On the 25th anniversary of Batman Returns star Michelle Pfeiffer talks about landing the role of Catwoman, learning to use a whip, and that famous bird scene.
Batman Returns turns 25 on June 19 and Michelle Pfeiffer shared some memories of the film in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Pfeiffer brought Catwoman to life for a whole new generation of Batman fans, and for many fans she remains the gold standard.
Michelle Pfeiffer almost didn’t get the role of Selina Kyle. Annette Bening was originally hired for the Catwoman role, but after she became pregnant she left the production and the door opened for Pfeiffer, who says she was a big fan of the role:
"“As a young girl, I was completely obsessed with Catwoman. When I heard that Tim was making the film and Catwoman had already been cast, I was devastated. At the time, it was Annette Bening. Then she became pregnant. The rest is history. I remember telling Tim [Burton] halfway through the script that I’d do the film, that’s how excited I was.”"
Pfeiffer shared that she trained for months to learn how to use the whip, which allowed her to do all of her own stunts with it. She recalls taking a chunk of her teacher’s face out on their first day:
"“I trained for months with the whip master. On our first day together, I caught his face with the whip and it drew blood. It completely shattered me.”"
The Catwoman costume, which has become the stuff of legends, was not comfortable or easy to wear. Pfeiffer explains that they had to coat her skin with power to help her slide in, then the costume was vacuum-sealed to get it to fit properly, and the last step was a coat of silicon to make it shiny.
One of the most interesting things to learn was that Michelle Pfeiffer did indeed have a live bird in her mouth for her confrontation with Penguin. Director Tim Burton says that while it might look like a special effect scene, Pfeiffer had a real bird in her mouth: “I don’t think I’ve ever been so impressed. She had a live bird in her mouth while the camera was rolling,” he said. It was only there for a few moments, but it was an amazing look for the scene. He also heaps praise on the physicality of her performance: “Michelle is a great actress, but she also does these funny physical things. Almost fluttering her eyes in the scene where she comes back to life. Her eyes look like a special effects, but that was all done by her.”
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Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as Catwoman set the stage for future iterations of the character, just as Julie Newmar’s performance in the 1960s Batman television show inspired an entire generation of fans. With Gotham Sirens on the horizon from Warner Bros, the bar has been set by Pfeiffer’s amazing performance in Batman Returns.