Michelle Pfeiffer sinks her teeth into the role of villain in New Line Cinema's Hairspray directed by Adam Shankman. Pfeiffer stars as the scheming mother of the star of a teen dance show who finds her daughter's place in the spotlight in jeopardy when the new girl on the scene wins over audiences and charms the daughter's hunky boyfriend.
Michelle Pfeiffer Gets Evil in Hairspray: Pfeiffer plays a racist who is unafraid of airing her point of view for all to hear in Hairspray. The actress says getting into that particular mindset was extremely difficult. “It was hard. That was the hardest thing,” said Pfeiffer. “I’ve played some evil characters before. I’ve played some killers, and I signed on to do this and then I sort of inched my pay towards this character which was hard. And then one day, of course I knew it, but it registered, ‘Oh my God I’m playing a racist!’ That was really hard.
I started to second-guess doing it. I talked to the family because certainly I understood that the message of the piece was really important, and certainly the message of the movie is anti-racism and anti-bigotry but kids… Anyway, we talked because I wanted to make sure they understood that, ‘Look, this is what the movie’s about. It’s a really important movie and in order to do a movie about racism, somebody has got to be the racist and it’s me (laughing).’ They were okay. They got it. And I’m so glad I did it because I had a lot of fun playing the part, even though there were some lines I honestly could not remember because they were so hateful. Literally, I’d be doing the scene and I’m come up blank. I’d be looking at Dana [aka Queen Latifah] and it was interesting what my brain did.”
And Speaking of Queen Latifah: “The hardest thing working with Dana is we would just crack up. There was one scene I was particularly hateful to her and I was being so stupid and I was really having a hard time not laughing. I am just so grateful that she is so menschy and has such a great sense of humor and she’s such an awesome person because I couldn’t do those scenes with anyone who wasn’t. She enabled me to really, really go for it and really commit because I knew she was not absorbing it. I knew she was feeling how hard it was for me.”
Reflecting on the Issues Addressed in Hairspray: Racism is just one of the tough issues addressed in the movie, albeit through singing and dancing. Pfeiffer believes we’re still battling some of the same issues tackled in the movie. “I am hoping that the next time somebody decides to do their version of Hairspray, someone will say, ‘You know what? It’s really kind of an outdated idea and not really relevant today.’ Wouldn’t that be nice? The bigger picture of the movie is really about that we need to stop being so threatened by anything that is different and out of our comfort zone. And when we find something that is outside of our comfort zone that is basically unknown – not like be, ‘I don’t understand it, I better squash it.’ It’s that sort of accepting of people’s differences. I think it does such a good job without being heavy-handed. It’s just sort of you being entertained and having such a good time, and this really important message is just being wafted over you without you even realizing it.”
On Fashion Victims and Low Self-Esteem: “Well, young women have such a big challenge ahead of them now and the trend doesn’t seem to be going away nor does it seem to be getting better. I know the fashion industry is sort of trying to make efforts but it sort of feels half-hearted. And the truth is, it’s women doing it to each other. I don’t think men really want women to be doing all of this stuff to themselves and to be undernourished and bony and sort of grotesque [from] plastic surgery. So it’s like why are we doing this to each other and for each other?”
As for current fashion trends Pfeiffer said, “Fashion is so confused today. I don’t even know what to say about it. You can see it’s just like leftovers or something. I’m not loving it right now.”
But Pfeiffer doesn’t want us to return to the styles of the 1960s. “You know, honestly, that era is not my favorite for women. I do think that the clothes are beautiful but when I look at women from that era, all I can think of is how uncomfortable they look. It’s just like everything is so fitted, so pressed, and the makeup is so heavy and the hair is all sprayed and the clip-on earrings…the shoes. It just looks like it hurts – and it did. Your feet were killing you and your ears were on fire.”
Asked about her favorite decade for fashion, Pfeiffer replied, “I didn’t like early ‘60s, late ‘50s. Even though it’s ‘60s, the look is really ‘50s. I think probably the ‘40s. It was just glamorous. Everything was good.”
On Singing, Dancing and Twirling a Baton: It may look like a lot of fun but getting the moves and songs down wasn’t exactly a breeze. “Well, (laughing) it actually was a lot of hard work. I had to adapt to a new way of singing and the kind of discipline about that that I didn’t have,” admitted Pfeiffer. “And train my voice because my voice had just gone to seed. Then I had to lip-sync and learn the dance in those shoes that were killing my feet. And then we go into the thing and now I have to do the baton, so it was a lot to be thinking about on one day.”
This isn’t the first time Pfeiffer’s had to lip-sync in a movie, but the actress admits it was even more difficult than the work she did in The Fabulous Baker Boys. “This is harder and I think I know why. I think because I was playing a lounge singer who sang so when I sang those songs it was my rhythm, my interpretation. I fell into sort of a natural performance and interpretation of those lyrics whereas with this, I was sort of confined to a certain melody, a certain tempo. It was unchangeable. The character was way different. Susie Diamond was probably closer to me than [this]. It was harder because I think probably I sang in a less instinctual way so when I went back to sort of perform it, I had to really think more about the lip-synching.”