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Michelle Pfeiffer’s ideal watch is subtle, never showy
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Michelle Pfeiffer’s ideal watch is subtle, never showy

Friday, 26 February 2021
By Frank Rousseau
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Frank Rousseau

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6 min read

Interviewing Michelle Pfeiffer is never a hardship. One of the most talented actresses of her generation, she’s also one of the most upfront.

California native Michelle Pfeiffer is back in French Exit, a dark comedy in which she plays Frances Price, a widow who had planned to die before her late husband’s fortune ran out. No longer able to afford the lifestyle to which she is accustomed, she leaves Manhattan and heads for Paris…

In French Exit, you portray a Manhattan socialite on the brink of financial ruin. She’s rude, impossible to like, yet I get the distinct impression you enjoyed playing her?

Absolutely! At the beginning of my career, I tended to overthink every character I played. Now I’m more relaxed, more able to be spontaneous, natural. I even manage to have fun, can you believe it! It took years for me to overcome my anxieties as an actress. I hate to admit it, but for a long time it was in my deepest nature to be negative and pessimistic. The kind of person who always sees the glass as half empty. I was my own worst enemy, the good thing being that once you realise that, you can start to make changes. I adore Frances, my character in French Exit. She’s caustic and rude but with an underlying fragility. She reminds me of a piece of old furniture. One that seems solid enough but look closely and you see the cracks beneath the varnish. It was my job to bring out a different side to Frances, to show that she isn’t entirely inhuman.

Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer
What do you and Frances Price have in common?

Let me see… I love French food, beautiful places, gorgeous clothes, but apart from that, I really don’t know! [laughs]

Money comes up a lot in French Exit. How do you spend yours?

On a bag, maybe a coat, it’s hard to say. It depends on the season and the collections. I do have a weakness for tall leather boots. Hardly an extravagance! As for the best shopping cities, nowhere can beat Paris and New York.

And watches?

Wearing a beautiful watch is always a pleasure, and I’m sure every woman would agree. I expect a watch to show taste and discretion. When I was first starting out in film, in the 1980s, a good watch was no longer necessarily a luxury. Coming from a family that didn’t have a lot of money, I could identify with this idea of something for all tastes and all price ranges. My father used to bring home broken refrigerators that he would fix. He’d pay me a few cents for every one I cleaned. Sometimes I’d open one and there would still be food inside. You had to have a strong stomach! When there were no fridges to clean I’d earn pocket money from babysitting.

Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer
I presume that most of the watches you bought back then were imported from Asia.

The only thing we cared about was that they were inexpensive to buy and looked good with different outfits. We knew they probably wouldn’t last long and would soon be out of style anyway, but that didn’t matter. We just wanted to blend in with the fashionable crowd. I remember all those Japanese watches! We’d never seen anything like them before. They were fun. Some were more like miniature computers. Then the storied brands started to change their ways…

Meaning?

The true genius of luxury brands is to have reinvented themselves. The skill and the expertise were intact but the inspiration wasn’t there. The brands had lost their identity. Products seemed dated or simply lacked imagination. But these great names were smart enough to rethink their designs, focus more on innovation and diversify their collections.

What’s the first thing you look for in a watch?

It doesn’t have to be gold or platinum. If a watch is well designed, then I have nothing against good quality steel. It has to be subtle, too. There is nothing more vulgar, in my opinion, than a woman or a man doing all they can to show the world they’ve climbed the social ladder and have the money to prove it. Watches, rings or earrings can all be status symbols, but let’s not be fooled by appearances. Who’s to say that gorgeous watch wasn’t bought on credit?

Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer
Have you ever been stony broke?

I’ve never been in a position where I didn’t have a dollar to my name, but there have been times when I’ve had to keep a check on my finances. Especially in the early days when I moved to Los Angeles to try my luck in Hollywood. Then I had to count every penny. A lot of young actors, when they get their first pay cheque, make the mistake of blowing the lot. Experience has taught me that bricks and mortar are still the best investment!

Not watches?

Watches too, probably, but you need to know what you’re doing. Which is far from the case where I’m concerned. I’ve come across articles about watches that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are even people who buy a watch or a piece of jewellery, only to leave it in its case or lock it away in a strongbox. Obviously they’re counting on the fact that it’s a rare piece that will gain in value over the long term and while I understand the reasoning behind this, for me a watch isn’t an investment. It has a personal meaning and that has far greater value in my eyes!

What’s the best financial advice your parents gave you?

My mother encouraged me to have a career and be financially independent before I got married. And she was right. I’m lucky in that I’ve found a job that brings me enormous satisfaction. More importantly, I’m married to a man who has always given me his love and support. As a young actress, it wasn’t always easy. There were times I’d be sitting waiting for the telephone to ring. Even now, my accountant keeps telling me I should have at least one year’s savings put aside in case work dries up. It’s not unusual in this business to get a fat cheque then go for months without earning a cent. Of course it’s tempting to go out and buy a luxury car as soon as the money starts coming in, but in Hollywood there’s no guarantee you’ll have the money for gas for years to come. What I mean is, before I could buy myself a watch, I mean a really nice watch, I had to wait a heck of a long time!

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