The Scarface reunion panel at the Tribeca Film Festival hit a sour note on Thursday night. Sitting on stage at New York’s Beacon Theatre with Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, and director Brian De Palma, Michelle Pfeiffer was asked about her weight during production, prompting swift boos from the audience.
“Michelle, as the father of a daughter, I’m concerned with body image,” the moderator said — marking his first direct question to the three-time Oscar nominee about 14 minutes into the conversation. “The preparation for this film — what did you weigh?”
One audience member shouted out, “Why do you want to know?!” That was then followed by audible boos. “This is not the question you think it is,” the moderator responded.
“Well, okay,” Pfeiffer began. “I don’t know, but I was playing a cocaine addict so that was part of the physicality of the part, which you have to consider. The movie was only supposed to be, what? A three-month, four-month [shoot]? Of course, I tried to time it so that as the movie went on I became thinner and thinner and more emaciated.”
“The problem was the movie went six months,” she added. “I was starving by the end of it because the one scene that was the end of the film where I needed to be my thinnest, it was [pushed to the] next week and then it was the next week and then it was the next week. I literally had members of the crew bringing me bagels because they were all worried about me and how thin I was getting. I think I was living on tomato soup and Marlboros.”
Later on during the panel, Pfeiffer gave a more thoughtful response to her relationship to the character, now at a time when Hollywood is finally taking a close look at the representation of women on screen.
“I get asked a lot, ‘What did I learn from working with one of the greats like Al Pacino?’ And I have to say, one of the things that hit me the strongest from the beginning was watching him fiercely protect his character at all costs and without any sort of apology,” she recalled. “And I had always tried to emulate that and I tried to be polite about it, but I think that that’s what really makes great acting.”
“The other thing about Elvira,” she noted, “is that — because I remember at the time, even then — I got a lot of questions about, ‘You’re playing someone who’s subservient. What message is that sending to women?’ And I was also in my early 20s; I hadn’t actually thought about it a lot of the time. Being an artist, it’s really presenting to people what is the truth and not sugarcoated, and I felt that by allowing people to observe who this character is and the sacrifices that she’s made said more than getting up on any soapbox and preaching to people.”
Elvira proved to be a breakthrough role for Pfeiffer, playing the wife of a wealthy drug dealer and love interest of Pacino’s Tony in the 1983 film. The nearly three-hour-long Scarface was screened in its entirety prior to the reunion Q&A, during which De Palma and his stars looked back on its legacy, contesting the initial X rating with the MPAA, that story about a young Steven Spielberg getting to direct one shot during the final gun fight, and the shear amount of F-bombs used in the film.
They also briefly addressed the upcoming remake of Scarface, which is itself a remake of the 1932 film of the same name. Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer) had been in talks to direct.
Would Scarface work with a woman in the lead instead of a man? Pfeiffer said simply, “No.”
Asked whether or not he would change Tony’s Cuban roots if given the opportunity to remake the film for modern audiences, De Palma said, “I think [screenwriter] Oliver [Stone] had a very fantastic idea of keeping this coming to America, and I like, obviously, making gangster movies with gangsters who are Latin American because not only do you have the guns, you also have the beautiful colors and you also have the dancing.”