Dishing with 'Hairspray' Film Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer

By: Jun. 28, 2007
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Michelle Pfeiffer plays television station manager and not-so-merry widow Velma Von Tussle in the upcoming musical film adaptation of "Hairspray," having previously sung in the movie "The Fabulous Baker Boys" as well as in "Grease 2."  

"Hairspray" director Adam Shankman has said it was Pfeiffer's work both in "Baker Boys" and "Batman Returns" that made him a fan of hers.  This three time Academy Award nominated actress will next appear in Paramount Pictures' "Stardust," an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman fantasy novel directed by Matthew Vaughn, co-starring Claire Danes and Robert DeNiro.

"Hairspray" is originally based on the 1988 John Waters comedy. The new version of the film is based on New Line's hit Broadway adaptation of the film, which debuted in 2002, and went on to win eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Director. 

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman contributed new songs to their existing Tony Award-winning score. Shaiman also serves as the film's music supervisor and will compose the music score for the film as well as produce its songs. Wittman and Shaiman will also serve as executive producers on the film. The new screenplay for Hairspray was written by Leslie Dixon (Freaky Friday, Outrageous Fortune).

Following a screening of the film, Pfeiffer sat down at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to discuss her role in "Hairspray."

You seem to have a whole lot of fun in "Hairspray."  Did the comedy part of it appeal to you?

Well, I sure had fun.  Adam Shankman, there is nobody more perfect than to be doing this kind of movie with.  He was there to help me push the envelope when I was afraid and there to tell me, okay, let's dial it back a little.  I had a blast doing it.

What were you afraid of?

I was afraid of falling into the pitfalls of doing a character like this, which is chewing up the scenery.  Which I think I probably failed avoiding that one.  (Laughing) He'd say, 'is that a piece of the chair leg in between your teeth?'  Yeah, he's funny.  I think finding that balance, because it is not reality, but you also have to stay rooted in some kind of reality.  So I was just sort of constantly walking that tight rope.  And I don't think I am necessarily comfortable in this area.  It's not something that comes as naturally to me as drama.

Would you be open to doing another musical after this?

Yeah, I loved it.  I love being in the recording studio.  I am not sure I would want to do a Broadway musical.  I don't think, first of all, my instrument is strong enough.  And, I am not sure I would want to put the work into getting it strong enough, because it is a lot of work keeping your voice trained and keeping it there.  But, I loved it.  Also, I was working with the best people, so they couldn't have made it any easier.  As many times as I wanted to go back in... when I said I think I can do that one lyric better, it was like, fine any time.

How much fun was your scene trying to seduce Christopher Walken?

It was so much fun.  A lot of laughter.  And also because we were so tired, it was in the middle of the night, probably 4 in the morning.  We were just punchy already, and he was just being so ridiculous.  But all I had to do was respond to him.  It was kind of that, where am I?  Where have I landed?

Did you give any acting advice to the younger cast members?

I would never ever do that, it would be so irritating.  No, and also, these not really kids, but compared to me they are sort of kids, were all so together and so grounded, honestly.  Who knows what went on when I wasn't around, but they were so professional and never late... And they had the greatest joy and spirit about the work.  It was just this infectious enthusiasm that it was so refreshing to be around.  And there were so many of them that it just hits you and energizes you.

Can you talk about your character in your next movie, "Stardust?"

It's fantastic.  It's totally different than (Hairspray) but it is one of those movies that you can't really define in a sentence...  It's not your kind of formulaic this genre or that genre.  It somehow all works together.  It's an action, adventure, magical romance and mythological romance.  My character… is evil.  I am about 5,000 years old and go from my age to 5,000 years old back to my age... It's a prosthetic nightmare, and I am after eternal youth and I will do anything to get it.  I am the villain, the bad guy.

Since you worked with prosthetics on that film before doing "Hairspray," did you give John Travolta any advice?

I was not allowed to talk to John about the prosthetics, because it was hell.  I am not a whiner... the producers didn't want me to scare him.  But, as it turns out, John is very smart and had done his research, which I did not.  He spoke with other actors who wore prosthetics.  So when they were working out the schedule, he made it so it was comfortable for himself.

When you see a script, how soon do you know you are going to do it?

You know, it's different.  Sometimes I'll read something and halfway through it my heart starts going and I am on the phone.  It's rare... sometimes it takes a little bit longer, and mostly that's the case.  I take a little time and read it a couple times.  In the case of "Stardust" I really wasn't quite sure.  I loved the script and thought this is going to be interesting.  I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with the part... It was kind of the same thing with "Hairspray."  I didn't know what to do with Velma, and it scared me on the page.  I thought, she is just so awful all the time.  And that's all she is.  But I met with Adam (Shankman) and hearing his vision and hearing how he wanted to modulate it and where he wanted to go.  Yes, she's evil and bad to the bone and she has to be and that's my job.  But, we want to find the humanity there.  I was very excited to sing again.  I thought that will be fun, because I hadn't done that in a while.

Did you see the Broadway version of Hairspray before shooting?

I had seen it actually a long time ago and liked it very much.  In fact, I haven't seen the John Waters movie, which I am dying to see.  It was one of those things I didn't get around to seeing when it came out.  And then, when I signed onto this then I really didn't want to see it because I didn't want to be influenced by it.  Probably there will be so many great things Debbie Harry did that I could have copied.  (Laughing)

How was it working with Nikki Blonsky?

What can you say?  She's a marvel.  She was born to play this part.  You would never know that she hasn't ever been on a movie set.  It was really like she had grown up on a sound stage.  So comfortable, so gracious. She has such a grace and maturity about her.  And that was the hard part... I had to be really mean a lot and the beginning scene when she comes in to audition and I turn her away, we actually shot towards the end.  So we had done all this mean, mean stuff and then I come to do that scene... and it killed me.

And quickly, how was it working with Brittany Snow as your on-screen daughter?

I fell so in love with Brittany Snow.  I just wanted to put her in my suitcase and take her home.  She is a remarkable young woman.  Again, for somebody of her age, she did kind of grow up.  She started very young, and she's an incredible person.  I adore her.

Photos courtesy David James/©2007 New Line Cinema.