“I said, ‘Stardom looks right on some people, but it wouldn’t on me.’ And, innately, I still feel that way.”

By Michelle Pfeiffer, as told to Laura Brown
Aug 06, 2019 @ 8:00 am
Michelle Pfeiffer in Brunello Cucinelli dress and belt. Rings and boots, her own. Photo by Helena Christensen/One Management

It's interesting to look back at old photos. I’m always struck by how much Jodie Foster and I look alike. I didn’t realize it at the time, but wow! My first InStyle cover was in 2002, and I remember that the jacket I wore on the cover was way too small for me. I’m pretty sure they cut it up the back because it was a sample. It’s cute, but I look kind of uncomfortable. I guess I disliked being photographed then as much as I dislike being photographed now. That hasn’t really changed. [laughs]

Becoming famous was always challenging for me. At the time I said, “Stardom looks right on some people, but it wouldn’t on me.” And, innately, I still feel that way. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s something that anybody ever settles into, because it’s not normal. You don’t want to know where my brain goes during a photo shoot. I just leave my body. And I feel so silly posing! So I leave it to everyone else to make me look the best that I can. Like all things, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

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My 2006 cover was actually one of my favorites. I like what I was wearing — it doesn’t look dated. And I made a fish face in one of the photos [makes fish face]. I just had more fun with it. I look relaxed, which is very unusual for me in a photograph. In a lot of ways getting older can unburden you. But then you have a whole new set of problems. [laughs] I think we all have to get over the fact that we aren’t going to look young forever. You have to give it up and look the best you can and at some point know that it’s enough to look good for your age and not necessarily younger for your age.

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It’s funny, because I never actually feel my age. Back then I said I liked jeans, T-shirts, little black dresses, and chunky black boots. And guess what? I still like chunky black boots. I don’t feel any different. I used to run 6 miles every day. And am I running 6 miles a day now? No, because I’ve made a choice that it’s too brutal on my body. I was willing to suffer a lot more when I was younger. Certainly there are times now when I think, “Why is this so hard? This didn’t use to be so hard.” And then I go, “Oh, right, I’m 60.” But, you know, I forget.

Not long after my next cover shoot, in 2009, I took some time off. It wasn’t really a conscious decision — it just sort of happened. My priorities shifted, and I became a little more picky and unwilling to disrupt my family unit. Before I knew it five years had gone by. At a certain point my children were actually the ones asking me when I was going back to work because they really missed the junk food at craft services.

So I started doing little things here and there, kind of dipping my toes back in, and then, when my daughter left for college and I only had another two years left with my son, I began to realize that empty-nest syndrome was going to hit me pretty hard. I knew I needed to get things going again. Now I’ve never been busier. But it all feels a little easier because the older you get, the more you learn to prioritize.

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These days I feel most like myself when I’m in jeans and Birkenstocks, with my hair up in some weird, nasty-looking bun. And I’m most at peace when I’m painting in my art studio. It’s terrible to say, but I’m always the most ambitious for what I don’t have. When I’m relaxing and there’s not much going on, I think, “Oh my god, I’m so bored. I need to get to work.” And when I’m really busy, all I do is hanker for some solitude and downtime.

I think it’s because I have an all-or-nothing personality. And I don’t recommend it. [laughs] I have two speeds: I’m either a couch potato playing Words with Friends or I’m so busy that I don’t have time to breathe. I guess I don’t know how to be anything but full-throttle.

How I’d describe myself:
In 2002 — New Mom, Overwhelmed, Figuring Out Balance
Today — More Forgiving of Myself, Less Controlling, Blessed

Photographed by Helena Christensen on May 30 in New York City. Styling: Stephanie Pérez-Gurri. Makeup: Brigitte Reiss-Andersen for Starworks Artists. Hair: Richard Marin for Cloutier Remix. Location: The Whitby Hotel, New York.

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