Gwyneth Paltrow: Modesty blasé

She's intelligent, articulate and has a figure to die for. But Gwyneth Paltrow can't see what the fuss is about
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The Independent Culture

As much as I wanted to find fault with Gwyneth Paltrow when we met at a Manhattan hotel to discuss her new film, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I discovered that the only quality I could despise in the actress was that she's not my best friend.

As much as I wanted to find fault with Gwyneth Paltrow when we met at a Manhattan hotel to discuss her new film, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I discovered that the only quality I could despise in the actress was that she's not my best friend.

My reasons for resenting her are admittedly shallow, but reassuringly understandable. At just 32 years old, Paltrow has already won an Oscar, become a global fashion plate and a bona fide movie star, and she now she can add wife and mother to her growing list of credits. There must surely be a flaw somewhere.

Paltrow is somewhat of an anomaly in Hollywood: she's highly intelligent (she speaks five languages, without a hint of an American twang) and articulate; she has an enviable, statuesque figure and a killer sense of humour; she possesses excellent taste in men (she was once engaged to Brad Pitt and dated Ben Affleck); and she's on a constant quest for self-improvement, following the intricacies of a macrobiotic diet and perfecting every pose in her two-hour sunrise yoga sessions.

Despite the sticky temperatures outside, the actress is radiating an assured coolness as she totters into the suite, wearing an air of let's-get-to-it-ness. Her contentment is obvious. "I've never been happier," she beams.

Garbed in Forties couture, Paltrow looks as though she's stepped right off the set of Sky Captain - the film produced by and starring her good friend, Jude Law, as well as Angelina Jolie. Her long, wavy blonde hair is impeccable, and her clear turquoise eyes and porcelain skin are luminous. Her famously sinewy figure is also sporting new curves in all the right places - and her secret for dropping the extra padding so quickly after giving birth to her daughter, Apple, in May is, she quips: "Blush and a girdle."

In fact, all Paltrow wants to do is survive the day's press interviews so she can snuggle up to her baby, who is in the care of a nanny in an adjoining suite. It transpires that, indeed, babies are the number one theme du jour.

First up, why did Paltrow name her daughter Apple (as in oranges, pears and the like)? "Her daddy named her. I don't know why. I never asked him, I just liked the name," she reasons, simply. "I have no idea what the fuss was all about, but to us, she's just our little Pomme." Ah ha, she brought up her daddy - Coldplay's Chris Martin, and, according to the PR, strictly off limits. I casually enquire if he is a dab hand in the nappy-changing department. Paltrow doesn't flinch, but grins at the mention of his name. "He's a fantastic father, but he doesn't like me to talk about him. Yet I will say that he has been excellent with Apple. She is a daddy's girl."

Paltrow has always remained modest and self-effacing when talking to journalists; she is smart enough to evade personal questions with grace and has the brains to know how to stay in favour with the media. Apart from her obvious celluloid charisma, proven time and again in films such as Emma, Great Expectations and The Royal Tenenbaums, she has a talent for keeping us mesmerised off-screen as well as on. And, since she became a full-time mum five months ago, it's Paltrow's off-screen life that has filled more gossip column inches than her film roles as a result of her putting her career on the back burner.

"I have had the luxury of saying that I've done everything career-wise that I wanted to do, basically," she begins. "So I now have the freedom to shift my focus and fully dive into this domestic kind of bliss. It might be a different story if I was still struggling to achieve my ambitions."

After dropping out of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Paltrow waited tables until her boat came in. In true Tinseltown style, her father, the TV producer/director Bruce Paltrow, ran into an old buddy by the name of Steven Spielberg, who later offered the inexperienced actress a small role in his next film, Hook.

Soon after that, Miramax's head honcho Harvey Weinstein gave Paltrow her first lead in Emma, and thus a beautiful friendship was born. After her roles in Sliding Doors, Shakespeare in Love and The Talented Mr Ripley, Paltrow became known as the first lady of Miramax.

In 1998, she collected a best-actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. She was 26 - the same age as her actress mother, Blythe Danner, was when the latter won a Tony for her performance on Broadway in Butterflies are Free. "She was my role model," Paltrow smiles. "I think I was probably in third grade, and she was doing a film with Martin Sheen. They had worked it out that the house where they were shooting was six blocks away from our own house, and so when me and my brother came home from school, we would walk over there, and it was a fantastic thing."

She cocks her head to one side, thinking. "I absolutely loved being around actors," she says. "It was such a lively atmosphere, and everyone was creative, and it was a lovely way to grow up. I don't look at it like, 'Oh, no, I'm subjecting [Apple] to something that's not great,' because I really feel that it will be." She pauses: "I'm just not ready to jump back into work."

A self-confessed "daddy's girl", Paltrow took it particularly hard when her father died two years ago, at the age of 58, from throat cancer. At the time, Paltrow said of her father: "He was the kind of spirit that dealt with everything - 'I'll help you, I'll catch the mistake.' I had this huge safety net all the time. I've had to learn to rely on myself in a way that, really, I didn't want to. I always wanted my daddy there."

Paltrow threw herself into work. The filming of Sylvia, in which she portrays the poet Sylvia Plath, began in London just weeks after her father's death. Critics gave the film generally tepid reviews, but praised Paltrow's "vivid and passionate presence". Danner plays Plath's mother in the film, and she and Paltrow leant on one another for emotional support. Paltrow says that her relationship with her mother has strengthened. "It's different," she nods. "I see her more as a woman and a wife than as a mother now. And I think that I have taken on the responsible role. It's been kind of a subtle shift. It has changed our dynamic."

Her father's death also influenced Paltrow's wedding plans. In December 2003, she and Martin eloped to Santa Barbara, without any family or friends present for the nuptials. Her reasons are simple: Paltrow had wanted her father to walk her down the aisle.

In her career, too, Paltrow has always gone her own way. "I've done things that sometimes could be perceived to be risky," she sighs. "But I've just followed my instincts and it's always ended up being the most interesting thing for one reason or another."

One of those "interesting things" is Sky Captain, which is set in a stylised version of New York City, c1939. The film was shot almost entirely on a blue screen at Elstree Studios, has few props - and no sets at all. Its writer/director, Kerry Conran, filmed the live action with the principals, and then filled in every frame digitally, adding everything from giant robots invading Manhattan to planes circling the Empire State Building.

Paltrow pays homage to Katherine Hepburn in her portrayal of the newspaper reporter Polly Perkins, who - wearing Stella McCartney threads and a spunky attitude - uncovers the disappearance of many world-famous scientists. "She reminded me of the archetype of that 1940s woman where women were allowed to be strong, ballsy and super-glamorous," Paltrow offers. "Nobody really questioned their strength. They didn't seem in any way lower than men. I loved the fact that she was like that."

When the city falls under attack, Perkins joins forces with an old flame, the fighter pilot Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan, and the duo jet off in search of the mad scientist hell-bent on destroying the planet. Jolie adopts a British accent to play Franky Cook, who leads an all-female amphibious squadron in a bid to help the winning side.

"It was strange shooting against a fake scene," says Paltrow. "But it was a wonderful experience for me, because I was with Jude. We didn't know how to do this blue screen thing, so we just sort of clung to each other for dear life. We would get hysterical laughing about things like: 'Now, how big is the robot that I'm looking at?' They were like: 'No, it's a weird ostrich-like creature. Make a bigger reaction.' It was really fun."

In Paltrow's next film, already in production, she reprises her role in Proof, alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal (in 2002, Paltrow appeared in the Pulitzer prize-winning play at the Donmar Warehouse in London, to great acclaim). Plus, she is slated to play Marlene Dietrich in a film of the actress's life story after her maternity leave.

"I feel so fortunate," says Paltrow. "I also feel like I've had a lot of suffering. It's a balance: you have something happen that's really wonderful, which makes you feel like the most special person in the world, and you have all of these incredible opportunities, and then your father dies, and nothing means anything."

Although undecided where they want to raise Apple, for now Paltrow divides her time between New York's Greenwich Village and London's Knightsbridge. She suddenly begins to giggle. "You know what's really interesting about being an American who spends a lot of time in Europe right now?" she asks. "I seem to spend a lot of dinner-party conversations defending my country. I think America is amazing and it's founded on the most incredible principles, but the administration right now has made some very big mistakes and the people, especially the poor sector, are really struggling.

"We're in this war, which I don't understand at all. People are so angry because the motivation behind a lot of the current administration's decisions seems to be money, big business and putting money in all of their friends' pockets. So I don't defend that aspect.

"But just because this is the position of the current government, it doesn't mean all Americans are loud, unthinking and self-serving. But then again, it's not something I continually worry about."

So what does keep Paltrow up at night then? "I worry about all the mercury that's being dumped into the lakes and the oceans, and the ozone layer depleting, and forests being chopped down to find more oil. I mean, I really worry about the state of the planet and I wish that the government would make a concerted effort not to trash it. And I just wonder what the Earth will be like when Apple is a grandmother. I really worry about that."