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Michelle Pfeiffer Has a Mature Outlook on Fame, Age, Beauty and Her Long Career

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The duties of a 21st-century female movie star include:

1. Loudly champion a cause.

2. Sell age-defying makeup.

3. Strut on red carpets regularly.

4. Get a prime-time TV series.

Sharon Stone, Angela Bassett and Holly Hunter are hitting 51 this year, and they dabble in these duties to varying degrees. For the most part, Michelle Pfeiffer refrains.

"It used to make my old agent crazy," she says, slipping into a haughty accent: " 'Well, Michelle, Michelle, you know, it really would be good for you to be seen. It just reminds people that you're around.' " She rolls her eyes.

After small roles in "Hairspray" and "Stardust," Pfeiffer watched helplessly as two movies went straight to DVD. In "I Could Never Be Your Woman," she hooks up with Paul Rudd, who is 11 years her junior. In "Personal Effects," the love interest is Ashton Kutcher, who is 20 years younger. Distribution deals for both films went sour.

"It was all really mixed up," she says, putting her hand to her forehead in exasperation.

Now she finally has a movie that's all about her, co-starring a love interest who is 23 years younger, so she's being a good sport with the media. She's skinny as a stick on the cover of July's In Style magazine. She's giving interviews about how she hates the predatory tone of the word "cougar." She stammered through Letterman and "The View" and "The Early Show," where anchor Harry Smith opened his interview with, "You mind my saying you look terrific?"

No, she doesn't mind. Her looks, as always, can't be ignored. And now -- playing a legendary beauty confronting society's changing expectations -- neither can her age. In one memorable shot in "Chéri," the camera holds her face in close-up for a solid 30 seconds. The lighting grows harsher, until her face seems drained, lopsided, alien. Old. Un-Pfeifferlike.

"She seemed quite uniquely qualified" for this role, says "Chéri" director Stephen Frears. "Her career, her life has been so involved with beauty that it must've been a blessing and a burden."

For her, the age thing (like the golden-age thing) is just another contrivance.

"It's on people's minds," she says, resigned. "I think people are struggling with the concept of how much do you let go and age gracefully. How much do you try to, you know, fight it and stave it off?"

Good question. How much of Norma Desmond is actually in Michelle Pfeiffer, and what should she let go, and what must she keep, and is another golden age possible, and how is she really doing at this precarious point in her career?

"You know what?" she says. "I'm fine."

So there it is. She's fine, if a bit tired. She's more than you'll ever know.

As for what comes next, there's a potential project that would start in the fall. She may be recharged by then, she says. She may do it. (The sound you hear is a million pfans holding their breath, crossing their pfingers, jonesing for more heartbreak.)

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