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Pfeiffer's family affair
6:00am Saturday 30th November 2013 in Celebrity Interview
She's no stranger to mobster movies, but Michelle Pfeiffer's latest brush with the law is more comic crime capers than hardcore gangs. Keeley Bolger meets a down-to-earth star with a no-nonsense attitude to fame.
When Dianna Agron, the 27-year-old star of new dark comedy The Family, joked that filming in rural France was like stepping back into the Eighties, her veteran co-star Michelle Pfeiffer could only laugh wryly.
"It's so scary that stepping back in time for Dianna is the Eighties," she says, smiling and shaking her head. "I just have to say that."
Glee actress Agron may only have been a whippersnapper in the Eighties, but Pfeiffer, who plays her mother in the film, was fast making a name for herself in Tinseltown.
She already had a few TV series in the bag and, by 1982, a leading role in Grease 2 as well. But it was the Californian-born actress's performance in 1983's Scarface - where she played Elvira, the love interest of Tony Montana, deftly brought to screen by Al Pacino - that propelled her to the big time.
Then there were leading roles in comedy caper Married To The Mob, as a widow trying to escape her husband's mobster past, a scene-stealing performance as Catwoman in Batman Returns and marine-turned-teacher Louanne in Dangerous Minds.
Even with all these hefty strings to her bow, Pfeiffer, 55, quickly bats away any suggestion that a rising star like Agron might be awestruck by her.
"It never occurs to me that I would be intimidating to anybody," says the actress, elegantly dressed in a dark blue blouse, with her wavy hair loose around her shoulders. "Maybe I should consider that."
She may be modest about her ranking in celebrity circles, but in The Family she stars alongside Robert De Niro, or 'Bob' as she calls him, whose presence is enough to turn even the most hardened Hollywood star into jelly.
With her down-to-earth cool, though, Pfeiffer isn't about to start mooning about him any day soon.
"Robert De Niro is a classic example of someone who's iconic, and who effortlessly puts actors at ease the moment he meets them. I think that's just something he innately does with people," says the mother-of-two - Pfeiffer has a son and daughter with her second husband, TV writer and producer David Kelley. The couple met on a blind date in January 1993, and they married 11 months later.
In The Family, Pfeiffer and De Niro play a married couple, Maggie and Fred Blake, who relocate to a picturesque village in Normandy after ex-mob boss Fred rats on his former Mafiosa cohorts.
Once in France, Fred and fearless Maggie, their all-American daughter (Agron) and wise guy son (John D'Leo) make their mark on the sleepy town, inflicting violence on anyone who upsets them.
Humour features heavily and Pfeiffer is quick to point out that there are very few similarities with other mob movies.
"You can't compare The Family and Scarface, it's like apples and oranges, right?" she says. "I never considered Tony Montana [from Scarface] a Mafiosa. I considered him a drug lord.
"In terms of my relationship with Bob in The Family, he's my husband. I don't really relate to him as a mobster, he's just someone who won't listen to what I say and misbehaves."
With tight schedules, there was little time for the pair to misbehave off set, but they were pleased to be working together.
Although they both appeared in Stardust and the slushy romcom New Year's Eve, they'd never previously had a scene together. Pfeiffer was chuffed to share the stage with De Niro.
"There are maybe five actors that have godlike status for me, and Robert De Niro is one of them," says the actress, who also played snobby Velma Von Tussle in the recent remake of Hairspray.
"He's very humble, very quiet and collaborative, and he has a generous spirit. I really enjoyed being on the set with him."
It's little wonder she had such fun on set. In one memorable scene, she blows up a local shop when the owner and his customers respond sniffily to her requests for peanut butter.
In real life, Pfeiffer insists she's more mild-mannered than Maggie - but she takes no prisoners when it comes to rudeness.
"I broke my electric toothbrush the other day in a fit of rage, but I can't imagine myself blowing up supermarkets!" she admits, laughing.
"Rudeness gets to me. I would speak up if I saw somebody being rude, you know, to a waiter. I don't like that sort of thing.
"And people who take cuts in line, that doesn't fly [with me]."
While her co-stars spent long stretches of time in France (Agron even attended a livestock fair with Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the police officer in charge of looking after the Blake family), Pfeiffer's days on set were limited, to allow more time back at home with her children.
"I was coming back and forth [from home], so I didn't have much down time when I was in France.
"You miss everybody, but fortunately the team were able to work out the schedules so that I didn't have to be away from home for too long," she says.
With her happy home life waiting for her, Pfeiffer is soon due back to her native States, but not before sharing her no-nonsense rules on success in Hollywood.
"On set, you're part of a team, you work together, support each other and you've got each other's back," she says.
"If everybody shows up with that attitude, everybody has a great time and I think the work is better as well."
Extra time - Married to the mob
:: Bonnie Parker - Landmark 1967 film Bonnie And Clyde made a star out of newcomer Faye Dunaway as the famous outlaw's sidekick, while her humble beret earned her style icon status.
:: Elvira Hancock - Conflicted Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) holds her own with power-hungry drug kingpin Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Oliver Stone's seminal Eighties film Scarface.
:: Karen Hill - In 1990's Goodfellas, good girl gone bad Karen, played by Lorraine Bracco, finds herself seduced by her gangster husband Henry's (Ray Liotta) new-found status and the glamorous lifestyle that comes with it.
:: Mia Wallace - Smart and sultry, actress Uma Thurman made darn sure that whip-smart Mia Wallace was no third wheel in Quentin Tarantino's Nineties cult classic Pulp Fiction.
:: Ginger McKenna - Sizzling Sharon Stone is the queen of the casino in Martin Scorsese's acclaimed Nineties showstopper Casino, also starring Robert De Niro.
:: The Family is released on Friday, November 22
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