GWYNETH TAKES ALL by Dennis Hensley
To most people, Gwyneth Paltrow would appear to be living the ultimate dream life. Just yesterday, she returned from a relaxing visit with her boyfriend Brad Pitt on the Argentina set of Seven Years in Tibet and tomorrow she's taking her family to Paris, where she'll be promoting Emma, the film that bumped her up to the A-list last summer and is currently basking in the delicious din of Oscar buzz. She's also got three new films--the gritty indie Hard Eight, the domestic thriller Hush, and a modernized version of Great Expectations--coming out within the next year. Add to that the fact that she just wiped the floor with Madonna and Sharon Stone in the Best Personal Style - Female category of the how-have-we-lived-so-long-without-them VH-1 Fashion Awards and you have a 24-year-old who must be black and blue all over from pinching herself. Still, in spite of all of the above, at this very moment Gwyneth Paltrow would much rather be Cher. Or better yet, Mr. T. Anything with fewer letters than Gwyneth Paltrow.
"Wouldn't that be great?" jokes Paltrow, sitting on a couch in her New York hotel room, dressed in black leather pants and a blue v-necked sweater. "This Sharpie is asphyxiating me."
On the one day she has in New York between trips, Paltrow has taken on not only an interview, a photo shoot, and a snake, but, at the moment, boxes and boxes of Emma novels she's agreed to autograph for charity.
"Just be glad you're not Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio," I suggest.
"Maybe I should sign one, 'Love, Mr. T'," she says shaking out her jet-lagged wrist. "Dare me?"
Of course, I do. And, of course, she does before sliding the masterpiece across the table for my inspection.
"At least you put, 'Love'," I point out.
"I wonder what poor shlub is going to get that one?" she says, although she knows that if she were the poor schlub, she'd be more likely to cherish the Mr. T book and the subversiveness it represents. "I pity the fool who don't love Emma," she adds, doing her best Mr. T imitation.
So do I.
DENNIS HENSLEY: What was Argentina like? Did you have a nice hotel?
GWYNETH PALTROW: Hotel? We had like a cross between a shack and a cottage on an army barracks. But it was so wonderful. The phone barely rang. I worked out for the first time in my entire life. I slept like 11 hours every night and I would wake up and read and I'd go to set and have lunch with Brad and then come home and make dinner and we'd just talk and talk and talk because there's no distraction...
There's no E! Entertainment Television.
There's no E! Oh, please. When I was leaving, I was talking to my friend and she's like, "And there's no E!," and I was like, "I know."
The Gossip Show can't be nearly as much fun when they're talking about you.
Yeah, it really isn't. I want to burn down The Gossip Show. (Laughs) My statements are too rash. The Cuban guy I was sitting next to on the plane was making fun of me because everything I said was so extreme.
Based on your experience with celebrity, when you hear gossip now about others are you more or less likely to believe it?
Less. I've never read anything about me in a tabloid that's been true, so I can only assume that everything else is 100% false. I used to believe everything which scares me because it means everyone else believes everything.
Still, you must get some good dish though.
Yeah. Where you get all the best dish is in the hair and makeup trailer. They know everything!
What's the most shocking thing you've heard in hair and makeup trailer?
This guy said this TV star is like a wicked lesbian and her boyfriend was a gay hustler at one point but I don't know if I even believe that. And also all my queens think everybody's a queen.
Speaking of queens, I recently saw you with RuPaul on the VH-1 Fashion Awards where you won "Best Personal Style Award - Female." Now, it seems like kind of a silly award, but you want to be grateful...
You want to be gracious but what the hell are you supposed to say? "I'd like to thank myself for having the knack to dress..." See, I don't think of it as personal style, but as "Why can't I get myself together?" But I was lucky because I could thank Calvin Klein, who has been so good to me and who's clothes are amazing. One of my best friends from high school, Julia, called me and she was like, "Can we discuss the fact that you beat Madonna and Sharon Stone? It's not like it's a Spence fashion contest and you beat me, and like Audrey Herks, this girl in our class. What is going on?" This whole thing is so weird I can't even express it.
The screenwriter William Goldman recently wrote an article in Premier about publicity and new stars where he mentioned you and Matthew McConnaghey. One of the points he made that I thought was interesting was that you didn't really have the opportunity to fail. It was like, "Well, Emma and A Time To Kill better be good after all we've heard about them." Did you feel that kind of pressure?
Well, it just made me feel strange. I didn't feel pressure because I had done the movie. I had done the work. What made me feel strange was The New York Times commenting on my publicity and Matthew's publicity. Why is this news? From where I was, I said, "Okay I'll do Vogue and Us and the press junket." Then what happens is, they put you, without your permission, on the cover of People. I couldn't open something without finding myself in it when the only things I consented to do were those two covers. It's not me going, "Oh, can I be on Extra? Is there any way I can get on Extra?" On the other hand, I really liked Emma and I really like Hard Eight, and I want to help it. You think I want to be on another magazine cover? No.
Let's talk about Hard Eight. I just saw it.
What'd you think?
At first I was confused, but it grew on me.
Dennis... I know you, you didn't like it. See I really love that movie. It's one of the ones I really love. I know it's not for everybody. It's sort of an ugly movie, in the best possible way, but there's also real sweetness in it.
Didn't the movie used to be called Sidney?
Yes, but they thought that it would immediately signify that the movie took place in Australia. Hard Eight is a title that none of us who were involved in the creative aspect of the film chose.
So what's the deal with the different versions of the film?
There was a big battle and Paul Thomas Anderson, the director, was incredibly close to the film and didn't know what battles he could win and which he would lose so they took the film away. In the end Paul made a few concessions and they made a few concessions. I understand both sides. I said something in the L.A. Times that I should retract publicly, because I was a little harsh. I understand the the people who put up money to make movies, ultimately are just trying to ensure there monetary recuperation. They're not malicious. They are trying to protect their investment, but at the same time, they have to trust who they trusted in the first place with. They have to trust the filmmaker.
You play a cocktail waitress who moonlights as a hooker. Didn't you work as a hostess for a while?
Yeah, at the Fish Company in Venice. It was a fun time. I felt like I was in Melrose Place. It was hard because I was trying to support myself and you don't make any money.
Did you ever seat anybody famous?
Never. I was already auditioning, so when I looked for a hostessing job, I specifically wanted somewhere where I wouldn't have to, like, seat my agents.
I loved that waitress outfit in Hard Eight. How many sequin animals had to die for that thing?
Hundreds. They couldn't even put that clause at the end of this movie, "No sequins were harmed during the making of this film." Aren't I a beast in that? Permed, frizzed hair, and every night they had to take brown paint and brush it into my hair line to make my roots look black. The D.P. would always freak out to the director and go, "Are you sure? I've never lit a woman this horribly before," and the directors like, "Oh, no, I love it."
Did you talk to any hookers to do research?
No. I should've probably. In general, that kind research isn't necessary to me. And then to do it, to talk to hookers because it's intriguing and kind of dark seemed like taking advantage, when if I was playing a janitor I wouldn't talk to a janitor.
There was a little wedding video in Hard Eight and you also get married in Emma. Obviously it's acting, but did part of you feel like it was dress rehearsal?
Not really. For the wedding in Hard Eight, we went to an actual wedding chapel in Reno and the people who did the ceremony didn't know that it was for a movie. The preacher you hear is the real preacher and you know who made the video? The chapel video maker. It was so surreal.
What was Reno like?
It's depressing. You're shooting in a casino at 4 a.m. and you would see these blue-haired people sticking there social security right in the slot. But there was something really fun and dark and seductive about being there.
Did you gamble?
I played blackjack one night. I had been in Vegas a few years earlier, and I had gotten obsessed with blackjack and I played it for a long long time.
Were you old enough?
No. I was quite far from being old enough.
That's interesting because in your acting, you can also pass for older.
Do you think so? Thanks.
So you just finished shooting Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke. Is it set in the present?
Yeah. They've just taken the moral structure of the story and transposed it. It could be cool. I play Estella. She's an ice princess.
Did you read Ethan's novel?
Yes. It's really good. He's a doll. And his girlfriend (Uma Thurman) is so gorgeous and smart it's mind blowing.
You're also coming out in Hush. What happens in it?
It's the name of this house where we live. Johnathan Schaech and I are going out, and his mother, Jessica Lange, is really possessive. We go to visit her and she masterminds this plan to get us to move in with her so she can get him back and then finish me off. It was so great to work with Jessica Lange. At first I was kind of intimidated because she's a private woman but we got pretty close. She has so much dignity.
It sounds like a genre thriller ala Fatal Attraction. What attracted you to it?
Well, I had never done anything like that and I thought it would be fun. You can't be 23 and have the opportunity to star in a movie with Jessica Lange and say no. It's just the beginning of my career, and I can learn so much from her. Who knows when I'll have the opportunity to do it again?
There must be a lot pressure to have to make every decision so carefully, as though you're whole career on the A-list is at stake.
I've gotten really stressed out about that lately, and my attitude now is, Listen, I have my whole life and my whole career ahead of me, I can make mistakes, I can do a movie that everyone thinks is awful. I can do a movie because somebody is in it that I think is cool. And if people are so quick to judge me, so be it. A couple weeks ago I was flying back from Argentina and one of the flight attendants, this beautiful woman, was talking to me, and she said something about her college age daughter. I said, you don't look old enough to have a daughter in college and she said she was like 50. And I said, "You have to tell me how you live." And she said, "Never worry about what people say about you behind your back, because it's none of your business." And I felt like a weight had been lifted when she said that. It was like a little angel that appeared on my plane. And she's right. All I can do is my work, be professional, live my life fully with my family and boyfriend and the puppies and the rest is none of my business. So let them say what they are going to say.
Can you relate to the idea of going out with someone who your parents disapproved of?
Yeah. I definitely went out with someone that my parents did not approve of. But you cannot tell a child, "Don't go out with this person," especially not me, because whatever they said "Don't do," I would do more. At the same time, I'm glad I went through it. I've done a lot of things in my life that I'm not proud of but I also know they are the behavior of an adolescent girl, so I can't really beat myself up over it. All I can do is learn and move on and I see the value in things so much more now. I never thought that when I was younger that I would value my family as much as I do but they're everything to me. You know, that is not the way you see your life when you're 16.
Your mother, Blythe Danner, performed on Broadway a lot when you were growing up. Do you have any memories of hanging around backstage?
Yeah. One time there was an actor in the play with her that was very famous. So my mother would go onstage and I would roller skate underneath Lincoln Center where it's like a maze of shellacked hallways. I was 8. So I was skating and this movie star who was always very nice to me, I met him alone in the hallway and he started screaming at me, saying, "You're a f-ing stupid brat, shut up." He went off on me and I see him in things to this day.
If you were cast in a movie and they suggested him to play your father would you veto him if you could?
Absolutely, because the only person who would speak that way to an 8-year old child when nobody else is around is a wildly unhappy or sick human being.
When you were growing up, did you ever get confused and think your mom was her characters?
No. I always understood what she did, although when I saw her do A Streetcar Named Desire, it just tore me apart. I was probably 14. I just sat there and wept for like 15 minutes after the performance. My father was next to me and he just couldn't get me out of the chair. When I went backstage I just held her and cried.
Your father, Bruce Paltrow, is a television producer. What's a story you remember from your childhood about going to one of his sets?
The clearest day in my mind was the day the Harlem Globetrotters were there on the set of The White Shadow. I was five, it was unbelievable. There was one guy who had the most wicked Afro I had ever seen. He held my hand and picked me up and he was so gentle and so sweet to me.
Before Emma, much of your press had a 'daughter of...,' 'girlfriend of...' slant to it. Was it nice to come out in Emma and really be out there on your own?
Yeah. It was a really validating experience. It's nice to be recognized for your work.
Is it true that you cut a deal with the studio where you'd do The Pallbearer in return for them giving you Emma?
Isn't it ironic and satisfying then that Emma was the bigger success?
It really is.
It was really fun to watch Emma after seeing Clueless. I was impressed how faithful Clueless was to the source material.
I love that movie. It's hilarious.
I was impressed with your singing when you sat down at the harpsichord in Emma.
I was so nervous.
What song do you wish you could have sung?
Maybe "These Dreams" by Heart. Wouldn't that have been great? (sings) "I walk without a cut... through a stain glass wall." Either that or Laura Brannigan's "Gloria."
In Emma, there's only one scene you're not in. Were you tempted to show up and go, "Don't mind me, I just came back to get my parasol?"
(Laughs) No, I was so thankful to have a quarter of an afternoon off.
Are they going to do an Oscar campaign for Emma this year?
I don't know. It's so ridiculous I don't even want to think about it.
Promise me when you're up for something you'll make a funny face during the part where they show each nominee.
What kind of face do you want me to make?
I think sort of demure and embarrassed like you don't deserve all the attention.
My favorite one was when John Leguizamo was up for Too Wong Fu and he croseed his fingers like this. (She demonstrates) He was so funny.
Tell me about watching Emma at the White House. First of all, how did you find out it was going to happen?
I was on the set of Great Expectations in Sarasota and Brad was in my hotel room and I called him to find out when he wanted to come visit on the set and he's like, "I was just curious, do you have any plans for Tuesday night because Bill would like us to come over and watch Emma with him, you know, Bill... Clinton... President of the United States." I was like, "AAAAHHH!"
So did you sit between Bill and Brad?
Yeah, isn't that cool? But we didn't fight for the armrest. I just let him have it.
Did you feel like he was trying to laugh at the right parts for your benefit?
No, but we were watching it with other senators and Washington types, and if the President laughed, then the rest of the room laughed. So weird.
Was Hillary there?
No, she and Chelsea were looking at colleges. See, I thought we were going because Chelsea wanted to meet Brad but she wasn't even there so my theory was blown.
Were there snacks?
You walk in and there's a big table with bags of popcorn. First the president said something, then the director Doug McGrath said something, then we watched it.
I would have loved it if you and Brad had started making out during the movie. Did your opinion of the President change at all?
My opinion of him was always high, but it was nice to be face to face with him and see how sincere he is, because on TV, politicians can look like they're doing things by rote, and he really was sincere. And after the screening, he got us this private plane to fly from DC to LA. So we're in this beautiful G3 airplane in our pajamas and the lady is bringing us Bloody Marys and we just looked at each other, and were like, "This is so ridiculous! What kind of lives are these? What is wrong with us?" We were just laughing hysterically. And the best part was that when we landed we were like "This is so cool!" but the company had forgotten to order a car, so we had to hail a cab and the car smelt unbearably bad. It was the perfect end to our trip.
It reminds of that line in Broadcast News when William Hurt says, "What do you do when your reality surpasses your dreams?" and Albert Brooks says, "Keep it to yourself." Do you ever feel unworthy of this great life your leading?
I had a really difficult time when it all started happening. I thought I don't deserve all of this but the truth is, everybody deserves it, you know, everybody deserves life to be the best it could possibly be. It just is a matter of coming to terms with it and not beating yourself up over it which is what I did at first and still kind of do. I don't understand why I have things so good and other people don't. But I also understand that this is an incredible, fun ride and I want to take advantage of it because it's here now and then I'm going to go have the quiet life and have lots of babies. You know, this isn't real. It's fun and it's exciting but it's not real and as long as you know that, it can't really damage you because you don't really allow yourself to absorb it all as normal circumstance.
I've noticed that you've been quite gracious to the people around you. Is that something that helps you to feel a little more worthy?
Well, my father always treated everybody the same whether it was the most important CEO or whatever. He and my mother really instilled that in my brother and I. Everybody's just doing their job and you have to be respectful of everybody. If someone's rude to a waiter, I cannot handle it. I have an anxiety attack, because I hate confrontation of any kind, and why do people make problems when there's no need? Everybody can just be nice and sweet to each other.
Are you a good flirt?
The worst. It makes me really self conscious and I never know when somebody likes me. If I've already kissed the person, then I can flirt, but I can't flirt to get something to happen.
What's the craziest thing you've ever done in pursuit of a crush?
I once drove to Las Vegas because the guy was there doing a movie. This was when I was trying to make it happen.
Did it work?
Have you been dumper or dumpee more in your life?
The dumper. They're both awful. It's wildly unpleasant situation because anytime you spend time with somebody and share yourself in all aspects, there's something really bizarre about cutting it off and never seeing them again.
If you were single, and there was a guy you liked and he'd never seen any of your movies, and he could rent one of them, which would you want it to be?
Your first movie? But you only had one line in it?
I know. I'd blow him out of the water.
When you first read the script for Seven, what did you think when saw what happened to your character?
Well I kind of knew it was coming when I was reading it. I really wanted to do that movie. I got flack about people saying that part is so thankless, but I really didn't feel that way.
And that movie changed your life more than anything.
Absolutely. My father said that's the most important movie I ever did.
Will you and Brad work together again?
Yeah. It'd be fun. We'd have a great time.
What's your favorite Brad Pitt movie?
True Romance and Thelma & Louise, especially when he takes off Geena Davis's ring like it weights a thousand pounds.
What's his favorite of yours?
He has favorite scenes. He loves Emma. He really likes Flesh and Bone.
If you don't like the other's movie, do you tell?
Oh, yeah. You just say, "This is not a good movie."
Being involved with someone who has the same job as you, do you find you turn to him for professional advise or do you try not to talk shop when you're together? Or both?
The amazing thing about being in a relationship with another actor is that I can go to him with questions and problems. He's really the only person I can unload everything on because he's been through everything I'm going through. Whereas if i said it to somebody else it would sound like, 'What the hell is she complaining about?' But I don't complain that often. I'm pretty psyched. But when I'm blue or when I get paralyzed by it all, and I'm freaked out about being everywhere I look, he's really helpful and centering.
When you first got together, did you ever find, that like you had to go get the cigarettes because he's going to be mobbed?
Oh, yeah, a lot, but now it doesn't work anymore. Totally blows.
Brad is eight and a half years older than you. Do you ever feel that difference like with pop culture references?
No. Never. But I had one of those with my cousin and her boyfriend the other day. I thought I would die. You know in your hotel, when you check in and put a fake name? I said that we thought about using the name Jeff Spicolli for Brad and they were like, "What?" and I said, "You know, from Fast Times at Ridgemont High?" No response. They never heard of it! And my same cousin, who's a freshman in college, had never heard of The Go-Go's. That is not normal. I'm sorry.
Which is harder to read, something bad about yourself or something bad about Brad?
Bad about Brad. That really hurts my feelings. If I read something bad about me I'm like, 'Whatever,' but when it's about Brad, I hate it. It's like when somebody says something bad about your brother or mother.
Isn't it odd that the people in your life are part of pop culture? Like I've noticed your ex-boyfriend actor/musician Donovan Leitch is modeling on billboards.
It is odd, but you get used to it. It becomes a non-event.
Do you ever find it oddly comforting?
Yeah. When I was in Reno doing Hard Eight, Brad and I were just starting so it was like torture to be away and Interview With the Vampire was on pay-per-view or I was in England, and we were separated, and his TV movie with Juliette Lewis came on, and it was so great because they're there with you in the room all of a sudden.
When you're at an Oscar party or something, do more people approach you that know you or Brad?
It's pretty equal. People who don't know either of us usually go up to Brad and are like, "Hi, you don't know me, but..."
I've read other articles where you've said that women just do shameless things.
In Argentina, there were a hundred girls outside the cabin screaming and singing this really irritating song and I just wanted to kill myself.
No! [singing in a Spanish accent] "O-le, O-le, O-le, O-le, Brahd Peeet...Brahd Peeet!" Or "Brad Pitt, I love you! Brad! I only want to see you, come out, Brad!" Everybody screaming that all the time.
Here I'm thinking you guys are in a little hut and nobody knew.
Well, in the hut, that's true. But in Mendoza, in the bigger city, where they're shooting the second part, it's right on the street. But now they built a huge corrugated tin wall so nobody can see in.
What do you miss doing that you can't do anymore?
You're referring to the nude photos of you two from St. Barts that turned up. I wonder if, once you've processed the anger and embarrassment, if there wasn't an odd sense of liberation in that you've survived the worst they could throw at you, like how much more vulnerable could you be?
Yeah, there was. Everything makes you stronger. When we found out my dad was on his way to our apartment for breakfast and Brad just handled it. Then my dad said, "Did anybody get hurt? Did anybody die? No. So, it's okay." Yeah, it's embarrassing and it's such a violation, but if that's the worst thing that ever happens to me, bring it on.
So you going to take some time off before your next film?
I'm thinking about doing The Avengers. Ralph Fiennes is going to be Steve and they want me to be Emma Peel. Could be great, right? I don't know. Do I want to do The Avengers or do I want to do some weird art movie? I want to make the most of it all, because I know it goes up and down, and it's the high point right now, so I should take advantage of it but it's overwhelming. I kind of just want to disappear, you know.