We are sitting in a café near the north London home that Gwyneth Paltrow shares with Chris Martin and their children, Apple and Moses. It’s morning, and she has just completed the school run. The 36-year-old actress is on the first of two soy lattes that she will drink during a freewheeling, easygoing conversation that lasts twice as long as it was meant to. She fesses up that the boot-cut 7 For All Mankind jeans she’s wearing today were pinched from the wardrobe department of her latest film,
Two Lovers. She’s also wearing a woollen Dolce & Gabbana V-neck and Louboutin ankle boots. Not pictured: the mild stains on her bum (as spilled by Moses) and the shoulder snot (also supplied by her cold-ridden son). Dark roots showing through her bobbed hair and evidence of Moses’ cold aside, she is quietly radiant. She exudes star quality and class — something Diego Della Valle, president and owner of Tod’s Group, identified when he hired her to front its fall/winter 2008 campaign. “She’s the perfect ambassador — modern and charming, with a strong sense of family,” he says. “She is the contemporary embodiment of Audrey Hepburn.” Still, she’s a regular in this café, and it’s quiet, so there’s no overt gawking. She’s just another thirtysomething north London mom, unwinding after the morning rush.
Paltrow is fun — yes, fun — to hang out with: witty, candid and self-deprecating. “People assume, terribly mistakenly, that Gwyneth is stuck-up and rarefied,” James Gray, the director of
Two Lovers, later tells me. “She’s not — she’s really very earthy. I can talk about some silly video on YouTube with some crude joke and she’ll know it and love it.”
She is also pals — surprisingly — with Courtney Love. “We first met on a movie set,” recalls Paltrow. “We were in an elevator, and she was really horrible to me. And I was the biggest Hole fan of all time, so I was devastated. Then she went on a drug spiral. When she got sober, she contacted me and was like, ‘I feel like I missed an opportunity with you.’ Then we started texting and talking, and now when she’s here, she comes around. When we’re in L.A., we have dinner.”
“Is Courtney more sorted these days?” I ask.
“Yeah…I mean, she’s Courtney — she’s her own magical being. Some days, she seems more sorted than other days. But I don’t think she’s on Class A narcotics anymore — maybe just Class C! That’s not a big deal — aren’t we all, ha, ha, ha?!”
Although Paltrow’s achievements tend to get sidelined by interest in her personal life, she surprised her fans and critics with the launch of her weekly email newsletter,
Goop (goop.com), last fall. While some cynics called her a “karmically evolved Martha Stewart,” others suggested that her personal guide to health, cooking, fashion and lifestyle offered a glimpse into Paltrow’s world.
“I’ve tried so many different forms of exercise and alternative medicine,” she says. “I’m interested in what the Sufis say, what the Kabbalists say, what the mystical Christians say and what the Buddhists say, and I have a good network of those people. And, being on location for films in my 20s and being married to somebody who travels for work, I’ve got some great tips.”
Still, does Paltrow understand how people might perceive her goal — which is to “nourish the inner aspect” — as pious and patronizing, especially for those who are short on cash? “Well, I don’t think that’s true,” she says. “Anyone can make the recipes. But I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $27,000 a year — that would be completely inauthentic. Anyway, that’s the point: It doesn’t matter what you’re capable of [financially]; the way to enrich your heart isn’t by just sitting around. If you eat well, exercise, meditate and don’t say bad things about other people, in two weeks your life will be transformed. People don’t understand that. I know what my intentions are, and if it makes one person’s life better, then it’s worth it. And fuck the haters!”
From her position of centredness, Paltrow can deal with “the haters.” But what happens when they’re writing about, say, Lily Allen? Paltrow has made two films (Sylvia, Proof) that were produced by Allen’s mom, Alison Owen. She has known Lily “forever.” So, how does Paltrow feel when Allen, only 24, is dragged through the mud?
“The way I feel about that is, ‘Shame on you!’” she says. “They’re doing that to a child — Lily isn’t a woman yet. She’ll be okay because she’s a smart girl and very talented, but this is a big test when you’re her age. In a way, if it makes her go in a good direction, what a blessing that will be. Think about all the crap she’s got out of the way.”
Paltrow got her crap out of the way at the end of her busy-busy 20s, during which she was engaged to Brad Pitt, won an Oscar for Best Actress for
Shakespeare in Love (at 23, no less) and then slowed her work pace and went into therapy.
“It helped me so much,” she says. “I hate that my shrink is in New York because I would still be going all the time. It’s nice to have a relationship with somebody you really trust — who you can say anything to and who has no stake in it or agenda. And it was also helpful at certain times in my life. My father died in a traumatic way, and I had to do post-traumatic stress counselling.”
Her father, Bruce Paltrow, died in Italy in October 2002. He and his only daughter had gone to celebrate Paltrow’s 30th birthday. He’d had
radiotherapy for oral cancer but died of double pneumonia. Immediately after his death, Paltrow made
Sylvia — the biopic of Sylvia Plath, the poet who gassed herself.
“She was very upset on the set,” recalls Sir Michael Cambon, who starred alongside Paltrow in
Sylvia and, later,
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and
The Good Night. “She brought the agony and misery that she was suffering and used it to play the part, which was quite right. But it was awful for her.” Paltrow now says that filming
Sylvia was transformative. “I was in a black hole, but it was in that movie that I lost myself consciousness as an actor,” she says.
Until recently, Paltrow refused to cut her long blond hair. “I just felt like my dad was alive when I grew this hair,” she says. “I know it sounds strange.” Recently, at a photo shoot, she had an epiphany. “My hairstylist — an old friend — was brushing my hair and I was like, ‘Fuck this hair! I can’t look at this hair anymore. Cut my hair!’” Paltrow recounts how she first texted Aerin Lauder — granddaughter of Estée Lauder, founder of the company for whom Paltrow is a current “face” — to ask if she was allowed to cut it. The reply? “Yeah, that’d be chic!” But, says Paltrow quietly, “It’s been really tough” dealing with her father’s death. “And to this day, I’m faced with it all the time. I’ve had pneumonia twice in the past year, and that’s ultimately what he died of. There’s a real emotional link to that. I’ve been dealing with my own fear of death a lot. And every time I get a cold now…” She stops, eyes shining, then brightens. “So, this is my new challenge: letting go of the fear.”
Indulgences (booze and cigarettes) “I love good red wine — I’d never want to give that up. White wine is nice too. I don’t like lager, but I like stout — I love Guinness. Man, I wish smoking didn’t kill you — I’m so pissed off it gives you cancer. The last cigarette I smoked was the day I found out I was pregnant with Apple. Once you have children, if you’ve witnessed a death like I did with my father, you just can’t — I never want to put them through what I went through.”
Mean-spirited bloggers “Fuck the haters! One day, by accident, I saw this blog where people wrote horrible things about me. For a second, I lost perspective and my ego was so wounded. I thought, ‘How could people hate me or my intentions? I’m a good person, and I’m trying to put good things into the world.’”
Private life “It doesn’t behoove us to be a public couple. Chris certainly doesn’t want to be that. So, it’s just better if we don’t get photographed together — I mean, we’ve never, ever walked down a red carpet together, and we never will. If people think that means we’re not together, then — ha, ha, ha! — so be it.”
Wearing Stella McCartney “I read something horrible about the Stella dress [that I wore to the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel Grand Opening Party]. But people probably don’t realize that sometimes you wear a dress because your friend made it. Yeah, I always wanna wear her stuff because it’s good for her, you know?”
People’s misconceptions about Madonna “That she, in some way, does things in her life for the press or to affect her [public] perception. She’s the
most ambitious person I know. Very driven. The hardest worker I’ve ever seen. But she does everything with pure intentions.”
People’s misconceptions about her “That I’m a goody two-shoes, but I’m not. I’m probably less square than people think.”