This Co-Star Was Shocked Michelle Pfeiffer "Said Hello," Let Alone Had an Affair With Him
They fell for each other on the set of a period romance.
For nearly 30 years, Michelle Pfeiffer has been married to David E. Kelley, the TV writer and producer behind such hits as Ally McBeal and Big Little Lies. But before that, the actor had a first marriage—one that started to come to an end around the time that she starred in the period drama Dangerous Liaisons. It came out after the 1988 film was released that Pfeiffer and her co-star John Malkovich fell for each other on set, something that Malkovich later confessed that he found utterly surprising. Read on to find out why the actor said it was "hard to believe" that Pfeiffer would even speak to him and how the off-screen affair impacted both stars' existing relationships.
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Pfeiffer and Malkovich played doomed lovers in the film.
Set in 18th century Paris, Dangerous Liaisons is adapted from the 1985 play and 1782 novel Les Liaisons dangereuses. Malkovich stars as Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont, who accepts a challenge from his former lover, Glenn Close's Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil, to seduce the innocent and proper Madame Marie de Tourvel, played by Pfeiffer.
Their characters do eventually fall in love, but the games that Valmont and Merteuil play with the lives of others lead to everyone's downfall. The 1999 teen movie Cruel Intentions is another adaptation of the novel, that one set in modern day, and a Dangerous Liaisons series premiered on Starz this year.
Both actors were married to other people.
Pfeiffer married fellow actor Peter Horton in 1981, and they worked together a few times before their split. She appeared in an after school special he directed, and they acted with each other in the 1987 science-fiction satire Amazon Women on the Moon. Pfeiffer has also credited her first husband with helping her escape the clutches of a predatory cult that was bleeding her of money early in her career.
Meanwhile, Malkovich was with the late Glenne Headly, known for her roles in Dick Tracy and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. They had been married since 1982.
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Their director confirmed the affair in 2003.
In a 2003 profile of Malkovich by The New York Times, Dangerous Liaison director Stephen Frears spoke about how the lives of the actors began to intertwine with the drama between their characters.
"His marriage was breaking up, and, during the movie, he was having an affair with Michelle Pfeiffer," the filmmaker said. "Dangerous Liaisons is about betrayal and lies and relationships unraveling. It was one of those times where reality and art intersect. It was overwhelming to John. Even for a man who delights in bad behavior, that was a difficult time."
Malkovich later expressed disbelief that he and Pfeiffer got together.
Malkovich found his affair with Pfeiffer unlikely and told Rolling Stone as much in 2008.
"It's hard to believe Michelle Pfeiffer ever said hello to me," Malkovich said, as reported by The Things. But he didn't have much more to say on the matter.
"Not that she's not memorable, God knows," he continued. "But I sort of blocked it out. What I'm trying to say is when I think of the other person, I don't think of me as involved with them. They're in-corrupted by me. As if they were never troubled by my existence."
The affair didn't last long.
Malkovich and Pfeiffer's relationship didn't sustain, though neither has spoken about why it came to an end—and Pfeiffer hasn't publicly commented about it at all. The Age reported in 2003, however, that Malkovich "cried for a year" after they went their separate ways.
Pfeiffer and Horton separated in 1988 and eventually divorced, but the French Exit star said it was rushing into marriage at 22 that was real problem.
"I think my husband and I were both too young, and as we started growing up our needs changed. We've always been close, even up to the separation, which was very difficult on both of us because we have never stopped caring for each other," she told Interview in 2012. "We didn't have an angry breakup—he even helped me pack my car. [laughs] It wasn't bitter, and we talked every day on the phone. It was, in that sense, really difficult because we didn't have the anger to hide behind, the anger that covers up all the pain. But we're like best friends when we see each other."
The affair may have caused more problems for Malkovich and Headley, who The New York Times notes once referred to her ex as "the root of all evil." They also divorced in 1988.
Pfeiffer wed Kelley in 1993, and they have two children. Malkovich has been in a relationship with Nicoletta Peyran since 1989, and they have two kids as well. So while the stars' on-set affair was left in the past, you can always put on the movie to experience the chemistry that led to it.