Today: April 15, 2024

Michelle Pfeiffer Talks Mother

What sort of process brought you into this project?  How did you get involved?
I did read a script and you… well, I went into this with a lot of faith in him.  And it… I had never really read anything like this before and I’m not sure I would have had the courage to tackle this if it weren’t … if he weren’t in charge of everything, because I think he… you know, obviously, his work speaks for himself.  And what’s wonderful about him as a director is that I don’t think any two… it’s not as if, for me, you can look at a film and say, oh, that’s a Darren Aronofsky stamp, because of all of his films are very different.

What makes a Darren Aronofsky film?
Well, I do think he is always taking risks.  I think he’s always trying to push the boundaries and be very provocative, and … I think [with] this one, he may have outdone himself.  You know, they’re always… there’s… you know, they sort of are their own genre of film in some ways.

When he started taking you through the script and his intention for it, is that when things started to make sense, or did it still take a while?
You know, it was a slow reveal.  He was always a little mysterious about it.  I would say … so, what does that mean and what is the symbolism of that?  And he would always stay a little cagey about it and say, I don’t know.  I just thought it would be kind of weird.  And yet, I know there was nothing random in every single choice of the film and every single frame, every single word.  There were certain things that were very important to him in the wording, in my dialogue. It might have been a little bit awkward for me.  I’d say, can I… do I really have to say that?  … And he and Ari would kind of look at each other and say, yes.  And I knew that there was something, you know, in their minds that was important that they didn’t wanna share with me.  And I have to say, I also had an incredibly visceral reaction to the film after seeing it.  And I had read the script, so I knew what was coming up.  And yet, I was destroyed at the end of it. I mean, I really was so upset.

Can you talk more about the experience of seeing it?  It’s fun to sit through, but half the fun of the movie is in discussing it afterwards.
Well, not everyone will find it fun, because it’s disturbing and intentionally so.  It’s thought-provoking.  And everyone who sees it will come away thinking it’s about something entirely different.  So, it will definitely stir up a lot of emotions … a lot of conversation, I’m sure.  Some very lively conversation.  Not everyone is going to be happy about it.  So, it’ll be interesting to see how all of that unfolds.

Is it fun to be part of a project that you know will inspire such conversation and feeling in people?
You know, I’m a little like, okay.  I know I’m bound to get all kinds of reactions, all kinds of questions.  People are gonna want me to tell them what the movie’s about.  People are gonna ask me, well, what does this mean?  And what does that mean?  And what about that?  And truthfully, I mean, you would have to ask Darren that, and I’m guessing he put those things in, purposefully, too, so that people could interpret them in the way that they want to interpret them.  I’m guessing.  I’ll have to ask him.  I don’t know.

In your portrayal, you look like you’re having so much fun.
I really did have fun and I just … well, I loved the cast.  I loved working with this cast.  Everybody was just so talented.  And … it was really challenging, artistically, because Darren does these wild, really long masters where he’s weaving in and out of rooms and up stairways and down stairways.  And you’re sort of jumping over cables and coming in and leaving … and it’s wild, and yet, it was very thrilling.  It was exciting.  And it’s a fun part for me. It’s, I guess, unlike anything I’ve really ever played or maybe anything I’ve sort of played in a long time.  And I took some risks for Darren that I wouldn’t have normally.  And we had this very interesting rehearsal process too that, normally, I don’t even like behind the scenes footage … I’ve had those behind … those B-camera people thrown off the set many times.  I just feel like it’s such an intrusion.  And he … literally, filmed the film before we shot the film, in the rehearsal. On his iPhone, he filmed the entire movie.  And I mean, I normally would never have been on board with that sort of thing, but it was just a very interesting ride and we all went on it together. Jen looked like she was having fun, too.  What an amazing, instinctual talent she is. I was really, actually, inspired by watching her work, because … she is so effortless in her approach and I’m sort of the opposite end of that spectrum, which I’ve never really loved about myself and my work.  And I think I would have enjoyed the process a lot more, in my life, and been a lot less tortured, if I had been able to … I guess… maybe it has to do with starting younger and starting working purely instinctually and being able to hone that technique for her that she feels so comfortable.

When you enter the picture, your husband has already arrived at this house.  Tell us about the situation your character is entering into when she enters the movie.
Jen and Javier are a married couple and they live in the middle of nowhere.  Ed Harris and I have arrived unannounced and unplanned for.  And we’re kind of the catalysts for the action that starts to happen in the movie.  They’re the first signal to Jen that something is amiss or off. I think that my character is kind of a mirror for Jen’s character.  And I think that … we represent, as a couple, a lot of what may be missing in their relationship.  And I think… you know, we’re this older, middle-aged couple and they’re … young … and I think… I sort of am there to sow doubt into Jen’s psyche.

What was it like working with Jen?
You know … it sounds a little bit patronising to say ‘wise beyond her years’, but the truth is, she is.  She’s very complicated person and in the best possible way.  She’s, first of all, hilarious.  She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and also wickedly smart.  And I really loved getting to know her.  I loved working with her … I was really impressed with her kind of… her innate gift as an actor and the fact that it’s so effortless and I always feel like I have to work really hard and, you know, to sort of understand it and, you know, in order to sort of… I have to really study it and kind of tear it apart and … in order to let it go and come out the other end of it.  And it’s… not only is it not the only way to work … I don’t think it’s always the best way to work. And I think that there are those who… Sean Penn was like this.  There are those who, I feel, whether you’re a singer or, you know, any kind of art form where you’re… you just are gifted.  God gave you a gift.  And then there are those of us who have to really work hard at it.  And I feel like I’m one of those.  And it’s exhausting and I really… I was envious, actually, of her ability to do that.

That’s a great compliment to her.
Really, really.  Truly.

What is Ed Harris like to work with?
He’s pretty chill.  He’s pretty chill.  I mean, he’s… I mean, I have no idea what Ed’s process is, you know, but he seems like… I don’t know.  We just showed up and, you know, I mean, he just was… we had kind of a synergy together, I guess.  And you know, I loved getting to know him and yeah, it was terrific.

Javier has to ooze a lot of charm in this movie.
Yeah, that’s really hard for Javier, to ooze a lot of charm.  He had to work really hard at that.

What is he like as a person?
Just like that, incredibly sweet.  He’s like a big teddy bear.  You know, he plays a lot of these really evil, menacing characters.  He’s so good at it.  Couldn’t be further from the truth.

He’s also menacing in the movie…
Well, you don’t quite know what to think about him for a lot of the film, I think.

What is the significance of the title?  How does the movie interpret giving to a loved one?When I read the script… again, people will take different meanings from this, but I was really struck with the theme of narcissism and the theme of how narcissists, in order to survive and succeed, need to be supported by people who are selfless and how we, as a society, put more value on the sort of narcissistic, manmade creation than we do on God’s gifts and miracle of birth.  Those kinds of things. But the more, I guess…

I wanted to talk about Darren’s decision to create the house practically and how the house is a character in the movie…
Well, I think, for the longest time, I would sort of get lost on the set.  You know, it’s sort of cause they would have different entrances and would change all the time.  And but there was a…see if I can remember this.  I think there was a set on… there was a real set on an indoor set.  And then there was a set that was outdoors, like a real live.  Like, so they wanted to use the natural light.  And I think they wanted to, during the daylight hours, be able to use the natural light as much as possible, so they built the house out in this big field. It was beautiful.  And it wasn’t as, I guess, claustrophobic as one might think.  And then, for the nighttime work, I think… I’m fairly certain that we went onto the stage and we used that set.

What is appealing about something so original and how was it to be involved?
It’s … hard to come across writing that feels original and unusual.  And it was… you know, but it was also, at the same time, felt a little risky, felt a little… felt daring, for sure.  And I think, had it been a lot of other directors, I think it would have been a no, because, you know, you just… so much of it, you know, is in his brain and you trust that brain, going into it.

Could you talk about how fun it was to make the movie?
Making this film was really hard work and yet, it was an incredible amount of fun.  I loved working with this group of actors.  And, you know, it was incredibly challenging.  Darren sets a very high bar for himself, thus everyone else.  And we were doing these wild, crazy, master, long shots that went on forever, going down halls, upstairs, downstairs.  You’re sort of in the shot, out of the shot, jumping over cables, hiding behind the camera.  And it was, you know, incredibly challenging. And then, you have to remember your lines and not fall down.  But I think we all approached it with a really great attitude and we were all very excited and enthusiastic about the challenge of it all.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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