If anyone could be said to have been “born into show business,” it’s Gwyneth Paltrow. Her parents were film & television producer-director Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner, whom Gwyneth cites as her main inspiration to pursue acting. Her brother, Jake, is a director and screenwriter; her uncle Harry Danner is an opera singer; her aunt Dorothy Danner is an opera director; and her godfather is Steven Spielberg. With that pedigree, a career on stage and/or screen must have seemed pre-ordained.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Paltrow initially pursed a theatrical career before being drawn into film work. After a number of small roles, including Brad Pitts’ wife in the cult favorite “Seven,” she rose to prominence with an Academy Award-winning performance in the surprise hit “Shakespeare in Love.” This led to notable turns in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Proof,” “Sylvia” as doomed poet Sylvia Plath (the role of which Paltrow is proudest), the television series “Glee,” and as Margot Tenenbaum in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Anderson’s third feature film and the one that firmly established his now-familiar distinctive style. Following a brief hiatus from her hectic schedule, prompted by marriage and motherhood, Paltrow enjoyed a career rejuvenation thanks to her on-going participation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In this episode of Script to Screen, Paltrow discusses her process of preparing for her various roles, stressing the importance of finding a connection to the material and of placing complete trust in the director – which often requires a high degree of adaptability to accommodate divergent directorial styles and personalities. In the case of “Tenenbaums,” for example, she notes that Wes Anderson had the entire film fixed in his head down to the smallest detail, including set design, props, make-up, and wardrobe; all the cast had to do was “execute it properly.” (Apparently co-star Gene Hackman didn’t have that level of trust in Anderson; in Paltrow’s words, Hackman “just didn’t get it.”) By contrast, her scenes in “Iron Man” with Robert Downey, Jr. were largely improvised by Paltrow and Downey working with director Jon Favreau. Paltrow also touches briefly on her parallel careers as a singer, author, and e-commerce entrepreneur with her web-based lifestyle company Goop.
When asked by host Matt Ryan to give advice to students seeking a foothold in showbusiness, and particularly women, Paltrow notes that “this is a great time” for women emerging in the industry. Studios are finally acknowledging the chronic gender and racial biases plaguing the industry, as well as the pay inequities, and have undertaken a number of corrective initiatives. Above all, Paltrow urges the students to be confident, to be themselves, and to continue to break down doors.