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THE MOVIE: Stardust

Michelle Pfeiffer This has been quite a villainess summer for Michelle Pfeiffer. In July she starred as the ruthless and conniving bitch, Velma Von Tassle, in the critically acclaimed musical Hairspray, and this week she opens in the fantasy Stardust, where she portrays a 5,000 year old witch, Lemia, who is desperately trying to find a star (Claire Danes) that has fallen from the sky, and cut out its heart in order to achieve eternal youth and beauty. I sat down a couple of weeks ago and ask Pfeiffer about her new screen persona.

Q: Did you plan this summer of villainy?:
Magical powersA: I didn’t, no. If I had planned it, it wouldn’t have turned out so well. It wasn’t intentional. It just worked out that way.

Q: What was your reaction the first time you saw yourself in the witch make-up in the mirror?:
Older magicA: The first time we did it, it took six hours and it was really like monster make-up. I remember calling our director, Matthew Vaughn, saying, ‘I look like a monster!’ So we kept toning it down. Believe it or not, it started out much more exaggerated, I had big eyebrows, I looked like a steroid person. We finally got it down to something that was as hideous as we could go but still looked human. I remember being encased in the make-up. It just never occurred to me what that would feel like. I immediately tried to go into a Zen state which I don’t even know how to do. I don’t meditate. I thought, ‘You are really going to have to work on this to get through it.’

Q: Was it easier to act the character when you were in the make-up?:
A: Well, it’s easier to over-act the character when you’re in that much make-up. (she laughs) It really sets the bar for you. You have to rise to the level of what’s happening physically. With Hairspray I had to rise to the level of everything around me. It’s not about being subtle. With Stardust, it’s this kind of comic book character, and you have to be the villain and be truly scary and, at the same time, it’s for kids and you have to allow for humor.

Q: How much do you know about your character in terms of her history?:
A: She’s been around for 5,000 years. We didn’t really pin it down to an exact number, a lot of it we decided to make up; we decided these witches were really coming to the end of their life cycle and, even as old as they can live, there is an end date to them. That it was not only a matter of vanity, it truly was a matter of survival; of life or death.

Q: Do you feel there is some social commentary in the movie about how women are upset about the way they look, and how they will do almost anything to keep looking young?:
A: That was the thing that was the most intriguing for me. In my conversations with Matthew he said he really wanted to poke fun at that and shine a light on it, the degree to which women will go to find eternal youth.

Q: Were you fascinated with witches when you were growing up?:
A: I don’t think I was actually. I wasn’t into fairies and witches. I was sort of a tomboy and out in the mud beating up the boys.

Q: Then what attracts you to these ‘witchy’ characters?:
A: I don’t know. I like all kinds of characters, and I like playing damaged characters. The more flawed the better. We’re all good and we’re all evil. Certainly playing parts like Lamia and Velma Von Tussle are more challenging, just because they’re a little riskier. There are a lot of pitfalls where you can easily underplay it or overplay it, and you’re walking a tightrope the whole time. But that makes it a little more exciting.

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Images above © Paramount Pictures
Feature © 2007 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #686, August 2007 cover

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