S he has scorched the big screen in numerous memorable performances but her latest is the made-for-TV movie, The Wizard of Lies. 59-yearold Michelle Pfeiffer is playing Ruth Madoff to Rober De Niro’s Bernie Madoff in the Barry Levinsondirected venture based on America’s fraudulent Ponzi scheme kingpin, who was arrested in 2008. In this interview, Pfeiffer talks about her character in The Wizard of Lies, bringing up her children, painting as a creative outlet and women in television.
It must have been challenging to play Ruth Madoff?
It was really daunting and I was offered the part and it was Barry Levinson and Robert De Niro. One disappointment after another and it wasn’t until I tried committing to it that I realised it was a real person and it was the first time I had ever done that. And someone who had already been through so much tragedy and I knew that somewhere in the world, she was trying to heal. I knew that this was probably the last thing in the world that she would want. Of course I thought, can I get out of this and I felt horrible and I couldn’t because I had made a commitment.
How do you approach a character like Ruth?
I hoped that at the end of the day I could represent her story as honestly as possible. And I don’t think that… because look it’s not that Ruth Madoff story. In terms of the business side of it, she really did not have anything to do with it. I mean in the beginning she did, I think she did some bookkeeping for him. But they were very bonded, he was her first and only love and it was him and those two boys.
You’re a working mother. How do you balance what you want with what your children need? There are no hard and fast rules, really with anything in our business, which is one of the challenges, you have to make it up as you go along. The rules sort of develop as they age and it changes, I think that when they were little, when they were really little I could just take them anywhere.Then once they started school I felt like I didn’t want to take them out during the school year and so I sort of had these rules that I will only be away for a certain amount of time, only this time of the year and before I knew it, I was impossible to hire because I had all of these demands. I didn’t mean to be demanding but I was trying to keep a foot in each world and you think it would become easier but I think that the older they get, it feels that things just come up in their lives and you just want to be there. So I think that having children and doing TV is really a wonderful option. Television has changed so much just in the last 10 years, especially for women. I feel like the best work for women is happening on television.
Are there more roles for women in television?
It’s also that there are fewer movies being made in general. I don’t have numbers at the top of my head but there are fewer studios, there are fewer films being made in general every year and there is more TV and a lot more shows.
You must get endless offers about roles in television?
I would love to do something in television because actually at this stage in my life, it fits really well because I also like the idea of just being in one place for a while. That sounds really nice to me and again you know you are always just looking to do good work and work with interesting people. There is just a range of possibilities.
What is method in front of the camera?
There’s a perfectionist in me but acting is not perfect and I think I’ve always been like that. My nature has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. You realise after you’ve been doing this for as long as I have, that looking at bad takes is not going to make it any better, it’s not going to change anything so why put myself through it and for some reason the experience has become more and more important to me. Obviously you care about the finished product and you realise that at a certain point, you only have so much control over it.
How was it working with Barry Levinson?
For me Barry Levinson is like a perfect director because we all have our strengths, — for some directors their strength is in visual, may be its camera, effects and things like that and may be they don’t focus so much on performance and then you have the other side of it where you have more performance driven and not so technical and he is both. I have always wanted to work with him and there were a couple of close calls early on in my career and so I had forgotten that he really knows about performance. He doesn’t waste time and it’s one of things that you love about doing television — he is economical and so clear.
How do you keep yourself busy when you are not acting?
I am a painter and that would be my creative outlet when I wasn’t acting. Because I did start to feel like, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’ And also I think as the kids got older and you start looking at colleges, you start looking at high schools and then the reality of them leaving starts to hit you and then you look around and it starts to become real and I think at that point I saw that I needed to start getting my work going again.
The Wizard of Lies will be showcased tonight on Star Movies Select HD at 9 pm