Michelle Pfeiffer had no intention of spending nearly five years away from the silver screen.
"You know," the 49-year-old actress says matter-of-factly, "it just happened."
A few years ago, Pfeiffer, her über-TV-producer husband David E. Kelley and their children, Claudia Rose, 14, and Jack Henry, 13, relocated from Los Angeles to Northern California.
"I think it was a big venture relocating," she offers. "I had been reading things. It wasn't like I made a conscious decision to not work. Honestly, just four years went by."
Actually, Pfeiffer did return to work two years ago in Amy Heckerling's May-December romantic comedy, "I Could Never Be Your Woman," but its release has been held up because of distribution problems. It's now scheduled to arrive in theaters in November.
In the meantime, Pfeiffer seems to be everywhere this summer. She does a delicious comedic turn as the villainous former beauty queen Velma Von Tussle in the musical comedy "Hairspray" and plays a ruthless, decrepit witch named Lamia who seeks to regain her youth in the fantasy "Stardust," opening Friday.
Though there is a maturity to her beauty these days, Pfeiffer is still stunning. So much so that one can't escape feeling like the country cousin who just arrived in the big city to meet their glamorous relative. She's tall and whippet-slender. Dressed in blue jeans and a crisp white shirt, Pfeiffer seems at ease with her beauty and comes across as down-to-earth. After all, the former Orange County resident used to work as a checker at Vons before she turned to acting.
During her hiatus, says the three-time Oscar nominee, "I may very well have been reading good scripts and I wasn't inclined to say 'yes.' Maybe I needed a break. I think how long I have been working. . . . I have been working since I was 14. I have really never taken a break. I think maybe my psyche was just telling me not to work for a while."
Not that she was idle. Pfeiffer labored full-time as a wife and mother. "People have been asking me what I have been doing the past few years. I have hardly come up for a breath," she reports. "It's all the mundane stuff. I try to be everywhere all the time. Of course, we know that's impossible, but I am going to make it work . . . damn it!"
Though she does have help, both she and Kelley agreed that they never wanted their children raised by nannies. While making "Stardust" in London last summer, the children came with her. "They had never been to Europe," she says. "When I did 'Hairspray,' I was able to come back and forth because it was during the school year."
And last month, her children finally accompanied her to a premiere for "Hairspray."
"I'm so glad I waited for that to be kind of their introduction [to the limelight]. It was such a perfect movie to share with them. I am excited about them seeing 'Stardust.' It's fun for me that they are at that age now that I can share my work with them and I don't have to decompartmentalize it and protect them from it."
Pfeiffer admits she felt rusty when she started to film the Heckerling comedy. But by the time she finished "Stardust," "I felt all cylinders were going again and I realized I still love doing this. I feel like I have come to a peace with the balance of work and being a mom."
Besides, Pfeiffer adds, she loves to work. "I can't ever imagine retiring. I don't get why somebody would want to look forward to retirement. What are you going to do?"
In "Stardust," Lamia attempts to capture the incarnation of a celestial star (Claire Danes) in order to cut out her heart, thus restoring the witch's youth and beauty. Pfeiffer was drawn to the project because of director Matthew Vaughn. She'd seen his gangster film "Layer Cake" and was impressed that "he took a relatively simple movie and brought a specific style to it and put his stamp on it."
She was equally impressed meeting him. "He literally had the entire movie in a big binder," Pfeiffer says. "He had already begun to storyboard, so I could really get a strong idea of his vision of the film and also the direction he wanted to take his character."
As Lamia, Pfeiffer had to endure 4 1/2 hours of makeup to become a sagging, liver-spotted, hairless harpy. It was so grueling, she welcomed the scenes depicting the younger Lamia.
"Normally, if I am doing a kind of glamour thing, it is like, 'Here we go, having to look perfect. They are going to fuss with me.' I hate being fussed with," the actress says. "But the interesting thing was after having been the hag, which is so high-maintenance, the glamour stuff was like being natural. It was like a relief to be glamorous."