Recognized as one of the most prolific actresses of the 1980s and 1990s for her beauty and consistently playing challenging roles throughout her decades-long career, Michelle Marie Pfeiffer was born on 29 April 1958, in Santa Ana, California to Richard Pfeiffer, an air-conditioning contractor and Donna Jean, a housewife. Pfeiffer spent her early years in Midway City and attended Fountain Valley High School, from where she graduated in 1976.
After that, although she attended one year training course at the Golden West College for the job of a court stenographer, ultimately she decided upon an acting career and won the Miss Orange County beauty pageant in 1978.
Her success in the Orange County beauty contest made her the automatic choice for participating in the Miss California beauty contest the same year, where she finished in sixth place. Inspired by her success in those beauty pageants, she engaged an acting agent and began to audition for television and films.
After appearing in few episodes of several television series, Pfeiffer made her movie debut in the comedy The Hollywood Knights (1980) as Suzie Q, a high school girl opposite Tony Danza and as young Sue Wellington in Falling in Love Again (1980), followed by Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981).
Although none of those films achieved critical or box office success and she was almost an unknown actress during that time, Pfeiffer got her first major film role as the female lead in Grease 2 (1982), the sequel to the super hit musical Grease (1978). Unfortunately, the film was also proved to be a critical and commercial failure. But soon she got her break through role as a cocaine-addicted woman in director Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983), for which she received positive reviews. However, having seen Pfeiffer in Grease 2, Brian De Palma initially refused to audition Pfeiffer, but he had to relent at the insistence of Martin Bregman, the film's producer.
Although the film was adversely criticised for excessive violence, it was a big commercial hit and subsequently became a cult film, while Pfeiffer was described as the Blonde Ambition, in an article published in Vanity Fair.
After the success of Scarface, Michelle Pfeiffer appeared as Diana in Into the Night (1985), as Isabeau d'Anjou in the medieval fantasy film Ladyhawke (1985), played the role of Faith Healy in Sweet Liberty (1986), with Michael Cain and portrayed Brenda Landers in the Hospital segment of Amazon Woman on the Moon (1987).However, she received strong acclaim for her performance as Sukie Ridgemont in The Witches of Eastwick (1987), also starring Jack Nicholson and Susan Sarandon, which made her a star and the film grossed more than $63.7 million domestically. After that, Pfeiffer donned a curly brunette wig for portraying the role of Angela de Marco, the widow of a murdered gangster, in the mafia comedy Married to the Mob (1987) and earned her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Notably, it was the beginning of her six-year streak of consecutive Best Actress nominations at the Golden Globes.
Despite she was described by film director Robert Towne as the most difficult actress to work with, after Pfeiffer appeared as the chic restaurateur Jo Ann Vallenari in his Tequila Sunrise (1988), at the recommendation of Jonathan Demme, the director of Married to the Mob, she was cast in Dangerous Liaisons (1988), directed by Stephen Frears. In the film, she excelled and was widely acclaimed for her performance in the role of the virtuous victim of seduction, Madame Marie de Tourvel, won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and also earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. After that, as she accepted the role of Susie Diamond, a former call girl turned lounge singer, in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), she underwent intensive voice training for the role for four months. Although the film was a modest success, Pfeiffer drew unanimous acclaim from critics for her portrayal of the role. Even, famous critic Robert Ebert compared her performance to the performance of Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946) and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot (1959). Pfeiffer dominated the Best-actress category at every major awards ceremony of the year for the wonderful portrayal of her character in the film, including the BAFTA Award for Best Actress and an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
By 1990, Michelle Pfeiffer became one of the highly paid Hollywood stars, earning a million dollars per film. Her role of Katya Orlova in Russia House (1990) with Sean Connery required her to adopt a Russian accent and for her performance in the role Pfeiffer received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama. Although her casting in the role of a waitress in Frankie and Johnny (1991) was criticised many as Pfeiffer was considered far too beautiful to play an ordinary waitress, she accepted the role and was once again nominated for a Golden Globe Award. For her portrayal of the eccentric Dallas housewife and Dallas-based hairstylist Lurene Hallett in the independent film Love Field (1992), she won the Silver Bear of Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival and also earned nominations for the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award. She also took training in martial arts and kickboxing for appearing in Batman Returns (1992) and was profusely claimed for her performance in the role, which is considered as the greatest portrayal of Catwoman. In Martin Scorsese’s period drama The Age of Innocence (1993) Michelle Pfeiffer appeared as a New York Countess in the 1870s and apart from receiving another Golden Globe nomination, also awarded at the Venice Film Festival.
Apart from the horror film Wolf (1994), in which Pfeiffer appeared as Laura Alden felling for a writer who is gradually turning into a wolf by which he was bitten, her other important films during the last lap of 1990s include Dangerous Minds (1995), in which she appeared as a high school teacher, as Sally Atwater who fell for her first boss in Up Close & Personal (1996), as the divorced single mother architect Melanie Parker in the romantic comedy One Fine Day (1996), as Titania, the Queen of the Fairies in A Summer’s Night Dream (1999) and as Katie Jordan in the comedy-drama The Story of Us (1999).
Michelle Pfeiffer started the new millennium with What Lies Beneath (2000), a thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in which she paired with Harrison Ford as a well-to-do couple, to experience a strange haunting that uncovers secrets about their past It was followed by her portrayal of Rita Harrison, a highly strung lawyer in I Am Sam (2001), as Ingrid Magnussen, a murderous artist in White Oleander (2002), which made her an irresistible, but diabolical seductress and the villainous Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray (2007). Pfeiffer played the role of Lea de Lonval, an ageing and retired courtesanin Chéri (2009), who at the insistence of an older associate, became the lover of her 19-year-old son, which continued for six years, before it ended abruptly. The film, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, earned a nomination for the Golden Bear Award and Pfeiffer's performance was described by the critics as fascinating, magnetic and subtle. Her wordless scenes with the camera alone seeing her despair and regret that she hides from the world and the way she controlled her face and voice during times of painful hurt, was highly acclaimed.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s important films during the 2010s, include a romantic comedy New Year's Eve (2011), also starring Halle Berry, Jessica Biel and Robert De Niro; Dark Shadows (2012), co-starring Johnny Depp and Eva Green; a psychological horror film Mother! (2017), with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem; and Murder on the Orient Express (2017), the fourth adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famous novel of the same name.
In her personal life, Michelle Pfeiffer married actor/director Peter Horton on 5 October 1981 in Santa Monica and the real-life couple played an on-screen couple in the 'Hospital' segment of Amazon Women on the Moon in1987. While married with Horton, Pfeiffer was involved in an affair to John Malkovich, her co-star in Dangerous Liaisons, who was also married at the time. Horton and Pfeiffer were separated in 1988 and were officially divorced two years later. After that, Pfeiffer had a three year relationship with actor Fisher Stevens, but as the relationship did not work out, she adopted a baby girl, Claudia Rose in March of 1993, before waiting longer for raising her own family. However, in the same year, on 13 November 1993, she married lawyer-turned- television writer and producer David E. Kelley and gave birth to a son in 1994.
Labelled a sex symbol and regarded among the world's most beautiful women by several publications, Michelle Pfeiffer was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.