SASHAYING through the wood-panelled compartments of the legendary Orient Express, Michelle Pfeiffer’s looks are to die for — even before anyone gets killed.
And despite a cast rammed with huge names including Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz and Kenneth Branagh, Michelle upstages the lot.
Murder On The Orient Express marks the 59-year-old’s return to blockbusters after years living down her reputation as “the most difficult actress in Hollywood” — not to mention as a femme fatale.
The mum-of-two admitted: “I got so picky that I was unhireable. And then, I don’t know, time just went on. I disappeared.”
But as she posed on the red carpet on Thursday for the Agatha Christie adaptation’s premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall, it was clear she is very much back.
And this time, she means to stay.
Michelle said: “My kids are older and I’m an empty nester. I just decided to revisit going back to work now.”
Thrilled to bits about that decision is long-time fan Branagh, 56, who directs the new film as well as starring in it as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
He said of working with her: “A third of the time, I laughed a lot with Michelle. A third of the time, I marvelled at her wondrous command of camera and scene.
“And a third of the time, I just tried to get the image of her sliding across the piano in that red dress in The Fabulous Baker Boys out of my mind.”
That 1989 movie landed Michelle’s first Best Actress Oscar nomination, and marked a run of movies that made her one of Hollywood’s biggest names in the Nineties.
She was also one of its most famous beauties — to her surprise.
Michelle, who grew up in Southern California, explained: “When I was very young I never thought I was attractive, because I was a tomboy and I was always the biggest girl in the class.”
The surfer girl, who “used to do drugs” at high school was nicknamed “Michelle Mudturtle” for having big lips, and teased for walking “like Howard the Duck”.
But at 20 that changed when she entered the Miss Orange County beauty pageant and won.
She then headed to LA, landing tiny roles in TV shows like Fantasy Island and Bad Cats, while following an unhealthy life- style.
The actress admitted: “In my 20s I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. I lived on Marlboro Lights and Coca-Cola.”
That changed when she was introduced to a cult who believed in “breatharianism” — the ability to survive without food and water, by living on the universe’s energy alone.
She was soon deeply involved, and has recalled: “They were very controlling. I had to pay for all the time I was there, so it was financially very draining.
“And putting me on a diet that nobody can adhere to.”
What saved her was meeting husband-to-be Peter Horton in an acting class.
He convinced her to leave and the pair wed in 1981, just before Michelle won her first major film role in the musical Grease 2.
It flopped, but led to her breakthrough part alongside Al Pacino in 1983’s Scarface.
Then came Tequila Sunrise, The Witches Of Eastwick and Dangerous Liaisons, before huge acclaim in The Fabulous Baker Boys.
Other roles such as Catwoman in 1992’s Batman Returns followed — but by this stage Michelle admits she was not making the greatest decisions about work or men.
Her marriage to Peter had ended in 1988, and Michelle had a stormy romance with married Dangerous Liaisons co-star John Malkovich — which sparked his divorce.
Then there were relationships with actor Fisher Stevens and Batman co-star Michael Keaton. Always, she says, the wrong guys.
She once admitted: “I tend to be shy. I think at the time a lot of the decent men were probably a little more reluctant to approach me.
“Those who did approach me were the absolute ones I should never have been with.”
Meanwhile she was turning down roles in films including Pretty Woman, Silence Of The Lambs, Basic Instinct, Thelma & Louise and Sleepless In Seattle.
She was also getting a bad name, dubbed “the most difficult actress in Hollywood” by a director.
But in 1993 everything changed when, first, she adopted a baby daughter, Claudia, then married TV producer David E Kelley, who created Ally McBeal. They had a son, John, the following year.
Having kids suddenly made her career seem far less important.
She recalled: “I was pretty careful about where I shot, how long I was away, whether or not it worked out with the kids’ schedule.”
Though she did occasional movie roles, such as What Lies Beneath in 2000, this year is her true comeback.
Already she has been in arthouse flick Mother! and next year will be in latest Marvel release Ant-Man And The Wasp.
Fittingly for her blockbuster return as a man-eating widow in Murder On The Orient Express, she even has a scene when she sings — just as she did so memorably in The Fabulous Baker Boys.
Michelle said: “I thought Ken was crazy to ask me. My vocal cords were so rusted.”
But if there is one thing that will make any actor try their best, it is being in the same film as Judi Dench.
She said: “I’m thinking, ‘OK, you cannot bomb in front of Judi Dench, this just can’t happen.’
“When I met her, I just cried. I was completely star-struck.”
copied from thesun.co.uk