In the midst of the cold and chaos of the Sundance Film
Festival, Gwyneth Paltrow's presence at this event creates a
media frenzy. But inside the cosy Italian restaurant in which
Paltrow is conducting her slate of interviews, she seems unfazed.
Hovering in the background are her agents, her protective
publicist, her latest love, Ben Affleck - Hollywood at its most
crowded. Yet Paltrow, at Sundance to promote the low budget
Sundance film, Sliding Doors, is not wearing any movie star
The film's British director, Peter Howitt, confirms this:
"When we were shooting Sliding Doors, Gwyneth put all that
behind her. To us, she wasn't a movie star, just plain old
Gwyneth." And here lay the dichotomy: despite her success,
she'd rather be hanging around with these guys, than
"participate in the glaring spotlight of Hollywood."
The long, flowing hair, cut severely short, is bleached blonde
yet looks natural.
The name Gwyneth Paltrow used to precede such phrases as
"Brad Pitt's former fiancée" or "the daughter of
Blythe Danner." These days, however, the name clambers up
onto the movie screen all by itself, thank you very much.
Paltrow's burgeoning résumé includes scene-stealing
performances in a steady stream of high-calibre projects, which
led up to her first title role, in the film adaptation of a Jane
Austen classic, Emma. It's Paltrow the actress, not the stuff of
tabloids, that preoccupies her, and she rarely, if ever, talks
about her love life. Before her relationship with Affleck became
public knowledge, she was asked how tough it might be for her to
date, having come off such a high profile relationship.
"But it wasn't high-profile. There were pictures of us
all over the place, but that doesn't give anybody insight into my
relationship. So I feel like it was completely private and nobody
knows anything about it. They think they do. That's their
prerogative, you know what I mean? I'm a public figure, and he
is, and there are pictures of us and people projected all kinds
of things onto us. That doesn't mean it has any basis in reality.
I can still go out and do my own thing completely - it's great.
I've had a little life do-over, and it's great." This
explains why this fiercely private star refused to allow
photographs to be taken of her and Affleck together, at the
various Sundance parties. "That stuff's so meaningless to
"I just refused to say any of the unsayable words"
Paltrow has no less than three films due for release this
year, beginning with Great Expectations, which many critics have
labelled Dickens for the MTV generation. Paltrow doesn't entirely
disagree. Indeed, what attracted her to the less Hollywood-like
Sliding Doors "was its literate script and sayable dialogue.
I spend my life on my movies saying: this is unsayable
dialogue." This was particularly prevalent in Great
Expectations, she confesses. "There were a lot of problems
with that script, and a lot of 'unsayable' dialogue."
Her solution, was a simple one: "I just refused to say
any of the unsayable words, and insisted it either be re-written
or cut", Paltrow says emphatically. And so it was. For the
rest of it, she's reasonably pleased, and the film gave her the
opportunity to work with close pal Ethan Hawke. "It was
great for me, because we'd been friends for a really long time.
He's so sensitive, talented and sweet. And he has a really
interesting way of seeing the world."
Great Expectations as a "really perverse romance."
Very loosely based on the classic Charles Dickens novel, Hawke
plays Finn-a variation on Dickens' Pip-who leaves his life as an
orphaned fisherman to go to New York and conquer the art world.
Paltrow's character, Estella is defined by the actress
"as a seemingly cold bitch" and tough to play.
"She was hard to understand in a lot of ways. But once I did
understand her, I felt tremendous compassion towards her because
even though she's not the most likeable character that you've
ever seen in a film, I think that she's a very good person deep
down. But she's obviously been horribly misguided and taught to
ruin men's lives. That's a harmful life objective. I think she
feels tremendous conflict about it, but it's very difficult for
her to express."
Critics have derided the film for turning classic literature
into a modern film where even some of the characters' names have
been changed, but Paltrow defends the idea. "I was really
excited, because it was like a classic on acid. You turn it on
its head. We took the didacticism, a few relationships between
the characters and some other elements, and the rest was up to
us." She laughingly describes her Great Expectations as a
"really perverse romance."
"I was protected by
modesty at all times."
Paltrow further explains that her Estella is "constantly
stringing Finn along, trying to fulfil his image of her, and he's
trying to figure out what she wants him to be. This is all a
recipe for disaster in a relationship."
Great Expectations also required Paltrow to be nude,
accentuating her character's sexuality. Though no body double was
used, Paltrow insists that "I was protected by modesty at
As Paltrow wraps up her Sundance media onslaught, she concedes
that though Hollywood has invaded Utah's Park City, she'd rather
do without what Hollywood represents. "It's not great, the
whole Hollywood thing." But she copes - reluctantly. "I
don't know how I cope; it's tough." It was partly for that
reason that she turned down Titanic in favour of the far smaller
Sliding Doors, and on that score, she has no regrets. "Are
you insane? I couldn't have imagined going through what they did,
and working with Cameron all that time."
In "Sliding Doors," a funny, luminous story of fate,
time and love, Paltrow plays Helen, a hip, English PR executive
living in London. Fired from her job, Helen is on her way home
when she misses her train. From this point, the film centres on
the possibilities of life. What happens in the world in which
Helen catches her train? If she doesn't miss her ride home, she
learns that her boyfriend is cheating on her. She leaves him,
cuts her hair, meets a charming man and begins her life anew.
Instead, the Helen who misses the train is assaulted, oblivious
to her cheating lover and doomed to struggle to make ends meet.
Down the line, the two Helens collide in a wild and entertaining
Originally Sliding Doors, in which Paltrow sports a perfect
British accent, was set to open virtually the same time as Great
Expectations, meaning that the smaller film (but clearly the one
she prefers) may have been lost in the shuffle. The actress
doesn't necessarily agree with that assertion. "The film is
so good, so original and such a sweet, complicated, beautiful
film, I feel that people are sick of things exploding or sinking,
that they want to see a movie about people."
'Oh God, this
It's testament to Paltrow's intelligence and unHollywood
demeanour, that despite the power she has attained, she'd choose
to do a very small, British film, as against something with
Hollywood teeth. Pressure to star in blockbusters does not
concern her. "My agent and I are very close," Paltrow
says. "He's been my agent since I've been 18, and he really
understands my sensibility. There were 10 movies that I had to
decide on, but he said, 'The movie you're going to want to do is
Sliding Doors - a little British movie. I know you're going to
love it.' And he was right. I fell completely in love with it and
was desperate to do it. There was no comparison between this
script and the other ones."
She says that making this film in London, which she shot while
escaping the Brad Pitt break-up media frenzy, was a dream come
true, and a fulfilling experience for the actress. "Yes, it
was a dream--clever and funny and so romantic. I've never had
that experience. I always watch my movies and say, 'Oh God, this
sucked,' or, 'There's a problem here,' or, 'I'm terrible in this
scene!' This is the first time I've watched a film I'd been in
and just went with it." Paltrow was just as excited to be
seeing her film premiere at Sundance. "It was such a
thrill," she says. "It screened in this huge theatre,
and everyone seemed to really like it. I had been there two years
before with Hard Eight, and my brother had written and directed a
short (screening this year.) It was a different way to go back -
I was really excited."
What makes Paltrow such an impressive actress is her ability
to portray ice-queens, aristocrats or ordinary people - all with
equal aplomb. "Sometimes I'll read something and have an
implicit understanding of how to play that person. It doesn't
take a lot of thought. I emotionally understand it," Paltrow
says. "It was that way with Estella. I felt like I really
understood how to play her, but it was difficult because it
wasn't something I connected with very easily. With Helen, it's
me in a different light, with a different accent. That was
easier." She also found Sliding Doors' Helen easier to
relate to on a personal level. "She's just so much more open
and nice than Estella."
down Boogie Nights 'for the sake of my grandfather'"
Sliding Doors also marks Paltrow's second incarnation as a
British character (after her star-turn as Emma). One wonders
whether or not the actress harbours some fierce desire to be
secretly British off the screen. "I'd LOVE to be British: as
long as I could come to the dentist in America I'd be British in
a second," she adds laughingly.
In the meantime, Paltrow the actress returns to mainstream
Hollywood fare with the remake of Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder,
now called A Perfect Murder. "It's a Michael Douglas
thriller - it was directed by Andy Davis, who did The Fugitive.
It's a very smart, scary movie. Michael Douglas plays a really
bad guy - he's really good. And Viggo Mortensen's in it, who's a
terrific actor. It was fun. It was a really different kind of
film for me. To work with somebody like Andy Davis, who's really
technical... it was such a Hollywood movie. It was strange. Plus
I had to hold a gun, something I swore I'd never do."
"There's a difference
between being completely naked ... as opposed to using your
sexuality as an intellectual weapon"
Paltrow remains fiercely selective in what she'll do, and has
no regrets about the choices she's made - or not made, as the
case might be. As well as turning down the Winslet role in
Titanic, she turned down Boogie Nights "for the sake of my
grandfather", and the film's nudity. This despite her nude
scenes in Great Expectations. "There's a difference between
being completely naked, and completely sexually explicit on
screen, as opposed to using your sexuality as an intellectual
weapon against somebody, and using it as part of your