based on the book of the same name. The film, directed by Barry Levinson, reunites her with actor Robert De Niro, who played her husband, disgraced financier Bernard Madoff. The Wizard of Lies premiered on HBO on May 20, 2017, garnering favorable reviews from critics and an audience of 1.5 million viewers, HBO's largest premiere viewership for a film in four years. Pfeiffer earned her first Emmy nomination for her performance in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.
Pfeiffer had a supporting role in Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express (2017), the fourth adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1934 novel of the same name. The mystery–drama ensemble film follows world-renowned detective Hercule Poirot, who seeks to solve a murder on the famous European train in the 1930s. The film grossed US$351.7 million worldwide and received decent reviews from critics, with praise for the performances, but criticism for not adding anything new to previous adaptations. Although most critics agreed that the ensemble cast was underused, Pfeiffer's performance earned positive reviews.
On January 21, 2021, it was announced that Pfeiffer had been cast as Betty Ford in the upcoming Showtime television series, The First Lady. The series will premiere in 2022.
As one of the most famous sex symbols of the 1980s and 1990s, her beauty and fashion choices attracted significant media attention throughout both decades.
In 1990, Pfeiffer appeared on the inaugural cover of People magazine's annual 50 Most Beautiful People in the World issue. She was again pictured on the cover in 1999 – the first celebrity to appear on the cover of the issue twice, and the only celebrity to grace the cover twice during the 1990s – having been featured in the "Most Beautiful" issue a record-breaking six times during the decade (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1999).
In 2020, Vogue Paris listed Pfeiffer among the 21 most beautiful American actresses of all time/ Ranking her among history's most beautiful actresses
While taking acting classes in Los Angeles, Pfeiffer was taken in by a seemingly friendly couple who ran a metaphysics and vegetarian cult. They helped her to cease drinking, smoking, and doing drugs, and over time the couple took control of her entire life. Much of her money went to the group. "I was brainwashed ... I gave them an enormous amount of money."
At an acting class taught by Milton Katselas in Los Angeles, she met fellow budding actor Peter Horton, and they began dating. Pfeiffer and Horton married in Santa Monica in 1981, and it was on their honeymoon that she discovered she had won the lead role in Grease 2.
In 1988, Pfeiffer had an affair with John Malkovich, her co-star in Dangerous Liaisons, who at the time was married to Glenne Headly.
Pfeiffer and Horton decided to separate in 1988, and were divorced two years later; Horton later blamed the split on their devotion to their work rather than on their marriage. After her marriage to Horton, Pfeiffer had a three-year relationship with actor/producer Fisher Stevens. They met when Pfeiffer was starring in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Twelfth Night, in which Stevens played the role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
In 1993, Pfeiffer married television writer and producer David E. Kelley. She played the title character in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, for which Kelley wrote the screenplay. Pfeiffer had entered into private adoption proceedings before she met Kelley. In March 1993, she adopted a newborn daughter, Claudia Rose, who was christened on Pfeiffer and Kelley's wedding day. In 1994, Pfeiffer gave birth to a son, John Henry Kelley II, named for his grandfather – Pfeiffer's father-in-law John Henry "Jack" Kelley.
Having been a smoker for ten years, and having a niece who suffered from leukemia for ten years, Pfeiffer decided to support the American Cancer Society. Her charity work includes as well her support for the Humane Society. In 2016, she also attended the Healthy Child Healthy World's L.A. Gala for people who lead the organizations for children's environmental health and protect those most vulnerable. In December that same year, Pfeiffer, who is a vegan, joined the board of directors for Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group based in Washington. D.C.