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Why Michelle Pfeiffer Probably Won't and Probably Shouldn't Do "American Horror Story"

I've mentioned this topic in the comments but enough people are interested that I should sound off in a more official capacity. Recently, given that most people know that Jessica Lange plans to depart after Season 4, Ryan Murphy has started dropping casting wishlists for future seasons of American Horror Story. He name-checked both Reese Witherspoon (errr...okay?) and Michelle Pfeiffer (duh!). Pfeiffer is, of course, the most logical choice with which to fill the imposing vacuum that will be Lange's absence as the anthology's resident grande dame guignol. Like Lange, she's a huge respected talent from the 80s (formative years for Murphy) who can really tear it up onscreen but who today's younger TV-watching legions might still feel a certain "discovery" mania about since she hasn't been properly utilized in years.

There's only three problems.

Pfeiffer in 1991... having an old friend over for dinner

1) Pfeiffer doesn't do television. She doesn't even dabble. Pfeiffer ascended in 1988 (Tequila Sunrise, Married to the Mob, and Dangerous Liaisons all arrived within five months of each other catapulting the rising star of Witches of Eastwick to the A list with three moderate hits and her first significant awards attention) and since then she has appeared on television just once. In 1995 she filmed a cameo for "Picket Fences" as a surprise for her somewhat new (at the time) husband, TV giant David E Kelley. 

2) Pfeiffer doesn't like the macabre. In the long long history of stars who've turned down soon-to-be iconic roles, Pfeiffer's pass on "Clarice Starling" for Silence of the Lambs (1991) is a biggie. She was at the peak of her career when the role was offered by her then recent collaborating director who publicly gushed about her (Jonathan Demme). But she passed because the project was too gruesome. Only in the perfect 20/20 of hindsight, if we're being honest, does the decision look dumb. It's not like cannibal-centric serial killer dramas about FBI agents who find heads in jars and get cum in their hair screams Oscars and all-time classic, you know?

3) Replacements Casts / Shark Jumping. The third reason is not why she'll say "no" but why I think she probably should if the gig is offered. Sure Pfeiffer could use the recognition (let's call it a remembrance) that she's one of the greats. It's positively silly how well it worked for Lange, if you think about it, merely pointing to how ignorant most people are about cinematic history before their, say, teenage years. Despite winning two Oscars people seemed genuinely surprised that Jessica Lange was such a fiery can't-look-away talent. But anyone who replaces Lange will be compared unfavorably since she's stayed long enough to become the show's signature face. Plus, all series have their sell-by dates and how much longer can American Horror Story stay fresh? Wouldn't a 5th season be a dangerous time to jump on board; nearly all TV ships spring leaks by the time they turn five.

Pfeiffer & Lange in 1996. One of my all time favorite actress photos

Better to pay Lange whatever she asks for and wrap the whole thing up for good, before it outstays its welcome, in season 5. And if Pfeiffer is miraculously interested in the project, better to PAIR HER with Lange and really burn the place down in a final season.

Agree? Disagree? Do tell.

[i'm aware that i'm a month behind in reviewing American Horror Story: Coven. It's tough to squeeze TV writing in during awards season!] 

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Reader Comments (47)

oh nathaniel, that pic gave me 'if only' chills. i mean... she'd have *killed* it. not to mention be an oscar winner...

and nice defense of her passing on it: 'cannibal-centric serial killer dramas about FBI agents who find heads in jars and get cum in their hair'... if a director who respected/loved her hadn't been offering it i'd be behind her 100%

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterryan

I don't think Pfeiffer would do it either, though there's a part of me that yearns, yearns for her to do something like AHS, something to shake up the bland and uninspired choices that she's made over the past few years, though AHS wouldn't be the best choice for her either. I think Glenn Close would be the better choice if another actress of that stature has to be picked.

For AHS specifically, I think that baton should be passed to the two other grande dames that currently reside there for this season: Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett. If they need a ferociously talented, icy blonde to take over the specific archetypes that look represents, they already have the magnificent Sarah Paulson.

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFlickah

I don't see pfeiffer in the jodie role... it would be a different take of course but I just can't see it.

and I'm not liking the direction AHS is going... I mean, veteran cast and characters >>>>> young one, and taissa is not really selling her new 'side' for me.

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

Silence of the Lambs is a very disturbing movie with almost no breathing room or winking and nodding. Ryan Murphy might be appealing because he is seriously popular with actors and that his work always has camp elements. I still don't think she would do the role though. But maybe a career in TV would not be the worst. I just want a more consistent project with real promise, which also means not working with her husband.

It seems undeniable that she would've killed as Clarice (though not sure about if she'd have Foster's Southern brogue). She, of course, had one of her best turns in Demme's Married to the Mob, it seemed that even if she did do it and was still timid about the dark places of that movie that it could've worked with him as a helping hand.

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Why would she want to come in as a replacement actress? Especially when Jessica Lange has stamped the show as hers.

If she's ready to move from features to TV and with the quality of stuff she's obviously being offered now she should be she needs to find her own project that she can drive to success and renewed acclaim.

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I don't see turning down Silence as a mistake. The movie is too unusual for traditional Hollywood casting which she most certainly would be. I wish Pfeiffer had more desirable choices in Hollywood to choose from during her peak years. She didn't work often enough in her prime and some of the films might have made sense on paper but failed miserably once cameras began to roll. What's funny about Eastwick is how seriously she takes the material and gives the kind of performance that's too good for the movie surrounding it. Maybe the opportunity to work with Jack Nicholson stepped up her game for the project. And too bad their followup Wolf is a miscalculated mess with an aggravating final sequence.

I think Ryan Murphy could be an asset to Michelle but not American Horror Story.

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

To play devil's advocate Jessica Lange really didn't do TV before AHS either (a few prestige-y TV movies scattered through the years but no series, not even single episodes, except a voice-over on a cartoon once).

And Michelle's delved into horror lots before. AHS def. pushes it further than anything she's done (although I'm having visions of The Penguin biting that dude's nose, and Veronica Cartwright barfing up cherry seeds). But percentage-wise she's actually done a whole lot of the genre - witches and wolves and cat-women, oh my.

That said I agree totes with #3, it'd be risky to jump on this late into a series. And she seems pretty content, much to all of our disappointment, not working that much.

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA

I would swear I read an interview somewhere that Pfeiffer loved scary movies, and that was one of the reasons she did "What Lies Beneath".

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Fun post. I like how the Pfeiffer-centric universe you live in. I can relate as a Glenn Close fanatic. That being said, I don't see MP on this particular show. I'm curious to see how Season 4 reinvents itself because I'm not necessarily responding to the current camp-fest. And as much as I like/love/respect Ms. Lange, I'm curious to see her do something entirely different. For the future, I'm living in a fantasy world in which Debra Winger is exhumed and Billy Crudup finally sells out. OH, or Jennifer Jason Leigh - she can do scary intense shit and deserves this style of stardom.

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid K.

Honestly, assuming that the scrpit will be good, I think Pfeiffer would be a damn fool to say no. Michelle Pfeiffer hasn't gotten a good part in.. god knows when. Even facing the intimidating comparisons to Jessica-the-genius-Lange its much better than appearing in shit like The Family. Even supporting players like Kathy Bates and Angela Basset are doing their most interesting work in years. MICHELLE PFEIFFER SAY YES!!

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteroa

As much as I love Pfeiffer, Jodie owned that role in a way Pfeiffer never could.

It's like saying Jodie would've been better in Fabulous Baker Boys, Kidman would have been better in Mulholland Drive than Watts, Streep would have been better than Spacek in Carrie...etc. I don't care how much you love Pfieffer or these other actresses, they would have paled in comparison to the actress who made these roles classics.

On a sidenote, I'd love to see Pfieffer on a regular basis - and I watch more TV than film - so as long as she picks a show that is good (and therefore one that I watch), I'll be happy. And right now I do watch AHS.

November 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Michelle already said she's thinking about doing television. She also said that 'Silence of the Lambs' is one role she's sorry she turned down. She is friends with both Jessica and Kathy. They are Oscar winners. She just said that she was to do a big action movie. She's signed on for a Robert Rodriguez film. His films are seriously violent and over the top.

I will bet you money that she will do American Horror Story. There aren't many roles out there anymore, which is what she said. She is also being considered for a television role starring alongside Harrison Ford.

She just said that she plans to work a lot now now that her kids are no longer at home.

With Ryan Murphy, her television hubby (David E. Kelley), and Kathy, and Jessica, she'll be signed to AHS in no time.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAL

Pfeiffer is a bad match because AHS requires a commitment to ridiculous scene chewing without any sense of shame. Pfeiffer can get there, but over the top is not her strength.

If Murphy were smart, he would court someone like a Betsy Russell or an Asia Argento that consistently aims for Bette Davis after 40 levels of over the top onscreen antics. I actually find it surprising that the show has basically avoided real horror actors so far. Someone like Robert Englund or Doug Bradley could totally play against type and draw focus away from a Lange-free season.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Ryan Murphy can't touch this. Not even gonna worry about it. I must say though the photoshop on that first picture is so choice. Not only is it a perfect approximation of what a Pfeiffer Clarice Sterling would look like (oh the Oscar that might have been!), but way to remind the world of my favorite forgotten gem of 1991, Frankie And Johnny!

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

If it depended on her eye for choosing projects, she'd say yes ( just have a look at her most recent decisions). But she's got a TV expert sleeping with her. So I guess (or rather, hope) David E. Kelley will advise her against accepting. For all the reasons mentioned above, and because I think the show is already lowering the bar (ouija sessions? really?). Then there's also the fact that isn't Ryan Murphy an expert in finding excuses to make people talk about his shows? I remember when Eat, Pray, Love came out he extended the rumour that Javier Bardem was going to be in Glee. So my guess is that it is half shameless self promotion and half throwing out the bait to see what happens.
If it's about actresses from the 80's I think Cher or Geena Davis could very well fit into that world. Also, am I the only pfan pissed at the idea of pfutting Pfeiffer in the same age range as Lange? She must be 20 years younger.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

lol, AHS jumped the shark before it began... and continues to do so every week. It's the kind of show that lives to jump the shark. And we expect it, and have come to love it (when it embraces the campiness)

As far as the show waning in quality goes by Season 5... does the same rule apply to anthology shows like this, where there's a clean slate every season? Seems like that applies to watching the same characters, stories year after year, but this kind of thing seems more limitless, no?

I think Pfeiffer would be an amazing heir to the AHS Lange throne ;)

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIan

I'm so glad Jessica is leaving the show.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I may have to start watching AHS if La Pfeiffer is involved, but I just don't see it, she is and always will be a movie star to me ;-)

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRami

She is just too lazy to accept anything.

She can't pick good projects.

She has denied us her talents for such a long time and now she keeps acting in horrible movies.

I hate when good actors behave like that.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth


Congrats for the ads. I'll click in every single one!

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Oh no, I was sure you were going to be really excited! Haha. Well, at least Bassett and Bates are staying for next season, right?

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

i could've sworn sometime typed in these comments that Pfeiffer was too young to be compared to Lange but now i can't find it - perhasp i imagined. They are only 9 years apart in age but La Pfeiff didn't have (any? as much? better?) plastic surgery so she's aged really well. She is currently 55 (same age as Angela Bassett). La Lange is 64

November 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

You didn't imagine it, Nathaniel! That's at the end of iggy's comment.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

While Lange may have been a somewhat unfamiliar relic of the '80s to some younger audience members, her ascension to TV icon in American Horror Story followed her success in Grey Gardens, a small-screen performance everyone talked about for a year, thanks to the awards process. The timing was perfect, and Murphy, FX, Lange and her reps made the most of it. For Pfeiffer, that kind of "moment" doesn't exist and would have to be engineered. It could work, but it woudn't seem as inevitable. Plus, for every one thing Murphy gets right, he gets five others wrong, so I'm very skeptical about this casting working in Season 5 of this show.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Sharon Stone would make a wonderful Lange replacement.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

What 3rtful said, although Stone would also be "the poor man's (younger) Jessica Lange."

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul & 3rtful -- yes and yes. haha. but Stone would be SO fun so that would be a good move. If Madeleine Stowe weren't tied up with Revenge I'd suggest her.

November 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Lange really seems adamant about leaving in season 4. That's usually about the time Ryan Murphy productions implode, but "Coven" is awesome. There's no reason right now for me to think that this season will go badly at the end. "Murder House" was flawed but interesting. "Asylum" was pretty awful (to me). This is my favorite season by a mile. Can't wait for the conclusion, and then whatever season 4 has in store. If Pfeiffer agrees to this, I'll applaud it. What else is she doing really? Couldn't hurt to get her name back in the public consciousness. If season 5 is the end though, this could catapult her into more/better roles. There's a Showtime/HBO headlining series with her name on it. I hope she doesn't think she's too "good" for television. Bitch, please. And also, let's keep Miss Laura Jean "don't you know who I am" Reese Witherspoon away from our airwaves entirely, mmmkay?

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

@Ian, I would tend to agree that the clean slate every year provides just a little bit more freshness to the franchise.

Well, for one, I hope Michelle DOES accept, and the sooner the better. Sharon Stone would be awesome and camptastastic, Miss Glenn would be a sublime choice as well, and I'm still hoping beyond hope that other amazing actresses are introduced while the fires are still burning.

On my personal AHS wishlist: Shelley Duvall, Carol Kane, Barbara Hershey, Anjelica Huston, and...
"Reach for the Stars": Dorothy Malone, Joanne Woodward, and Eva Marie Saint

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoel V

Dorian -- while i understand that people are deservedly enthused about the quality of Showtime and HBO programming (i am so obsessed with Masters of Sex i can't even!) but i continue to be sad that people seem to want it at the cost of the movies. let's save some of the movie stars for the big screen! and in order to do that people will have to get off their couches and go the movies for a change.

though i fear only people who like explosions and superheroes want to take to the time to see a movie in theaters these days which i dont understand. I think i'd die if i couldn't go to the moveis and had to watch everythign at home. THE BIGSCREENPOCALYPSE , I'm exaggerating but i wish Pfeiffer would just try to find some good movies for a change. she doesn't even try!

November 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Also Estelle Parsons and Heather Matarazzo.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoel V

Television is where it's at right now, not film. It's a pretty snobby notion to relegate these grande dames to a medium that doesn't want them anymore. I'd rather see Michelle Pfeiffer rocking it out on a Showtime drama than see her in the last five feature films she's made.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

Let's have Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder battle it out in the 5th season of AHS. Wouldn't this be a welcome reunion?

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCristhian

Nathan, I love that pic of Jessica and Michelle! Thanks for posting it.

They played sisters in the abysmal A Thousand Acres, so it shouldn't be surprising that they're in the same age range. I thought they were great together. And Jessica should have gotten an Oscar nomination for her emotional tour-de-force. She was brilliant despite the terrible film surrounding her.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I coulda seen her in Connie Britton's role in season 1. Some might disagree, but I think she could have pulled off the frustrated wife experiencing a change-of-life pregnancy...Anyhow, point being, a role like Vivian in season 1 would be something she would have responded to I feel. If murphy creates something on a similar level n does indeed offer it to her, who knows??

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBabydacedAssassin

Dorian -- but this is part of the problem. it's a false equivalency. People are watching all the best reviewed dramas on television and saying "golden age" but they are, IN DROVES, only going to blockbuster cinema and saying "it sucks"... it's so unfair to the big screen and i hate this widespread brainwashing. the equivalency is closer to "Two and a Half Men" when all people are saying are the 100+ million plus hits.

both mediums are capable of greatness and suckitude and any and every day on television there is plenty of suckitude. people just choose to ignore it because it's as easy as flipping the channel or saying "maybe the next episode will be better"

hate that people are so forgiving of TV but so ruthless about the movies. I mean people will watch ENTIRE SEASONS of shows they dont really like but put them in front of a movie they don't respond to and its bitch bitch bitch all mvoies suck.

signed, One Man Band Promoting Cinematic Love!

November 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Sorry, I don't see it that way. I just like what's being offered on television now far more versus film. It's no comparison at this point. And I'm certainly not one of those people who apologizes for bad television or watches entire seasons of trash. A dud is a dud in any medium. But to Pfeiffer specifically, she needs to jump to television as soon as she can bring (or "lower") herself to do so, b/c before long, the casting calls for both film and television will stop ringing for her entirely. That's an even sadder prospect than her last five films.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

Nathan, my new favorite word--suckitude!

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

My apologies to Lange and her surgeon. She really looks much older, even older than Jane Fonda (this is when you tell me Fonda is actually younger). Maybe it also helps that she started in 70s classics (King Kong, The Postman Always Rings Twice), so her career feels longer.

Also, 9 years is a lot, at that age or at any other. It's not the same to be 21 or 30,
32 or 41,
41 or 50..... It's s a big (generational gap).

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

DISAGREE! When Lange announced her departure, my first thought (along with many apparently!) is that the only person who could fill her shoes would be Michelle. She's the right age range, she's a big talent and she has the right presence for a show like this. Ryan seems good enough about giving these actresses a lot of pull to tell him what they want. If Michelle has some control dangled in front of her, it may be hard for her to say no.

I don't know if this show will jump the shark -- it really all depends on the theme they choose. This year is their most popular because it's dark in addition to being wickedly funnier than previous seasons. If they keep changing the cast up and the theme -- it could keep going.

Lastly, I would love, love, love to see Angela and Michelle co-anchoring the next season.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

iggy, i must disagree. I think La Lange looks marvelous. We have to remember, 64 is not young. And I think for this age, she really is still terrific looking.

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Jessica Lange is gorgeous! I'm 25 and can say she puts a lot of us 20 somethings to shame and honestly I think that when she leaves, ahs is going to become a lot less interesting.

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbb

I would love to see Michelle Pfeiffer do American Horror Story. She has said that in the last ten years that she would consider TV. She has also stated when asked by a journalist that out of all of the films she turned down, the one she regrets turning down if she had to say is "Silence of the Lambs." Michelle excels at dark material so for her to do American Horror Story, she would eat it up. Plus it'll be great to see her paired with Jessica Lange again. They played sisters in a little movie that should've had more recognition called, "A Thousand Acres".

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

I would love to see Michelle Pfieffer on American Horror Story, and she makes an absolutely perfect replacement for Jessica Lange. She could really take the show to a new level.

December 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I'm a big Pfeiffer fan and I KNOW she'll turn down the proyect, but not for that reasons:
1.- I dont see that as a strong reason, because in recent years Pfeiffer has demostrated her interest in made television series, it looks like she's tired of the bad movies of recent years that probably she want to follow Glenn Close's steps, and she said recently that the upcoming years she will work A LOT, so that probably includes movie cinema and television.
2.- Is not that Pfeiffer doesn't like the macabre, she's a very versatile actress and she has done horror movies like the blockbuster hit "What Lies Beneath" of "Wolf", she turned down The silence of the Lambs 'cause she didn't feel at the highness of the role, so probably she can be interested in AHS.
3.- THIS is probably the real reason, SHE KNOWS that she'll have to be as good as Lange, and maybe even BETTER, is something that absolutely she can do cause she's one of the greatest all time actresses, but people will start to hate her and make comparicions with Lange, and if the 4th season results worst that even Asylum, people will say that is Pfeiffer fault, and she knows that is a high risk and this is why probably she won't accept the role.

February 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarlo

I am starving for Michelle Pfeiffer. In anything!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline B.

Yeah, I think it's too late for this to be the show that does it for Pfeiffer, but I hope she finds something good soon. She's too good to have become irrelevant. She should have an Oscar for Batman Returns on her mantle.

January 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJess

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