"Just a little too perfect"
Gwyneth Paltrow seems made to play the chilly scholar in 'Possession'
John Clark, Chronicle Correspondent
Sunday, August 11, 2002
As usual, Gwyneth Paltrow looks effortlessly put together. White blouse, long, swaying summer skirt -- a cool gin and tonic. On the surface, she resembles the character she plays in her new movie, "Possession." Even below the surface, it turns out.
"Basically, she is a woman who is passionate about something, and I know what it is like to feel passionate about something," Paltrow says about her character. "It's just in a different area."
Directed by Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men") and adapted from the novel by A.S. Byatt, "Possession" follows parallel love stories featuring Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam) and Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle) and a pair of contemporary scholars, Ash expert Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) and LaMotte specialist Maud Bailey (Paltrow). The film cuts back and forth between the two sets of lovers.
Initially, the true nature of Ash and LaMotte's relationship is a mystery because there is little evidence that they would have ever had one. Michell and Bailey are on a similar footing. But as they crisscross the English countryside, plowing through the poets' previously undiscovered love letters and parsing their poetry, their professional passion turns personal (in a sense, Ash and LaMotte do the courting for them).
The irony is that while Ash and LaMotte have much more to overcome -- he is married, she is settled in same-sex domesticity, the society they live in is buttoned up tight -- they have an easier time acting on their love for each other than Michell and Bailey do. Victorian propriety is more easily overcome than the modern fear of commitment.
"It was interesting that the Victorians were free to love," Paltrow says. "They weren't free to talk about it. When you cut back to my story in the film,
we seem not free to love but we have no rules. I wonder if we have to impose the rules on ourselves to complicate things."
Paltrow adds, as if to confirm this observation, that she's never been obsessed with someone the same way LaMotte is obsessed with Ash. Whether this is true, she seems ideally cast as Maud, who's chilly, reserved and yet vulnerable and has a safe, unrewarding relationship with another colleague. In fact, she is so perfect for the role that LaBute was initially gun-shy.
"The only thing about her for me was she was so right, you start second- guessing yourself," LaBute says. "Her description is on the page in the book. And she's had success doing this before. They (the studios) want her. We agree on that. Something must be wrong. It was just that I was not used to it being this easy."
While Maud is the type of constrained character that Paltrow has played before, the actress projects a different image as a person. As put together as she is, she can also be a bit artless. In fact, in last year's "The Anniversary Party," Paltrow played with this image. Her character, a movie star, tends to gush, much as Paltrow did when she accepted her best-actress Oscar for her love-besotted noblewoman in "Shakespeare in Love."
"I hadn't seen her for ages and I said, 'You've won an Oscar. How weird is that?' " says Alan Cumming, who, along with Jennifer Jason Leigh, wrote the part in "Anniversary Party" with Paltrow in mind. "And she goes, 'I know, I'm still kind of embarrassed by it.' I said, 'Why?' And she said, 'Did you see my speech?' "
Paltrow has taken a lot of heat for being Paltrow. Setting aside her unerring fashion sense, she's tall, thin and blond, three strikes against her for anyone who's wanted to be these things and is not. In addition, her parents (director Bruce Paltrow, actress Blythe Danner) are minor showbiz royalty; she was educated at a private school (Spence); she was engaged to Brad Pitt, and she's had relationships with, among others, Ben Affleck and Luke Wilson; and, of course, she's got that Oscar. And, as if this were not enough, she's actually talented, with a particular gift for mimicry.
"I cannot shape-shift like her," says Ehle, referring to Paltrow's ability to pick up and drop an English accent. And Ehle is an American who lived in England for a dozen years.
In short, it has all seemed so easy for Paltrow, too easy for some tastes, which may be why commentators and the tabloids jump on her. She finds herself having to deny, for example, the accusation that she found Eckhart smelly, and that she and Madonna are bosom buddies: "When I was in London, people kept saying, 'Are you living with Madonna?' No, we're not roommates. We're following similar paths, what we eat and our yoga and stuff like that."
She also disputes assertions that she would rather live in London than anyplace else: "As usual, my words have been twisted and there have been lies. I love living in London, I love working there, I love their approach to making art. But I live here, and love it here."
Paltrow is in the midst of what might described as the second act in her career. The first act, culminating with "Shakespeare," featured her rapid ascent in such films as "Flesh and Bone" (1993), "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" (1994), "Jefferson in Paris" (1995), "Seven" (1995), "Emma" (1996) and "Great Expectations" (1998), all but the last two films in supporting parts. Since the Oscar, with a few exceptions ("Shallow Hal"), Paltrow has been content to play in ensemble pieces, notably "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999) and "The Royal Tennenbaums" (2001). She is not, and never really has been, about carrying a movie, although as LaBute points out, her participation in "Possession" got the project green-lighted. It is to her credit that she keeps looking for such projects rather than donning a cat suit and wielding a bullwhip.
"I'm just about to turn 30," she says. "I have my whole life ahead of me. I'm very open to whatever comes my way."
One such project may be "Proof," a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a mentally unstable mathematician's daughter, which she appeared in onstage in London. Miramax picked up the rights to it for her to star in, if they can figure out a way to open it up (it's set in a house). She's also developing a film about wild and crazy poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, usually depicted as feminist icon and brooding misogynist, though Paltrow promises a more even- handed approach. She will star as Plath and is casting about for the right Hughes. New Zealander Christine Jeffs ("Rain") will direct.
With all of these intriguing projects in the works and the wherewithal to get them made, it might seem as if Paltrow can do anything she wants. But there is a limit, even for her. Her critics tend to forget she's bound by the same forces everyone else is. Tall, thin, blond, connected and talented will only get you so far.
"Occasionally you feel like you have to do something commercial, because your agent is about to weep from frustration because you haven't," she says. "Obviously I prefer to do the smaller films and the films that have much more artistic integrity, although I had a great time shooting 'Shallow Hal.' There aren't many films made anymore that are sort of highbrow and commercial at the same time. I haven't made money in a year, and I have a whole other year where I'm not going to make any money. So next year I'll have to do something commercial."
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Gwyneth doesn't find Eckhart smelly
In this article on Gwyneth Paltrow, she denies the rumour that she finds Aaron Eckhart smelly. (?!). And also talks about her role in Possession. More to the topic, there's a small quote from Ms Ehle.