Things are all good in Gwyneth Paltrow‑land, but then aren’t they always? Iron Man 3 came out last week, and in a role that was initially dismissed as peripheral, she’s garnering great reviews. Or at least better ones.
“Paltrow … has not been this likeable in 10 years,” wrote Robbie Collins in the Daily Telegraph. Last month she was crowned “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” by People magazine, and her third cookbook, the health- and family-orientated It’s All Good, is out and on the Amazon bestseller list.
This last achievement is perhaps the most surprising. Despite all the scoffing (and there was a lot of it), Paltrow’s career reinvention as a food writer and lifestyle guru is beginning to stick. Infuriatingly for the Paltrow‑haters (and there are many of them), you don’t even need to buy the book or sign up to her Goop.com newsletter to get the benefit of Gwyneth’s wisdom. You need only glance at any newspaper or magazine or website. This past month, her views on everything from how to save a marriage (blow-jobs) to British television (Blue Peter is best) have been spun into breaking news and quoted ad nauseum.
Is this the beginning of the Paltrow backlash backlash? The frontlash, if you will? It will be interesting if it is, because Paltrow, now 40, is the original annoying actress. Before Anne Hathaway started grinning inanely at award shows, when Keira Knightley was still perfecting her pout, there was Paltrow. Just being Paltrow and saying things like “I would rather die than let my kid eat Cup-a-Soup” and “When I pass a flowering zucchini plant in a garden, my heart skips a beat”.
At least we can be sure this traditionalist, wifely Gwyneth is not a cynical invention intended to sell cookbooks. Or if she is, this woman is even more of a Type A forward-planner than the one we had her down for. In fact, from the beginning of her career, Gwyneth Paltrow has been defined by her association with the men in her life. First as the daughter of successful movie producer Bruce Paltrow, then as the fiancée of Brad Pitt, whom she dated from 1994 to 1997. (The pair had matching blonde bobs for a few regrettable months in 1997.) Even once she’d amassed film credits of her own, the work was overshadowed by another high-profile relationship with the actor Ben Affleck.
These days, Paltrow is not known not as Brad Pitt’s girlfriend, or Ben Affleck’s girlfriend, and especially not Chris Martin’s wife. These days, she’s an Academy Award-winning actress, food writer and internet business mogul, but she still prefers to define herself first as daughter, mother and wife. On a recent US chat show appearance, she related an exchange she had with an actress friend seeking advice on how to maintain a relationship. “I said, this may not be feminist, but you have to compromise. It’s been all about you and you’re a big deal. And if you want what you’re saying you want – a family – you have to be a wife, and that is part of the equation.”
So far, so starry, but where Paltrow transcends other obnoxious A-listers is her daring combination of a flagrantly celebrity lifestyle with the insistence that she’s down to earth. Either on its own is fine. We’re entertained by the diva demands of Mariah Carey and we’ll buy Jennifer Lawrence’s self-deprecating shtick because, after all, everyone saw her take that embarrassing tumble at the Oscars. These are the two roles open to female celebrities who want to be liked – entertaining diva or adorable klutz – and Paltrow does not fit comfortably into either. Not only is she thinner than you, richer than you and a far superior parent, but she insists on presenting all this as normal. In short, she’s showing us all up.
It was in a 1996 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma that the world first risked blindness by contemplating Gwyneth’s gleaming perfection. She played Emma, of course. It was her first lead role and the lively, slightly snobby, but well-intentioned character helped to crystallise the public image, which has been Paltrow’s ever since. If we’re feeling charitable, we’ll remember her acting heyday as a series of roles projecting this persona: an icy, cut-glass blonde in the Grace Kelly mould.
She was American aristocracy as Marge Sherwood in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and desirable yet inaccessible as Estella in Great Expectations (1998), and just in case you weren’t getting the message, she also played Kelly’s role in a 1998 remake of Dial M for Murder. If we’re not feeling charitable, there’s the spectacularly ill-judged fat-girl comedy Shallow Hal (2001). As research for the role, skinny Paltrow wore a 200lb fat suit out to a bar to see what dating is like for the overweight. She was reportedly “saddened by the injustice”.
That same year she won her first and – to date – only Academy Award for the role of Viola De Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love (1998). It represented a peak, not only in her acting career, but also in her part-time job of annoying people. The overlong speech, the glistening tears, the baby-pink prom dress; it wasn’t quite Sally Fields’s “you like me, you really like me”, but it was close.
Perhaps Gwyneth (or, more likely, a savvy member of her vast publicity team) sensed this too. By the early 2000s, Paltrow had already begun to withdraw from acting and, as she puts it in her weekly email newsletter for Goop.com, “nourish the inner aspect”.
In 2002, she met her partner in nourishment, Exeter-born Chris Martin, backstage at a concert for his band Coldplay. Their 10th wedding anniversary this year will commemorate not only the love of two individuals, but also the consummation of Gwyneth’s even more long-lasting love affair with Britain.
She was raised in Los Angeles by two parents in the industry. Her mother Blythe Danner is also an actress, and her younger brother Jake has directed two films himself, one of which (The Good Night, 2007) Gwyneth starred in. But Paltrow has often professed an affinity with the Brits.
“I don’t fit into the bad side of American psychology,” she told the world in 2006. “The British are much more intelligent and civilised than the Americans.” Unlike her fellow anglophile and close personal friend Madonna, Paltrow also has the distinction of being able to pull off a very convincing British accent as heard in 1998’s Sliding Doors. The British way of doing things is also rubbing off on her approach to home decoration. She told an interviewer for the current issue of Glamour magazine: “I think that’s living in Britain so long – you don’t display awards.”
Naming her first-born after a piece of fruit (Apple, born 2004), however, is proof of Paltrow’s enduring connection to Hollywood. It could also have been taken as an early indication of her interest in food. This lifestyle and her insistence on sharing it is exactly the kind of thing that drives the Gwyneth-haters to distraction, but perhaps they should see it instead in the context of an Emma-like desire to improve the lives of others – sweet in intention, however grating in practice. As Gwyneth guilelessly says, “I feel like if you have exposure to something really good, and you try it and it works, then why not share it with everyone?” Why not, indeed.
A Life In Brief
Born: Gwyneth Kate Paltrow, 27 September 1972, Los Angeles.
Family: Daughter of director Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner. Married Chris Martin in 2003; they have two children.
Education: Spence School, a private girls’ school in New York. Briefly studied anthropology at University of California, Santa Barbara.
Career: Cast in her godfather Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film Hook. First lead was in 1996’s Emma and she won the best actress Oscar for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love. Other credits include The Royal Tenenbaums, Sylvia and the Iron Man trilogy. She runs the lifestyle website Goop and has published two cookbooks.
She says: “One of my most negative qualities is the perfectionism that I have, and I think that I unconsciously project that because it comes from self-doubt and insecurity and that’s the ironic part. I’m so deeply flawed.”
They say: “She is incredible. She’s a great friend on every level.” Beyoncé