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- by Dan Epstein -
(Journalist In Love)

Gwyneth Paltrow is kind of cool to sit across from being that she's a very sweet - and young - lady. While never a monstrous fan of hers, I could still appreciate the fact that she was willing to work in an eclectic range of movies, such as Shallow Hal and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums.

Certainly, it is another thing to work with someone as controversial as Neil LaBute whose films have divided audiences, critics and sometimes, even couples. Gwyneth talks about working with Aaron Eckhart [I heard they had conflicts on the set of Possession] and if she would have liked to have been the deaf secretary in LaBute's In the Company of Men.

The website for Possession is: http://www.possession-movie.com/

Why do you have this natural affinity for roles in movies that take place in England?
I don't know. I think that I was lucky that I was born with the ability to imitate people and do accents. I was born with a musical ear, so that helps with accents. Then, I think that I have an advantage as an American that understands British culture. I spend a lot of time there, so I have a real sense of the differences between them and an American's behavior, sense of humor and thinking. I like British people. I like working there, and I think I have insight into them.

Did that understanding predate Emma? [Released in 1996]
No, definitely not. I hadn't spent really any time over there until Emma. But I grew up around theater people, and there were always a lot of Brits around.

What made you want to do Possession?
It was Neil LaBute. I just think he has a great brain and has a real point of view, which is rare. I always feel that, if I can work with somebody who has a unique way of perceiving human beings and the way they interact...he does that. The films he made previous to this [Your Friends & Neighbors and In the Company of Men] were very strong. Nurse Betty came out during the shooting of this. Those other films were strong, and sometimes difficult to watch, but I like that. I like people who push buttons and challenge sociological ideas. I think he was a really interesting choice for the material.

Had you read the book previously?
No, I read it when I knew I was going to do the movie. I thought Neil did an amazing job of adapting it, because the book is so dense, and he was able to boil down the most cinematic aspects of the story and change the necessary things.

What about the idea of being an academic detective? That's kind of unusual for a movie.
It was intriguing. That's the thing that's big. I just did Proof, in London [Proof is the story of an enigmatic young woman, her manipulative sister, their brilliant father, and an unexpected suitor. They are all pieces of the puzzle in the search for the truth behind a mysterious mathematical proof.] These academics have a lot of drama in their lives. We just watched a documentary about Andrew Wilde while we were doing Proof, the guy who proved Fermat's Last Theorem, and it was so much drama. There were tears and a race against time. It is very dramatic, especially when you are trying to solve mysteries. That's what they do in their research.

Since Neil and Aaron have worked together so much do they even talk on set, or is it all just telepathy?
They have a real ease with each other, and there is something that feels very familiar between them. You can sense their comfort level with each other. Also, in a way, it's almost like they are working together for the first time. There's not a lot of inside jokes. They have a sort of gentlemanly kind of formality, but then you can see them laughing in the corner during breaks.

Have you ever obsessed over anyone from the past like that?
Not really. Sure, there are people I've connected to, but no one I've ever been obsessed with.

Aaron has a very intense screen presence. What is it about him?
He takes it very seriously, which is nice. He works very hard, does a lot of research and approaches it from the method standpoint, which gives it a lot of weight and sinks him into it. He kept journals, because his character did. It's very interesting to watch and work with that.

How does that contrast with the way you work?
I do all my work at home. Then, when I am at work, I am very much myself when I am in front of the camera. It helps me to snap in and out of character. I don't know why that is, but I don't feel like I ever take the character home with me. I don't keep doing the accent between takes. I really let it drop, then bring it back. It's nice to work with someone who does things completely differently. You learn things.

Like, when I was doing Proof for six weeks in London, that was the perfect amount of time. Jennifer Jason Leigh, an old friend of mine, was doing Proof in New York at the same time, and she would email me, "I have 74 performances left." She was in it forever. I could imagine that doing it for a year would be difficult.

Would you do the film adaptation of Proof?
If it ever comes up, I would definitely like to do it.

If Your Friends & Neighbors and In the Company of Men had come your way, would you have wanted to be in them?
I'm not sure. Probably. I don't know about In the Company of Men. That might have been a little tough [laughs]. But Your Friends & Neighbors was really interesting, provocative and very well written. Again, the thing I love about Neil's writing is that he doesn't write in movie dialogue; he writes in the way people speak, and I love that. They're speaking with truth. So often, with movie dialogue, you have this barrier between what you are saying and what feelings you are bringing up.

Did you meet A.S. Byatt? [The author of the original book, Possession]
Yes. She came to set one day. She's fantastic. I was a little intimated. She wrote the book of the movie I was on, and she won all these awards. She was very nice, and happy that I was cast as Maude.

You're doing another book from British culture with the movie based on Sylvia Plath. Is she going to be a victim or a monster? [Paltrow is to star in a BBC Films co-production about the tragic love affair between poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes]
Not at all. I'm not interested in vilifying people. I don't think there is anything interesting or informative to be derived from that. It takes two people to compose a relationship. I wanted it to feel like a documentary. I wanted his side completely represented as well. I think he loved her always, and it was one of those relationships that was so full of passion. They both informed each other's work. I want it to be about them, but also what was between them. I don't subscribe to the view that he was a misogynist and he was responsible for her demise. I think life is far more complicated than that.

We just hired another director Christine Jeffs, director of Rain. I think she's amazing. Rain was such a beautiful film. I was really happy with the idea of a woman doing the film.

You have any good stories from the set of Possession?
I am so bad at this kind of thing. I can never remember anything. It was kind of funny the day that Aaron had to jump into the waterfall. He was acting like it was the biggest deal ever. It did look kind of scary. It was this brown murky water, with all these minerals in it. He was making such a big deal out of it and then I got down there and it was really scary. But he dove right in.

You seem to have two careers going. One is a mainstream movie actress and the other is an independent, riskier film actress. Is this by design?
It's by design that occasionally you have to do something commercial because your agent is about to weep from frustration. I obviously prefer to do the smaller films that have much more artistic integrity. Although I had a great time shooting Shallow Hall [released in 2001 starring Jack Black]. It was really fun to do something that was mindless, funny and silly. It was a nice break for me to get to be in a Farrelly Brothers movie.

But I feel that there aren't a lot of films that have integrity, are highbrow and are commercial at the same time. I feel like there used to be films like Thelma & Louise, Silence of the Lambs, movies that had women in them that were well written, well directed and made a ton of money. They just don't seem to make them anymore. The people who make the high quality films that are commercially successful, like Peter Weir, Ridley Scott, they make boy movies. So its very hard to find something that does to do both. I haven't made any money in a year, and I have a whole new year where I am not going to make any money because I have three low budget movies. Next year, I will probably have to do something commercial.

Last question about Possession. At one point, the Victorian character of Christabel LaMotte writes that she ended up where she was because of a miscarriage. Your character Maud says that she can relate. That was never expounded on. Was there a scene that was cut out?
No, it wasn't. It's just a non-Hollywood movie where you have to connect the dots yourself.

Thank you so much.

 


- by Rebecca Murray -
(Shallow Hal as 'Rosemary')

What attracted you to this role?
I thought it was a really sweetly written movie. It was so, so funny - it's the usual Farrelly Brothers fare in that way - but at the same time it was so sweet and kind of ultimately protective and championing heavier people. So I thought that was something really nice, and something I wanted to be a part of.

This is departure from your usual roles.
I thought doing this movie would be a nice kind of paradox.

Was it not to have to wear corsets on set for a change?
It was very nice not to have to cry, or wear corsets, and to just have some fun.

What did you learn when you wore the "fat suit" out in public for the first time?
It was a very upsetting day because I got on the make-up and went downstairs and walked thru (the lobby) and nobody would make eye contact with me at all. Everybody was very dismissive. I got a real sense of what it's like to be a heavy person in this country and how people are so insensitive and degrading. It gave me great empathy for people who are heavy.

Did it change your way of thinking?
Yes, I would never have any concept of what it is like to be a heavy person, had I not done this movie and actually lived a good portion of my day and work week as a heavy person.

 

- by Susan Stark -
(Bounce as Abby Janello')

For starters, she's eye-catchingly blond again. In sharp contrast to the loose-fitting, mostly pastel wardrobe for her character, she wears the cutting-edge Manhattanite's classic autumn wardrobe: knee-high black leather boots, a black calfskin skirt and a simple black skimp of a top.

For all the nonsensical stuff she has inspired from tabloids at home and paparazzi abroad during the last few years, Gwyneth Paltrow seems encouragingly calm, grounded, open.

So far, your choice of roles makes it impossible to identify a typical Gwyneth Paltrow movie. That's totally enviable, from the professional point of view. What are the three essentials you look for when choosing roles?
First is script. That's the whole thing because it would just be like an exercise in ego to pick something that was just a showy part if it is something that ultimately doesn't have very much that's redeeming about it. Then it's the people involved -- director, actors. And then the role itself is third, I think.

Shakespeare in Love has all of that, and the third essential must have just leaped out at you. What was your on-impact reaction to that script?
I was absolutely blown away by how perfect that script was. I think it's the only perfect script I've ever read. How he (Tom Stoppard) managed to weave in the humor and the backstage, inside joke and the deep romance and pathos of this love story where they don't end up together: It was perfect. I think Tom Stoppard is the greatest living playwright-screenwriter-writer. I was lucky. I was really lucky.

How hard, annoying, pleasant or all of the above is it to be known as the golden girl? And how much effort does it take to maintain that image?
I'm not very attached to what people think about me or write about me. I don't read anything -- not reviews, interviews. I don't get sent any of that stuff any more. I stopped getting sent all the clippings about a year and a half ago, after the Oscars and it has changed my life. It's so unhealthy (the other way). I mean, who needs to come home at the end of the day and there's this stack (of stories) in the fax machine about all this ridiculous stuff? It's just so unhealthy. I've come to a place in my life where I understand that people are gonna project things upon my image, upon my two-dimensional image.

On your persona?
Exactly. On my magazine, film, TV image. And that's all fair game. But I can't let any of those projections sort of get into my perception of myself. So therefore it's neither annoying nor flattering nor hard work. I see myself as very separate from my public self.

Yet what of the uncounted people who, at a young age, have been thrown off balance if not destroyed by celebrity?
When you're young, when you're in your 20s (as Paltrow is), you have no real sense of who you are; no sense of what's important to you; of what kind of choices you want to make. You don't do anything mindfully, unless you're, like, an incarnation of the Dalai Lama or something and you're taught to (do that) from birth. It's all a game of where the chips may fall and is that gonna give me a clue who I am. If at 20-whatever, grown-ups start catering to you and start removing your obstacles, you absolutely lose sense of what the world is like. You have no idea who you are so that combination is deadly, absolutely deadly. You asked before what's hard about my situation in life right now. What's hard is that I have to actively seek normalcy. Because if you don't set your mind on that course, you'll get swept up into the celebrity thing and you'll be changed.

In your own mind, has celebrity changed you at all?
I don't do it perfectly. I know I've changed. My father (veteran director Bruce Paltrow) tells me that I am impatient in ways that I shouldn't be at this age: "People can't do things fast enough for you." It's unhealthy. And so I just don't know what I'd do without my parents making observations like that, being honest with me. Because then you start to say to yourself, "You know, this is really true."

Plus you know they're on your side, right?
Of course. So it's not like someone trying to submarine you in some way. All they want for me is to be happy. And they know that being a good person and being content is what I want for my life. So they help me and they're honest with me.

You already have an Oscar to your credit. The bar has been raised. For the next stretch -- say 10 years -- have you set specific professional goals for yourself?
No. Because I think if you do that, you limit yourself in some way. The only professional goal that I have is that I'd like to do more theater in the next 10 years.

Do you have any firm plans to get on the stage?
I may go back to Williamstown (home of a famed summer theater in Connecticut) this summer and do a play.

You feel you are not ready for the West End (in London) or Broadway?
(Paltrow sighs deeply). Maybe. I could be persuaded. I'm scared to, but I'll do it.

You come from acting/directing royalty: Your dad Bruce Paltrow is a veteran director; your mom, Blythe Danner, is a veteran actress. If the chairman of the world had said you could have no career in the arts, what work do you think you would have chosen?
I would have been a chef. I really enjoy cooking, although I would have liked to go to school and learn how to do it properly. And I LOVE eating. I know that I'm cursed with one of those really fast metabolisms, but I do love to eat. I do work out every day, though. I do yoga every day. And I sweat.

For a lot of people over a lot of years, when they think of you it will be you on Oscar night: Whisper thin in pink taffeta and diamonds. You own that diamond necklace and earrings. Your parents bought them for you. Have you worn them since?
(Laughing as if still in disbelief) Can you believe they did that? And I bought myself the bracelet. Now, I keep everything in the bank, in a safety deposit box. But when I first got them, I would wear them around the house. You know, with my pajamas and stuff.

(Shrugging and smiling) Well, some day, if my granddaughter wants to go out on Halloween as Gwyneth Paltrow 1998, she can have the whole outfit.

 

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