Michelle Pfeiffer is the actress Time magazine once called "drop-dead gorgeous" and nobody, I'm sure, wrote in to complain.
But Pfeiffer, a down-to-earth character, has always refused to take the compliment seriously.
"It's too easy to look drop-dead gorgeous in a movie--with people fussing all over you, doing your hair and makeup," she said the other day. "The real trick is to look good offscreen--if you can."
She can. With her blond hair and cornflower blue eyes--even devoid of makeup and dressed for the supermarket--she turns enough heads to keep osteopaths in business for a week.
But looks are only a small part of what the business is about today. And what Pfeiffer-watchers have been waiting for ever since her performance in "Scarface" is to see whether she really is poised on the brink of stardom, as so many critics keep suggesting.
She certainly looked poised the other day.
But then she was just off to Massachusetts to begin work opposite Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon and Cher in George Miller's film version of John Updike's novel, "The Witches of Eastwick."
Those who've read this entertaining book will remember that Eastwick, a small New England town, boasts three somewhat unusual women. One, a sculptor, can create thunderstorms. Another, a cellist, can fly. A third, a gossip columnist named Sukie, can turn milk into cream--a nifty trick if you happen to be having strawberries for dinner.
Pfeiffer plays Sukie.
"It's a terrific part," she said. "I'm a divorcee with six children."
Although 28, she looks a little young to have six children. "Well, in the story I'm very fertile. I have one set of triplets, one set of twins and one single child."
Then what happens?
"Jack Nicholson comes into town. And things start happening."
What sort of things?
"Oh, listen, it's a very complex story. . . ."
She and Nicholson have rehearsed for two weeks, and Nicholson gallantly presented her with a specially made watch that has a small red devil on its face. A fitting gift, you'll agree, to someone who is going to play opposite you as a witch.
Clearly this is an important movie for the former Miss Orange County, who first received attention in "Grease 2" and went on to appear in "Scarface," "Ladyhawke" and "Sweet Liberty."
"I read the script last year," she said, digging into a plate of pasta. "I'd been complaining to my friend Wally Nicita, who's casting director at Warners, that there weren't good parts for women, and she said I ought to read 'The Witches of Eastwick.'
"Then when George Miller came on the picture, she must have mentioned me to him because I got the role."
"Usually when I see one of my pictures for the first time, I like it," she said. "That's because I go in convinced it's going to be dreadful and if it's not, I'm relieved. The second time I see it I usually think it's horrible.
"I've also got to learn not to worry after I've turned a movie down. During the past year I've done that several times. But it isn't easy to sit home and then see the film you said no to become a big success. Though my attitude is that if I'm not proud of having been in a movie, the fact that it's done well isn't going to make me feel any better. I'd rather say no and feel sorry afterward than say yes and be sorry."
She's been taking tennis lessons for her role in "The Witches of Eastwick" because she has to play tennis with Nicholson in the movie. She will also spend a lot of time in the garden.
"So I can finally have a tan," she said happily.
"In my last three films I couldn't. 'Sweet Liberty' was period so I had to be pale. In 'Ladyhawke' (in which she played a medieval princess) I never saw the light (of day). And in 'Scarface' I was always deathly white."
Her role in that movie, she says, was hard going.
"For six months I had to bleach my hair, wear false nails, be plastered with makeup and stay out of the sun," she said. "I couldn't even swim in case my hair turned green."
Unlike some beautiful women, Pfeiffer tends to get restless when the subject of looks comes up.
"Perhaps because I think my looks are quite conventional," she said. "I don't think they're interesting at all. The actress I think is marvelous looking is Dianne Wiest. You know her? She was in 'Hannah and Her Sisters.' She's a terrific actress too. I really think she's great looking."
Whether Pfeiffer likes her own looks or not, her career, she agrees, is going well.
"In this business, they can make sirloin out of hamburger and hamburger out of sirloin," she said. "At this stage, I'm not quite sure what kind of meat I am. And I don't mind, just as long as I'm not chopped liver."