Vogue Article with Gwynnie/ Criticism to Come Later when I'm not working.Posted by snacktastic on 2005.11.08 at 11:04
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To be perched on a spindly chair behind Gwyneth Paltrow at a fashion show—elevated just slightly above her pretty blonde head, knees nearly touching her back—is about as close as one can get to being able to view the world, or at least the world of couture, through her eyes. From what I can tell, this is what she sees: the constant hovering presence of her nimble bodyguard, Terry; chic looky-loos across the aisle trying to pretend not to check her out; mouthed hellos, girly waves, and air kisses from people she barely knows; aggressive fashion-television reporters with thrusting microphones; and, naturally, a couple dozen photographers seething about three feet from her face, yelling her name and popping flashes fourteen times a second. From this perspective, Paltrow would appear to be unflappable amid the circus that her presence can inspire.
But moments later, perhaps needing to avert her eyes, Paltrow turns around to her friend Christie Bush, a photographer from Georgia whom she met through Michael Stipe a few years ago, and says, "Everything all right? You got your camera?" Bush, who is sitting next to me, has just snapped several pictures of the photographers as they were taking Paltrow's picture. "That's the shot," she said, looking thrilled at the chance to document such a peculiar and rarefied world.
Paltrow fixes her friend in a deadpan gaze and says, languidly, "I'm getting too old for this."
Not that she looks it. A half an hour ago I was milling around in a cavernous room inside the Palais de Chaillot looking for my seat when Paltrow stalked past, looking spectral and fabulous. She was wearing all white—jeans, tank top, blazer, and sandals—staring straight ahead and moving quickly. Her hair of late is long and wavy—a kind of kempt/unkempt look, worn with no makeup, that one fashion editor described, admiringly, as "seventies-teenage-baby-sitter hair."
Paltrow was heading backstage to say hello to her friend Valentino, and when she arrived and presented herself to the designer, he gave her the up-and-down, followed by a dramatic pause, and then a look that said, "You're wearing that?" Back in the front row, as the show is about to begin, I overhear Paltrow say, "The idea of spending an hour and a half to get ready for a fashion show? I can't do it. I can't be dressing up in the person's outfit for the show in full hair and makeup."
The next morning, about twelve hours later, everyone is back in position, this time at Chanel. The theater for this show is set up in a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of the city. The runway is in the round, like a giant tiered wedding cake. Unlike the Valentino show, with its darkened disco vibe, this yawning white room has been illuminated by Karl Lagerfeld with lights so bright that to take off one's sunglasses is to court retinal damage. Paltrow's got on pretty much the same outfit as yesterday, though her hair is tucked underneath the back of a white-and-tan Chanel jacket and she is wearing Ray-Ban Aviators. When she turns around, I introduce myself and she says, cheerfully, "I thought that might be you. It was too hectic yesterday to say hello."
Then, inevitably, the photographers are let loose, and as they jostle for position, she goes slack and stares straight ahead until her bodyguard decides they've gotten enough. One straggler, off to the side, points at Paltrow and pleads relentlessly with her to look at him. She finally turns her head to give him his shot, and I can see from behind her sunglasses that while her mouth is making the shape of a smile, her eyes are saying something entirely different. When he is gone, she turns around again and says to me with genial resignation, "This might be my last round of fashion shows. I don't need to put myself in this position anymore."
There's nothing quite like getting married and having a baby to shift a woman's priorities. For the past ten years, no other Hollywood actress, except perhaps Nicole Kidman, has seemed more at ease in the front row than Gwyneth Paltrow. Often compared to Grace Kelly, Paltrow has an effortless, modern classicism that turned her into a major style icon—a role she seemed to relish. But these days, she appears to be almost entirely focused on her husband, Chris Martin, and their little girl, Apple, who turned one on May 14. All of this talk about being "too old" for fashion shows and not wanting to get dressed up is probably the result of spending a year without sleep—and no nanny.
Paltrow's goddess-hippie-mom look may be practical—she tells me that it's because of Apple that she has "embraced" her wavy hair and "just kind of goes with the clothes that are easier to wear"—but it is also utterly of the moment. Case in point, she has just signed a multimillion-dollar, multi-year contract to be the new face of Pleasures, one of Estée Lauder's most successful fragrances. As Aerin Lauder tells me, "The way she looks in the ads"—which were photographed by Mario Testino—"is kind of the way she came to the shoot. Her hair is long; she just looks fresh. She has a glow."
Later, when I tell Valentino that Paltrow said she's getting too old for fashion shows, he says, "No, no, no, no. Maybe she doesn't like fashion shows because the paparazzi bother her all the time. But she loves clothes. She loves to be very well dressed and to be an elegant woman. Absolutely! And my God! Why not? She's among the few with the unbelievable body, beautiful skin, beautiful hair, and she's still very young. I have seen her on every occasion, and she can be extremely, extremely sophisticated and beautiful and feminine and aristocratic. And she can be the young girl with the big sunglasses with the ponytail running in the streets of London or in the park."
A few hours after the Chanel show, Paltrow and I are sitting at a table in Bar des Théâtres on Avenue Montaigne. The place is, as always, loud, packed, and smoky. Making matters worse, the front door is propped open, and just outside the door there are jackhammers going full bore. "So much for our quiet lunch," she says. Despite the noise, and the fact that our elbows are literally touching the diners on either side of us, Paltrow is unruffled. Indeed, one of her gifts seems to be her ability to create intimacy. She remains utterly focused throughout the entire lunch and does not seem at all self-conscious about the fact that our neighbors are trying to listen in. The only time she gets distracted is when Naomi Campbell walks in and Paltrow gives her one of the least enthusiastic hellos imaginable. "Can't handle it," she says as Campbell is escorted to her table.
It makes perfect sense that Paltrow would have a constitutional aversion to a wild child like Campbell, whose legendary histrionics must offend Paltrow's sense of decorum. In fact, I admit to her that I never would have pegged her as the type who would pal around with Madonna. "I don't pal around with Madonna," she says, laughing. "I'll bring Apple over for lunch. It's all very sedate. But you know, she amazes me. She's got a side to her that's so hard-core. She's soooo driven and such a perfectionist. She's like this powerhouse in a way that I could never be." She describes her close friend Stella McCartney in similar terms. "She's got this incredible punk-rock spirit, in the old-school way. She likes to push boundaries, and she says outrageous things. She's so free. I really admire that. Because I'm really not that way at all."
If anything, Paltrow is the embodiment of composure. Earlier, on our way to the restaurant, her driver suddenly accelerated to 80 miles an hour, trying to outrun a photographer on a scooter in the rain. "We're totally about to have a Princess Diana moment," said Paltrow calmly. She leaned forward and said to the driver, "It's OK. You don't have to go this fast." Even here, in this crowded restaurant, as a young male fan asks for her to pose for a picture, she does it with such grace that you get the sense that she's utterly at ease with her fame and all that comes with it. But when I ask her what was going through her mind when all those photographers were in her face at the Chanel show, it becomes clear that she's actually rather conflicted about it. "I just keep thinking, This is going to stop. This is going to stop," she says. "When I was younger and I saw other people going through that, I used to think, Oh, my gosh, well, it must mean they're important. But when it becomes you, you feel like a bird that's being picked apart. I would be so happy to be over in that kind of pop-culture way and be regarded as an actor. What I can't compute is that I don't do those kind of big box-office movies, and some of my forays into them have been total disasters. So, where is it coming from? What is the fascination? I don't get it."
On the one hand, she has a point. Paltrow is not Angelina Jolie. Though she once dated Brad Pitt, she does not get tattoos, say shocking things, feud publicly with her parents, or steal other people's husbands. In fact, there's never been even a whiff of scandal about her. On the other hand, it is hard not to feel that she is being naïve, disingenuous, or both when she expresses mystification about her fame. She is, after all, widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, has won an Oscar, and is married to the lead singer of one of the most significant rock bands to emerge in a decade.
Yes, she says, of course she understands that she is married to a "very successful musician," but they have never once walked a red carpet together. "I went out with someone very famous when I was young," she says (meaning Pitt), "and I didn't know any better. I didn't know that there was a delineation to be made. Ever since then, I do everything as low-key as I possibly can. So I don't understand why people are following me in vans at this point!" Her voice rises an octave. "It's insane. I spend time analyzing it. Like, what can I be doing differently to make this calm down, because I don't want this for my child. I don't want her to be famous just by virtue of the fact that she's ours. And she is. And it freaks me out. People know her name at the Eurostar security checkpoint. And I think, Well, what's that going to be like for her?"
It's not hard to imagine that she might regret naming her child something so distinctive as Apple. "I take responsibility for whatever I've done to be complicit in what's happened in my life at this point," she tells me, "but she's got nothing to do with it. I don't want her pictures in those disgusting weekly magazines."
As everyone knows by now, Paltrow herself was born into show business, which is not always the healthiest environment for children. Her father, Bruce Paltrow, who died of cancer three years ago at 58, was a producer and director, and her mother, Blythe Danner, is a beloved and accomplished actress. Despite that, it has been obvious from the beginning of Gwyneth's life as a public figure that they did something right. She has always projected a maturity and sophistication beyond her years. I ask her where she thinks her good sense comes from. "I think my father was so pragmatic, and I guess he imparted some of his kind of wisdom," she says. "And when he died, it went into such sharp relief, what is important and what isn't. But also, I think maybe because I grew up in and around show business, I never had that kind of Wizard of Oz, 'Oh, I want to get on a bus and go to California and be someone else.' I never got totally swept up."
When Paltrow started to become famous in her own right, it made her parents nervous. "There was a particular period where my parents were sitting me down a lot and talking me through stuff. I always felt like I was doing something wrong, but they were never superinclined to tell me what. My father once said to me, 'Your mother and I have always thought of you as a racehorse. We never put the reins on you; we've just kind of tried to guide you in the right direction. You never responded well to "You can't. …" or "I forbid. …"' And it's kind of funny, because I see those characteristics in my daughter now."
A typical day in the life of Gwyneth Paltrow:
"I get up at 7:30. I hang out with Apple; we have breakfast. Play. She goes down for a nap at 11:00. She sleeps until about 1:30. I make her lunch. We eat together, normally. And then in the afternoon sometimes I leave her with our housekeeper and do an exercise class. Then I come back. Then I make dinner. Then I give her a bath and a massage. Then I put her to bed. And then sometimes I get a baby-sitter and go out, and sometimes I make dinner at home. Isn't that glamorous?"
Because her husband is on tour with his band, Coldplay, Paltrow, who is traveling with him, has hired a nanny just five days before we meet to take care of Apple. "I'm able to sleep in for the first time in over a year," she says. "When I started going to Chris's concerts, I was getting home at 1:00, asleep at 2:00, and then up at 7:00, and it's just not enough. I couldn't be the kind of mother and wife that I wanted to be without any help at all."
From everything I've ever heard or read about Chris Martin, they would appear to be nicely matched. He is accomplished and earnest and polite—the male rock-star version of Paltrow. She seems very protective of him. When I mention a particularly vituperative review called "The Case Against Coldplay" in The New York Times, she tells me that though she doesn't read her own reviews, she read that piece. "It was the first time I thought, I wish this writer extreme misery and bodily harm. Of course my husband doesn't care. It's interesting how when you're the artist, it doesn't matter. But if you're a partner to that person, it's just a dagger to the heart."
Although she is equally protective of Apple, she can't resist sharing a picture of her. The kid has the biggest, bluest, widest-set eyes I've ever seen. "Her eyes are huge," says Paltrow. Is she a contented baby? I ask. "Very. She just knows who she is. It's strange. She's totally self-possessed. It's very difficult to explain. You'll see." Sure enough, the next day, as Paltrow is being photographed for Vogue, the new nanny and Apple arrive at the set for a visit, and it is obvious that there's something unusual about her child. She is alert and confident and seems somehow to have already developed her own little independent streak. To say that Paltrow delights in her presence is an understatement. Watching her with Apple makes me think of something John Madden, the director of Shakespeare in Love and Proof, told me: "The family is the key thing for her. I've always said, 'You don't really understand who she is until you see her with her family.' There's some sort of sense in which she exists through them, and that that part of her is switched off when they're not around."
Paltrow puts it differently, but the underlying message is the same. "I have something that's so real. It's not fleeting. It has nothing to do with success or popularity. Life is complicated and you never know what's going to happen, but my family has given me real contentedness. I always felt so turbulent, and I was always not quite happy in relationships. I always felt like I was missing some big part. And now I don't feel that way."
It was nine years ago that Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in her breakthrough role in Emma and began, as she says, to be "taken seriously as an actor instead of someone's girlfriend or someone's child." Suddenly she found herself going to the White House and being celebrated on magazine covers. That film's director, Douglas McGrath, recently cast her as Peggy Lee in his latest movie, Have You Heard?, a Truman Capote biopic due out next year, starring the relatively unknown Toby Jones as Capote, Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, and Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley. McGrath learned from his experience on Emma that Paltrow "can do anything. If you see Emma again, you might have forgotten how funny she was. It's an extremely inventive performance."
When McGrath was writing Have You Heard?, he wrote the opening scene—with Peggy Lee singing at El Morocco as Capote and Paley look on—expressly for Paltrow. "I needed someone who could appear to beautiful and perfect, which would be Gwyneth, who could sing in a blithe, sophisticated way and then essentially have a breakdown. The whole thing lasts three minutes, and I'm telling you, people are slack-jawed by her performance. It's so small, and yet it resonates through the whole film."
This month will see the release of the much-anticipated movie adaptation of David Auburn's play Proof, in which Paltrow gives one of the best performances of her career as a withdrawn young woman who may or may not be a math genius. Paltrow, who has an innate melancholy, has always done her best work when playing depressed characters, from that weird girl in The Royal Tenenbaums to Sylvia Plath. "I like mining that certain part of myself," she says. "People who are sad and complicated have had more interesting lives generally."
Paltrow took the part after triumphing in the London production of the play, which opened at the Donmar Warehouse in May 2002. "She got an ecstatic reaction," says John Madden, who directed both the play and the film. "And the hawks were circling, waiting to pounce on another Hollywood star coming to London to burnish her résumé. But, in fact, they were the most amazing stack of reviews imaginable. There was a great deal of talk about what she was able to express with her toes!"
Proof was not an obvious choice for adaptation to the screen. It's a strange, surprising puzzle of a story, one that deals with a grab bag of issues: mathematics, romance, genius, familial devotion, sibling rivalry, and the question of sanity. Paltrow plays Catherine, the daughter of a once-brilliant math professor (Anthony Hopkins), whom she takes care of while he rattles around a big old house in Chicago, suffering from mental illness before eventually dying. "Gwyneth had an instinctive grasp of the issues that the play was dealing with," says Madden. "The notions of loss and grieving, which are the emotional climate of the play, and something she had very raw experience of at the time. And I think the character's intelligence was something she had a direct line to as well."
Her performance in the film is fascinating, not least of all because Paltrow has to essentially pull you inside her head to make it work. "She has a very still center," says Madden. "She doesn't have to go away and crank herself up; she doesn't have to have everyone else be quiet around her. She is very focused."
No less than Sir Anthony Hopkins concurs. "I know all kinds of things fly around in the movie business," he says, "but in all sincerity, she was the best I've ever worked with. She and Jodie Foster. What I also liked about her is that she's very cool. She comes in and does her work. And I really admire that. It's straight."
At Bar des Théâtres, I ask Paltrow about her relationship to acting these days. "I used to do it not only because of the creative buzz that I got out of it, but it kind of gave me a sense of my place in the world," she says. "But now I don't look to it to define anything about myself." In fact, aside from the Capote film and Proof and a supporting role in next year's Running with Scissors, Paltrow doesn't have anything lined up. "If I'm going to do it, it's got to be something that makes me feel really alive and enriched, so that the time that I'm spending away from my daughter—at least I'll be a more interesting woman so I can give that back to her."
After lunch, Paltrow has an appointment at Dior for a fitting. "Do you want to come?" she says brightly. A high-speed car chase and five minutes later, we are walking up a flight of stairs and into the Dior atelier, where we encounter a minefield of bonjours. Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour! "Do you have any green tea?" asks Paltrow. "Yes! Thees is exactly what I'm drinking!" comes the response from the very enthusiastic madame in charge. As Valentino pointed out to me, Paltrow "has extremely good manners. She knows exactly how to behave in every situation." As she walks around the room and looks at John Galliano's most recent marvels, she asks thoughtfully specific questions: Have people been buying? Do you always have the same clients? Will you alter them to clients' taste? And who are the women who buy these? In real life, you can get this dress without the bumps, right? When she finishes trying on a few things, we head downstairs and she says, "Crazy dresses, huh? I don't know how women do it."
When we get in the car, she leans forward to tell the driver to head to a Balenciaga shop nearby and then leans back, sighs, and says to me, "My favorite designer. I'm going to get into trouble for that, but it's true. It's kind of an obsession. I'm into clothes that are wearable and comfortable and chic but neither too preppy nor too avant-garde."
As we head into the store, she goes straight for a swingy sea-foam-green number. "I don't have any sort of great little summer dress," she says as she throws it over her arm. "Wow, this is a bit strong," she says of one particularly yellow blouse. She fingers a gray silky top—"This would look great with white jeans"—and tosses it into the pile. Then a dark-gray blouse, a pair of white pants, and a pair of black pants. "Are you bored?" she says to me. "I'm sorry. I'm having husband anxiety. Like, man-in-the-shop nervousness." I assure her that I am just fine as she heads for the dressing room. Watching Paltrow shop makes me think of something Aerin Lauder told me a week earlier: "There's a lot of things about her that are appealing—she's beautiful, she's smart, she's driven, she has a wonderful career, she's a wife and a mother. She's kind of who you want to be."
At one point, Paltrow pops her head out of the dressing room and mouths to me across the room, "Are you OK?" Thumbs up! In the end, she buys a couple of blouses and the black pants and, because she is Gwyneth Paltrow, the people in the store make a big deal out of folding and wrapping and tying everything up with bows and putting boxes inside bags, and it is taking forever! Paltrow is nearly climbing out of her skin with impatience, and it is the first time I see her even vaguely rattled. "Just put it the bag," she says finally. "I don't care." Then to me, whining: "I'm dying to see Apple." When she goes to the counter to pay, I am delighted to see her pull a wad of crumpled bills and some loose credit cards out of the pocket of her jeans and then cram them back in when she's done, because that, of course, is the easiest way to deal with it. At the end of the day, and despite the fact that she is a ravishing creature who can wear the unwearable, she really is just a practical girl.
"Gwyneth Takes Paris!" by Jonathan Van Meter has been edited for Style.com; the complete story appears in the October 2005 issue of Vogue.