ABC’s Big Sky Actress Dedee Pfeiffer has a message for all actors: Don’t apologize for growing older!
In this interview, right here, right now, Dedee Pfeiffer settles the age-old dispute (see what I did there?) about the stigma in the entertainment industry that actors would “age out” of their ability to portray roles, therefore not being cast for certain characters even if the actor looks the part. Particularly female actors. Even today, the ongoing battle of California trying to remove age information from IMDb continues.
But others, such as Dedee Pfeiffer, see aging as a quality, not a detriment.
Dedee Pfeiffer gives us the lowdown on aging in Hollywood and a birdseye view of her life now and then – growing up in show business.
Psst… Even though this was an email interview, you can actually “hear” Dedee laughing during the interview! Infectious!
You play Denise Brisbane in the ABC TV series Big Sky, created by your brother-in-law, David E. Kelley, which is shooting in Vancouver. Who arranged your schedule from departing Calif, where you live, to getting to Vancouver?
The Big Sky production office arranged for my travel and gave that info to my manager for me (I do not have an agent).
What transportation did you use to get to Vancouver?
The first time I came here, my passport expired, so I had to fly into Washington, then production arranged for a rental and I drove over the border, then drove straight to the hotel to start the mandatory 14 day quarantine. I went home for a week for the holidays and literally flew in yesterday because I now have a current passport. The production had a driver pick me up at the airport who then drove me again to this hotel where I am starting yet again another 14 day quarantine.
Tell us about the quarantine period.
Canada has a 14 day quarantine and they are very serious about that and WILL check up on you to ensure you are indeed NOT leaving your hotel for the required time. The production provided food for the first time we all arrived here in BC, but not for those of us who left for holidays.
Do you get paid during quarantine?
Nope! We are paid per episode only that is agreed upon before one starts shooting, but they did pay for our hotels during that 14 day period.
Did you have to quarantine by yourself or were you able to go to meetings and walk around town?
You are not allowed to leave where you are staying unless you are at a residence where if you left, you are outside completely by yourself (like in the wilderness). I am in a hotel, so there is no way to leave without bumping into another person. We are completely alone while quarantining unless you brought a family member with you and they have to also not leave the residence for 14 days.
What did you do during quarantine?
I’m not going to lie! It is VERY challenging to be so isolated especially when you are a people person like I am, so I did a lot of Zoom, Facetime, and texting! Watched a LOT of TV (which is NOT like me) and puzzles! I am fortunately doing Zoom interviews or like this interview, answering questions for media / press for the show. I am so grateful to have these things to do, because “time”, all of a sudden, has different meaning while being asked to do the right thing by isolating. My feelings of being uncomfortable and or sad because of our situation during this pandemic is a small sacrifice in the bigger picture to keep those around me safe. And I have adopted all these awesome Canadian pigeons, ravens and a seagull I named Gilligan on my balcony. I feed them every day and they make me happy, because I miss my fur / feather babies!
You took a 10 year break from acting and received your Masters of Social Work from UCLA. Why did you choose social work and moreso, why did you choose mental illness, substance use and homelessness as your main areas? Looking for a deeper answer than “I like to help people”.
I choose Social work because I like to help people… sorry! I’m a smart a** and I couldn’t resist going for the funny LOL!!!!
Okay! My real answer: LONG story short? I have been acting since I was 18yrs old, but have been helping people by volunteering for many years, not to mention rescuing animals. 10 yrs ago, I realized I not only ‘wanted’ to help people, but ‘needed’ to help people on a deeper level. Volunteering all over the place in between acting jobs just wasn’t cutting it any longer. Not having a clue about how the academic world works, I thought I could earn one of those things called “a degree” in a year. Maybe two years…? HA! Boy was I wrong! Discovered learning disabilities, single mom with two young boys in tow, and life throwing obstacles at me along the way, were all factors (to mention a few) as to why it took me so long to earn my degree (10 years total). Giving up was certainly an option (and trust me when I say I wanted to give up multiple times), but being a mother who always tells her sons that giving up IS NOT an option, I trudged through and literally just graduated while starting the filming of this show! My first year internship introduced me to what it looked like being in the field as a member of an outreach multidisciplinary group of caring and trained professionals working with those without homes (homelessness). Addiction and mental illness are just a few other forces this population has to live / struggle with alongside personal shame and chronic judgment from those who do not understand this population. No one that I know ever wakes up one day and says, “Hey! I think being homeless, having an addiction and/or mental illness sounds like a good plan for my life!” No one! And if there is a way to help advocate for those in need, I will do so…!!! Everyone deserves a fighting chance, so until we start to look at this population through the lens of what and where the real problem(s) are; macro (policy), mezzo (community), and micro (individuals / effective treatments for mental illness / addiction, housing), we are only cutting the weed from the top and not getting to the root of the problem.
One day out of nowhere, you received a text message from David E. Kelley saying he has a part for you. Did you (or anyone else) plant the seed in David’s mind that you were looking to become financially secure so that’s why he offered you the role, or did he offer you the role for another reason?
What was so beautiful about my story is that David had no idea he was throwing me a lifeline! No one was more shocked than I was when I was literally finishing up what turned out to be a 10 year academic journey and at my internship with the Department of Mental Health, when out of nowhere I got a random text from David asking me if I was still acting and that he had a great role for me?!?!?!?!?? I literally almost dropped my phone and to this day can’t believe at my age (57 years young) scored such a great role working with such a fantastic cast! To say I’m grateful would be an understatement –underscored! The most unbelievable part is that he had no idea that I had no idea how I was going to raise two teenage boys on my own on a social worker’s salary in LA! I had no idea how I was going to make it work, but I knew that I had an idea (that I had not told anyone about but a few of my close social worker friends) that could possibly help more people on a larger scale than just working in a clinical or outreach setting by bridging my degree and fanbase together. This awesome opportunity on Big Sky, coupled with my degree, will allow me to do that. My family (David included) will hopefully be proud of what I would like to do to help others, especially now with the emotional, mental, physical health and financial fallout from the pandemic. I’m excited to be part of the healing.
You have no issues with the world knowing your true age. Back in the day, it was unheard of for actors to tell their age for fear of being shut out from certain auditions. What’s changed?
Well, when it comes to age, let’s say that lying is exhausting and I decided when I got older that it was gross! Not getting old, but LYING about my age was gross, LOL!
Did you ever hide your age early in your career? Or was your age just harder to find since we didn’t have Internet back then?
YES! We were encouraged to lie ALL the time and I never liked lying about that or anything to be honest.
For me, getting older became a kind of freedom I had never felt when I was younger. An example would be when my friends say, “Why do you offer up your age Dedee? You don’t look your age, so guys won’t know if you don’t open up your mouth!” I’m like, “Hey! If any guy has a problem with the number of years I’ve been on this earth (and in this body), then I’m not interested in him. Good to know! Save me some wasted time and energy and probably heartache, which adds to wrinkles and I do not need any more help with that thank you!” LOL!
What tricks, if any, do you use to learn your lines?
I ALWAYS read them over and over again right before I go to sleep! It WILL go into your long term memory! It works! I also highlight my lines with colors that have meaning to me ie: My favorite color yellow = I’m familiar with the line; not favorite color orange = troubles with the line / etc…
Are you given the opportunity on the set of Big Sky to try different ways of doing your scenes?
Because of Covid-19 and now looking through the lens of a social worker with a Bachelor’s Degree of Psych, every scene is different for me and on many different levels. I listen to each actor with active / hard listening and with Covid-19, staying in my own lane (which is something I learned in recovery), has a different and more important meaning. These are little changes, but they do make a difference for at least me.
You’re super outgoing and perky fun. How does your personality help or hinder your acting career?
That’s very sweet. Thank you (blushing).
Well, I hope my personality helps me in the way that even if for in that one instance say, I didn’t get the job after an audition, hopefully the casting director and all who are in that room are left with the feeling that they just met a woman who is kind, hopefully talented, but maybe not right for this role, but will keep her in mind for another role. After leaving a room (or now Zoom meetings), my goal is to try to leave a little light behind and I think, “What would I want those people to say about me behind my back? ‘Man, she’s cool!’ or ‘Man, what a bitch!’” It truly dictates your behavior in any situation if one stops and thinks about that in that moment before you respond (not react).
Were you always like this or did something “snap” one day and wah lah! — you’re outgoing?
I was always hyper and happy for the most part (and very sensitive)! My mom said I came out of her chatty, hence one of my multiple nicknames: Chatty Cathy! OOF! I hated that one!
What was it like for you in elementary school and high school regarding your personality?
I was overweight, very shy, hated school, and found it very painful to go there. I HATED it when the teacher would call on me to read because I would get so embarrassed that I would stutter and barely be able to read a paragraph. I was considered stupid and put in (group 3) reading group (group 1- intelligent, group 2 – average, group 3 – well… let’s just say Bobby who ate paste was always in group 3). It’s really no wonder why I am such an advocate for those misunderstood and looked down upon because I was always grouped with these misunderstood and colorful people :)))
Were people jealous of you that you had such a free loving spirit?
LOL… nope! Not even close LOL!
Did anyone look up to you?
Not that I’m aware of…
Did you look up to anyone?
Yepper! My big sis Shell (Michelle Pfeiffer). She was this beautiful, skinny, hippy who had the coolest t-shirts (Roger Daltrey) that I would steal, wear it to school, put it back in her closet, thinking I was being all sneaky, but she ALWAYS knew and boy was she mad!!!!
You’re the single mother of two boys. How old are they?
15 and 18! Damn! They were babies just the other day…?!?!?!?
What are they doing while you’re filming in Vancouver?
One is doing online school, forges damascus knives, watches YouTube videos on funny animals and the other one works (He teaches Taekwondo and is a 2nd degree Black Belt in Taekwondo), plays piano, and both have LOTS of electronics with their friends right now which is the way it has to be during this pandemic. Their friends help them and vice versa get through being teenagers, during a pandemic, and a mom who’s working out of the country! It’s a LOT and although not easy, I’m proud of them.
They were probably too young to remember when you previously acted, so what was the discussion you had with them when you decided to accept the role on Big Sky?
Well, to say they’re impressed would be a stretch, LOL! I think I’d score more points with them if I had scored a lead role in one of their video games… They both said, “MOM! It’s just too weird to watch your mom on TV! Period. And can we order Dominos…?” I love them, my very normal boys! LOL :)))
You’ve been married three times. There are many ideas out there that discuss a burning love and heavy passion for another person. Have you ever felt that type of feeling for someone, where it’s so great you cannot escape its hold, or were your marriages of a different type of love (perhaps admiration, toleration, the *thought* of love, other reasons?)
I have felt both burning love, heavy passion, and both at same time UGH!!!! All my relationships have only all been about passion, desire, heavy attraction, and unfortunately dysfunction for the most part. While in those relationships, it always felt like the feelings were so great that I could or would never escape, but as you can see by my track record (three divorces), I was able to get out and move on. I adore passion and burning love, yet discovered it’s best I stay single until I find the right man to have that with. Those who I loved in my past are not bad men, but rather just not right for me and me for them. In addition, I believe there’s a strike three law in California, so this Pfeiffer will not be marrying again, but cohabiting sounds perfect!
You’re a huge animal lover and have had many rescues. What do you want to say to people who are thinking about adding a pet to their family but are having trouble deciding rescue vs. store / breeder bought?
ALWAYS RESCUE!!!! They will love you FOREVER!!!!! And second, PLEASE do not get a Cockatoo! The videos out there are adorable, but these (and other) birds are very vulnerable / sensitive and unless you understand completely the responsibilities (and the fact that they live for 65+ years and have to be put in your will), think twice. I have always rescued all my pets and my sons are no different. I can say this because my son rescued a Cockatoo (Pandora) and as much as we LOVE her, she is a LOT of work to ensure she doesn’t pluck herself from stress which they are known for. They are LOUD as well, which is funny until your neighbors think you’re killing your children… yes! It sounds like that when she’s throwing a bird-fit! Not easy, so rescuing dogs and cats is so rewarding and much more doable and manageable! It’s simply not fair to get a bird and keep them in a cage, unless you’re willing to let your Cockatoo walk all over your house which makes them happier, but can be very messy and they chew worse than a Rottweiler puppy… and yes! Our Rottweiler, cat, and Cockatoo (all rescued) cohabitate together. A lot of work, but rewarding and they are a huge (and loud) part of our little family unit :))
You’re forever ingrained in the hearts of many for your February 2002 Playboy spread. Is this something that haunts you or something that makes you proud?
I am so very proud of my Playboy and always will be! I was single at that time, find the human body beautiful, and wanted to find a way to embrace and celebrate diversity within our country and my life at that time. I would do it again (if I still had that body LOL).
How were you approached by Playboy?
I had received an offer to do Playboy, but turned it down because at that time if you were a serious actor, you didn’t do Playboy! Years later, I found myself on a multiracial show “For Your Love”, and thought, “YES! Now is the time to not only do it, but do it with a BANG and for a REASON!”
Did you discuss the offer with family and friends before deciding to accept?
I took my sis to dinner and told her of my idea to do Playboy and it was her and I who came up with the idea to do it with a naked black man! If I was going to do Playboy, I wanted to make a statement about diversity, so my idea was to show that I was the wild Pfeiffer, pose with a naked black man, show off my tattoos, and not apologize for the amount of nudity I was willing to do! At that time, Playboy airbrushed tattoos, never had any man in their magazine (let alone naked), and no celebrity had shown that amount of nudity! I was able to break some Playboy norms! It didn’t get a lot of attention at that time because I didn’t do Howard Stern because I was pregnant and my reps at that time didn’t want me telling anyone because I was still interviewing for a pilot. I refused to go on a show where he might call me chubby when I was actually pregnant and not allowed to defend myself, so my issue just kind of came and left, not to mention from what I heard, Howard bad mouthed me for not going on his show. Breaking, yes, another norm because I guess all that did Playboy, were expected to do his show! Oh well! Like I said, I AM the wild Pfeiffer LOL! Not so bad considering that I have teenage boys now who probably appreciate that my issue wasn’t that publicized, LOL!
Your given name is Dorothy Diane Pfeiffer. Give us the background on your name, and how did you get your nickname “Dedee”? Tell us the origin of the name Pfeiffer.
My real name is Dorothy Diane Pfeiffer. Dorothy is my grandmother’s name. Diane is my aunt’s name. At that time, kids had cute names such as Cindy, Kathy, Trisha, Lori, and yes Michelle! I got stuck with my relative’s names, so my mom gave me the nickname DeeDee (I changed the spelling of it when I moved out), probably because she knew I was going to be made fun of with such an old (uncute) name as Dorothy. She said it was that or she would have named me Candice and nickname me Candy :/ She told me this tidbit of information while our family dog walked by… her name was Candy… Mom? Really???
Your mom, Donna Pfeiffer, may she rest in peace, was always helping others and had a full time job raising four children. What is the best lesson she ever taught you?
Like most children, I never saw my mom as what she truly was, nor the profound impact she actually had on me. As a child, I saw her as the weak one because she always cried and my dad the tough / strong one because he never cried. My mom was the one who ALWAYS walked (because she didn’t drive) to everyone’s homes and held the hands of family members and the hands of those that were passing to the light. She always rooted for the underdog, if she felt you were being unjustly judged, she’d side with you. Compassion was her middle name, and spitfire would most definitely be her surname! She wore bottle-top glasses to see and walked with one leg shorter than the other, but that never stopped her! This woman, whom I never thought of as the tough one, also went through a series of shock treatments in the late 50’s. This was the mom that raised me and now there is no way I can look at her as the weak one, but rather a woman with qualities I would be lucky to inherit and moxy that I can only hope is running through my veins! I know I have compassion for others because watching her throughout my childhood is what clearly drove me to go through 10 years of studying and not giving up on my difficult academic journey to help others.
You are really close with your siblings Michelle Pfeiffer, Lori Pfeiffer, Rick Pfeiffer. Not to leave your brother out of the conversation, but I have to know what it was like growing up with an older and a younger sister. As children, did you all get along? What was the worst fight you ever had with one of your siblings?
The four of us kids were pretty normal for the most part! Family fights, pillow fights, camping trips, older children helped raise the two younger ones… What’s funny is that we kind of grew up within two different generations i.e.: Shell and Rick grew up as hippies and Lori and I grew up as punk rockers / New Romantics. My bro was very quiet growing up and 10 yrs older than me, so I didn’t get to know him really. I looked up to my sis Shell and my lil sis, Lori (a year younger than me), drove me crazy! It was like a choo choo train lol! I followed Shell around, Lori followed me around, we both followed Shell around and we drove each other crazy when we weren’t laughing at only god knows what! I don’t remember much, but I do remember laughing a lot and we all still do love to laugh together to this day :)))
Chris Makepeace & Dedee Pfeiffer in Vamp.
What advice do you have for actors who are breaking back into the business after a long hiatus?
OH! That’s a good question! I say bring it ALL with you! Bring all that you have learned while living life to your work and don’t apologize for growing older! Like I always say, ”If you are lucky enough to even grow old (some left to the light too young) then find a way to embrace it!” I’m not happy with the signs of aging (my body, face, etc.), but we have two choices; grow old gracefully, or grow old kicking and screaming. LOL! I’m trying to do it gracefully or at the very least with humor!!!
Anything else you want to say?
I feel giving to those in need or animals in need helps feed one’s soul. For me it does. And that doesn’t mean giving money. Sometimes just giving your time can make a difference in others’ whole day! When I’m having what I like to call a “salty day” (bad day), I make myself do an act of random kindness. Try it and you will see how it does change your mood! Even just opening a door for someone who isn’t expecting it can change the energy around you and others around you…
I’ll end this with something I hold close to my heart:
“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” – C. S. Lewis
And I always end emails, texts, and phone calls with, “Have a beautiful day!”
LIGHTNING ROUND BONUS QUESTIONS:
Let’s talk tattoos. How many, of what, where, what age were you when you got them, which is your favorite?
– One old tat on left butt cheek of ugly cherub, but now has corrective tat over it of two cherubs in flight (who knows when I got them! Is young and drunk an answer? LOL)
– One memorial tat below belly button of two doves (representing my best friend Kenny who died of AIDS and my dad of cancer). (In my 20’s)
– (MY FAV) My son’s name in Greek in the shape of a cross on my upper back. (in 30’s)
– I owe my son Maximus Rikert his tat on my forearm of his name in Latin in the shape of an X (to be cont…)
What’s your favorite board game to play?
Monopoly. Why? Because it’s easy to play!
What brand toothpaste do you currently use?
Sensodyne (I’m old… I know! lol)
What was the last thing you watched on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon?
I’m obsessed with Ancient Aliens! We are NOT alone…!!!
Favorite go-to drink.
I’m sober, so COFFEE, dah! LOL!
Dedee Pfeiffer’s Biography:
After a 10-year absence from Hollywood, Dedee Pfeiffer is back starring on the new David E. Kelley helmed drama “Big Sky.” Premiering on ABC this fall, the series is set in rural Montana where private detectives search for two sisters who have been kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote highway.
A single mother of two young men, Pfeiffer has been hard at work during her recent time away from Hollywood earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Pierce College, Valley College and California State University Northridge. It was at UCLA where she earned a Master of Social Work. Her area of concentration includes mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness.
Television fans will know this talented actress from her series regular roles on “For Your Love” with Holly Robinson Peete, Tamala Jones and James Lesure; and from the award-winning comedy series “Cybill,” opposite Cybill Shepherd and Christine Baranski, which won a SAG Award for Outstanding Ensemble Series. Other notable small screen guest roles include “Ellen,” “Seinfeld,” “CSI,” “CSI: New York,” “Wanted,” “Friends” and “ER.”
No stranger to the big screen, Pfeiffer also had impressive roles in the films “Red Surf,” opposite George Clooney, “Falling Down” with Michael Douglas, “Tune in Tomorrow” with Keanu Reeves and “Into The Night” with Jeff Goldblum. Early in her career, she starred in the indie cult film “Vamp” with the legendary music icon Grace Jones. In addition, she has dozens of other studio and independent films to her credits including producing the indie award-winning film “Loredo.” The short film “The Tub,” in which she starred and produced, won multiple awards including a festival Best Actress Award.