In an industry which frequently treats actresses like chattel—props to enhance leading men—Michelle Pfeiffer is an anomaly. After making her mark with her show-stopping beauty in movies including Scarface and Ladyhawke, she won over the critics and garnered a trio of Oscar nominations in movies including The Fabulous Baker Boys. She's had crowd-pleasing stints, too—as via her turn in that form-fitting feline suit in Batman Returns. Should we be surprised then that she turned her box office clout into producing power? Or that in her quest for good material in which to star, the one-time catwoman pounced after reading The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard?

Pfeiffer had competition. Astute Oprah Winfrey-watchers may recall that the book received the talk show queen's first on-the-air book endorsement. Moreover, Winfrey was said to be interested in a movie version. But Pfeiffer snared the project, which explores every mother's harrowing nightmare: the abduction of a child. Yet there is another layer to The Deep End of the Ocean. No thriller, this is a complex examination of family relationships. Along with exploring the aftermath of a child's disappearance, the book looks at the effect of a child's reappearance years later. Like life, the book does not provide easy answers. The character of the mother is equally true to life. She is flawed, not perfect.

But then Pfeiffer has long been drawn to multi-dimensional characters, including those with their origin in books, contemporary and classic. She was both producer and star of Dangerous Minds (St. Martin's), about former Marine LouAnne Johnson and her tour of duty as an inner-city school teacher. Earlier, she ventured into John Le Carre's world of espionage opposite Sean Connery in The Russia House (Bantam). And on the lighter side, she conjured up trouble alongside Cher, Susan Sarandon, and the devilish Jack Nicholson for a Hollywood take on John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick (Ballantine).

More recently, she was the mysterious Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence (Collier Books), based on Edith Wharton's compelling look at the New York upper-crust, circa the gas-lit 1870s. And she will be among the starry players—who will also include Calista Flockhart (of TV's Ally McBeal, which is produced by Pfeiffer's husband David E. Kelley)—in the upcoming retelling of Shakespeare's roguish romantic tale A Midsummer Night's Dream (due out in May). Pfeiffer will portray Titania, Queen of the Fairies. Which means she will, literally, be a regal presence.

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