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Interview with Movie Star, Gwyneth Paltrow on Her Beginnings, Her Family, Her Private Life, Current Roles, and Overall Career

Aired January 26, 2011 - 06:30:00   ET


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN HOST: It's an icon of Hong Kong and a popular tourist attraction. And, while it's half a world away from Hollywood, it's also attracted one of Tinsel Town's finest, Gwyneth Paltrow. As cameras start to roll on her new film, "Contagion".


GWYNETH PALTROW: I'm going around, you know, looking at schools.


VERJEE: It was her role in the 1995 thriller "Seven" that shot the then 23-year-old to stardom and, since then, there's not much she hasn't tackled. From perfecting an English accent in the big screen adaptation of "Emma" to playing a woman pretending to be a man in the box office smash and Oscar Award winning "Shakespeare in Love". And showcasing her talent for singing in "Duet", a movie directed by her late father, Bruce Paltrow.

But the acclaimed actress is also proud of her off-screen achievements. Managing to keep her private life out of the public eye and embarking on a new web-based project. This week on "Talk Asia", we're in Hong Kong with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Gwyneth, welcome to the show. It's fantastic to have you with us today.

PALTROW: Thank you very much.

VERJEE: So, you're here in Hong Kong shooting the movie "Contagion", which is directed by Steven Soderbergh, and it's just bursting at the seams with A-listers. Matt Damon and Kate Winslet, Jude Law -- did it take much convincing to get you on board?

PALTROW: No, none at all. Actually, I mean, I've always wanted to work with Steven Soderbergh. I think he's an incredible director. A really gifted guy. And, I mean, I -- it gave me the chance to come to Hong Kong and I've never been here before. And then I get to reunite with my old friend, Matt Damon in Chicago when we shoot a bit in November. So, it's a, you know, dream job. Quick, good, in-and-out, and done.

VERJEE: The movie is about a virus and, here in Hong Kong, you know, people can be a bit sensitive about this because of SARS.


VERJEE: And, you know, reports have said "oh, it's a movie about SARS" --


VERJEE: But it's not.

PALTROW: It's not a movie about SARS at all. No, no, no. It has nothing to do with SARS. I would say, really, the movie is a thriller more than anything else, I mean, with a viral element to it, but it's its own thing.

VERJEE: You know, you're one of the world's most successful entertainers and --



VERJEE: You are. It's like you walk down the street. You know, after years of back-to-back work that, you know -- it felt like you were never off our screens. You're in this position now where you can pick and choose the roles that you take on.

PALTROW: More or less.


VERJEE: What does a role have to have in order for you to say "yes, that's what I want to do"?

PALTROW: Well, I think, you know, I worked so much in my 20s. I sort of started working when I was 18, 19 -years-old and I went back-to-back up until, really, I had my daughter. And I think that having worked that much kind of -- it gave me a much different perspective when I had her, because I thought "well, wait a minute, you know, what really is important and what kind of life do I want to define for myself?"

And so now, when I work, you know, the stakes are really high for me because I'm leaving my two little kids at home and I'm missing bed time. I'm missing school runs. And so it has to be something that's challenging, or something that I, you know, I feel will enrich me in some way so I can bring back the experience with me and have amazing stories of, you know, sailing around Hong Kong on a boat and with all the pictures to go with it.

VERJEE: Let's go way back to, you know, before any of this fame business happened.


VERJEE: Your father was the director, Bruce Paltrow, and your mother is the actress Blythe Danner. She paints your childhood as Norman Rockwell-esque. Would you say that it was?

PALTROW: I'm not sure. I mean, in certain ways, yes. You know, I had a nuclear family. There were four of us -- my brother, my father, my mother, and myself. My parents had a solid marriage and they were really nice to us. They really loved us a lot and love us a lot. And they were very supportive of us.

You know, of course, they had their bad moments, we had our bad moments. You know, we are a completely human family. But, I do feel that one of the reasons I've been able to achieve some success and take risks is because my parents told me that I was capable of anything and I think that's an amazing thing to be told as a child.

VERJEE: Theater was where you first discovered your love of acting. Do you remember the first time that you, sort of, went out onto the stage under the lights and how it all felt?

PALTROW: I remember my mother was doing a play in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where we went every summer. There's a theater festival there and she would do plays. And I remember I had a walk-on part as a young prince, I think. And I found it very enthralling. You know, it was amazing to be out in front of -- I was probably only six years old or seven years old.

VERJEE: Oh, my God.

PALTROW: So -- and I didn't have any lines or anything, but I think maybe I caught the bug then.

VERJEE: Your first major movie roll was in "Seven". You had done, though, a fair few movies before that. When you were filming "Seven", did you ever think, "I think this is it. I think this is going to be the one that makes me a star"?

PALTROW: No. I had no sense of that whatsoever. It's funny, I never really focused on the movie star part of it, which is why, I mean, technically I'm really not a movie star. You know, I kind of do more independent movies. I mean, sometimes I'm in movies that make a lot of money, but I don't think that's my niche, in a way. You know? I was very focused on trying to be a good actor -- making my mother proud of me, you know. And I didn't know, when I was doing "Seven", that it would be such a successful movie and that it would edge me further towards that kind of celebrity life.

VERJEE: You and Brad Pitt, at the time, were an on-screen couple and an off-screen couple. Of course, that just -- you know, the public wanted to know everything about you and they felt like your business was their business. You were all-of-a-sudden tabloid gold. How do you reflect on that side?

PALTROW: It's funny, because it's such a long time ago it just seems like another lifetime. But the funny thing about it is, when I look back now, it's nothing compared to what people go through now with the tabloids. I think it has ramped up to a whole other level. I mean, it was strange to be followed around and photographed, but in the ensuing 15 years, or whatever, it's gotten 100 times worse.

It's certainly -- when I see, you know, high profile relationships now, I think, "Oh, my God". You know, even though technically in one, you know, but we sort of don't do anything public. We try to keep it as behind-the-scenes as possible. Because it just generates more interest and more paparazzi and being followed. And I think that just undermines the quality of your life.

VERJEE: Coming up, Gwyneth Paltrow reveals the real reason behind those Oscar tears.


VERJEE: "Shakespeare in Love" very much cemented your place in this industry. So, what happens? Do you read the script and go "oh, I'm a bloke, I'll do it."?

PALTROW: Well, I first read the script and I was really exhausted and emotionally not in a good way, and I passed on the movie. And I said "no, thank you". And then, they were trying to cast it and everything for ages, and then I ran into an English producer called Paul Webster, a really great guy, at lunch.

And he said, "Are you crazy? You know, they -- you've got to do this movie". And I was in a much, kind of, more together place and I re-read it and I thought, "this is a great role, I have to do this role."

VERJEE: And, obviously, it got you the Oscar.

PALTROW: It did.

VERJEE: For best actress.

PALTROW: It did.

VERJEE: Just take me through that night for you.

PALTROW: Well, I think what most people don't realize is that my grandfather, who was, you know, like, such a love in my life -- he was dying of cancer and my father had just finished radiation for his throat cancer. And he was very frail. And it was like this very -- you know, I had just done a film that my father had directed with -- and he was very ill, he was all burned from the radiation from the oral cancer -- so he was eating through a tube in his stomach and directing this film.

And it was an incredible emotional burden for him. And we were so worried about him. On my first day of filming that movie, I was told about the nomination and then, kind of at the end of it, were the Oscars. And it was a very emotional time and I was very, very fragile.

And I just remember being there and -- and then I remember Jack Nicholson saying my name, and I just thought this is -- it was like an out- of-body experience. I couldn't feel almost -- you know, I couldn't feel my body, but I was so emotional and I was so sad for my father and proud because I knew my grandfather would -- it was, like, going to be his last kind of -- it was like his last night out. You know, he -- before he died and --

VERJEE: You're right, I don't think people do know that.


VERJEE: You know, it's sort of like, "oh, Gwyneth Paltrow burst into tears when she got her Oscar".

PALTROW: Yes, I know. I got a lot of stick for that. But then everybody --


PALTROW: I know, but then subsequently, everyone cries now and it's not a big deal. I broke the mold.

VERJEE: You paved the way for Halle Berry.

PALTROW: And Nicole Kidman, and everybody cries and faints and it's no big deal now.

VERJEE: So where's the Oscar?

PALTROW: The Oscar is in New York hidden away on a little shelf.

VERJEE: Hidden away?

PALTROW: Yes, it's definitely not on display, no.

VERJEE: You filmed "The Talented Mr. Ripley" shortly after you won your Oscar. And there's this one scene in it that -- I mean, to me it really stands out. Because it's when you basically tell Matt Damon that the jig is up.


VERJEE: But you are shaking with rage in this.

PALTROW: Right, right.



VERJEE: Was that when a lot of other stuff was going on as well? Because it's sort of like, you know, my God, where is she dredging this up from?

PALTROW: You know, I think that, honestly, if I really answer that question, I think that I am -- the honest answer is that I'm a very, very sensitive person and I pick up a lot of stuff. You know, I feel everything double and, you know, and I pick up people's emotion and energy. You know, it's part of why I do the job that I do. And I'm also Libra, so I don't like confrontation or anger or anything.

So, when I have a scene where I'm able to be emotional or angry or weeping or whatever, it's such a release for me because it's kind of like all this stuff that I aggregate from other people, you know, emotions and, kind of, the outside world -- and I can just sort of let it all out. It's a great feeling. As long as I don't have to be angry in real life, you know?


VERJEE: Big difference.


VERJEE: The movie that you were referring to -- that your father was filming and that you worked on -- that was "Duets".

PALTROW: It was, right.

VERJEE: Obviously, you two had an incredibly close bond.


VERJEE: What did it mean to you to be able to work with him in that capacity before he died?

PALTROW: It was -- it was very, very hard. He was very sick. And, I mean, obviously, it was great to be together every day and to be with him, but I felt very sad for him during the film because --

VERJEE: Did you know he wouldn't get better?

PALTROW: He -- I -- no. I thought he would get -- I knew he would live. You know? I couldn't bear the alternative. But he was so weak and he was in so much pain and I can't believe he got through it. It was a very -- it was very difficult. You know, it wasn't like, "oh, this is so fun, we're working together and it's a dream come true". It was like, "is he going to make it through?" You know? And my mother was very worried. She was worried he was going to die during the film and it was pretty intense. It wasn't like, "let's all make a movie together". You know, it was hard -- it was hard.

VERJEE: Do you watch it these days?

PALTROW: No, I can't. It's too hard for me. Too hard for me to think about that time. It was very -- it was a very -- I was grieving. You know, he was alive, but I was grieving the man that he was, because he was always so strong and powerful and he completely transformed into a very weakened, very sweet, though, you know? But he was much different. But even that was a loss.

You know, before -- he didn't die for four more years, but just, you know, just to watch him lose his strength was very hard for all of us. My mother, my brother -- it was very difficult.

VERJEE: Coming up, Gwyneth Paltrow tells us how she keeps her high- profile marriage out of the public glare.




VERJEE: Recently you stared as the smart-mouthed Pepper Pots in the Iron Man movies.


VERJEE: And you said that Iron Man was the best time.


VERJEE: Why so?

PALTROW: Well, because it was just fun. It was just kind of fun and easy, you know? It was like -- working with Robert is just such a joy. He's so quick and he improvises all the time, so you never know what he's going to say. And, you know, he's always making you laugh. And so it was just a really nice time. We had a really, really good time.

VERJEE: After Iron Man 2, these reports suddenly surfaced that, you know, you and your co-star, Scarlett Johansson, were at each other's throats.

PALTROW: Oh my God.

VERJEE: And Paul Bettany said that it was absolute nonsense.


VERJEE: But it's so strange why that seems to happen. You know, basically, since the dawn of film. Put two women on a set together, and all of a sudden in the media, it's hey-presto, handbags at dawn.

PALTROW: That was really weird, too. Because, as Jon Favreau said, he's like, "Usually, there's some -- like, where there's smoke there's fire -- usually there's something, but this is just crazy". There was just no shred of truth. I just think that the tabloids have -- they've got to put something in there every day.


PALTROW: And it's got all these websites and blogs and all these weekly magazines and they've got to fill them up, you know?

VERJEE: Talking of people talking, there was, you know, so much are they or aren't they when you and your now-husband, Christ Martin, got together.


VERJEE: And you have been able to keep your personal lives very personal.


VERJEE: How have you managed it?

PALTROW: With a lot of choreography, you know? Like, we're just very careful. We go in and out of places separately. We just feel that it's -- it's just unnecessary, you know, to be a public couple and to have your coupledom, or whatever, be its own entity. It doesn't make sense, you know, to have that in the public world.

VERJEE: You both have these incredibly packed lives.


VERJEE: That is not in doubt. How do you nurture a happy and functional union?

PALTROW: That's a good question. I think that the main thing is the friendship and the respect and then the family and then, you know, of course, you're with somebody for a long time and you have ups and downs, but I think, you know, at the end of the day, we just still like each other and it's fun. You know? So, you just keep going and you keep building it.

And I don't work as much as I used to, which feels right to me. I like being at home and I like being with those guys. You know, so I have a different -- I could never maintain what I have now and work the way I used to work. There would be no way.

VERJEE: But you've got these, you know, two little gorgeous kiddies - -


VERJEE: Four and 6 -- Apple and Moses. How do you do the working mum shuffle? I mean, you know, those of us who have kids in the same country find it a stretch.


VERJEE: How do you do it when you're here, there, and everywhere?

PALTROW: Well, I make sure that I'm never away from them for, you know, longer than five day -- a week at the most. But I don't work very much. You know, I do one film a year, and then I do the rest of my stuff at home. And I have my other projects and I -- I make sure that I'm there.

I mean, they're only little once and it goes so quickly. And I want to be the person who picks them up from school every day. And it is a balance. Sometimes I have to not do something that sounds really appealing, but it just doesn't work for my family so -- You can't have it all, you know. You can't.

VERJEE: One of those other projects that you mentioned is your newsletter and blog, "GOOP".


VERJEE: In which, one of the things that you talked about was your struggle with postpartum depression after you had Moses.


VERJEE: It's still such a taboo subject, weirdly.

PALTROW: I know, I don't know why.

VERJEE: Amongst mums. It really is.


VERJEE: What did you go through and how did you get beyond it?

PALTROW: You know, it was really strange, because I didn't know what was wrong with me and nobody had ever talked to me about the possibility of it. And I really had had the opposite experience when I had had my daughter. I was euphoric and I was just so overjoyed and I felt so much. And I -- when Moses was born -- I had the opposite experience and it was really terrifying. I didn't know what was wrong with me, just kind of a numbness and lack of interest and a lack of feeling yourself and very down and all of these things.

And luckily, you know, after about four months, I started to really come out of it. Because some women experience it for much, much longer. But I think it's so important for women to know that it happens. It's common and there's nothing wrong with them, and they're not a bad mother.

VERJEE: So how did you move past it?

PALTROW: I just -- I started to realize it, and then I started to exercise and kind of pull myself out of it and realize "oh, I think there is something actually wrong". And as soon as I gave myself permission to know that there was something wrong, funnily enough, I started to move out of it.



VERJEE: You've done something rather brave at certain points in your career. You sang.


VERJEE: "Duets"?


VERJEE: "Country Strong"?


VERJEE: Which is soon to be released. And you're about to go on Glee, apparently.

PALTROW: That's right, that's right.

VERJEE: But what's the appeal of somebody like you, who is a big movie star, going small screen?

PALTROW: You know, Ryan Murphy is a friend of mine. I was in a film of his called "Running With Scissors" a few years ago. And he asked me if I would do this two-episode guest spot. And I had never seen the show. But my brother said, "oh, you have to do it, it's great, everybody loves the show and you'll have fun", because he knows me and, you know, he knows that I love singing and all of that. And so I started watching it, and now I'm completely obsessed with it.

VERJEE: So, you've done comedy, drama, thrillers, period pieces, movies that require singing, movies that require nudity, movies that require you to be a guy --


VERJEE: Is there anything that you won't tackle?

PALTROW: I don't think so. I'm up for any challenge.

VERJEE: What's left, after all that?

PALTROW: I don't know. I'll fling myself in the --


PALTROW: I'm not sure. I've never done stunts or anything like that, but I -- you know, like hardcore -- but I don't know if I could. You know? I'm an old mother now with a bad back. I can't see myself bungee jumping off a cliff or anything at this point. I think I missed that boat.

VERJEE: It's been such a pleasure. Thank you so much.

PALTROW: Oh, hey, thank you so much. It was really nice to talk to you.