Although she’s lived in the UK for the best part of a decade, and recently proved a hit with the Duke of Edinburgh, there are still times when Gwyneth Paltrow struggles to get to grips with British culture. Take cricket, for instance.
“Oh, yeah,” she raises a perfectly pencilled eyebrow skywards and giggles. “Cricket. What’s that all about?”
Her husband, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, with whom she has two children, is a big fan of the game and Gwyneth has tried her best to get to grips with the rules of the sport in the hope that, well, it might be something they could share.
“I try to understand cricket, really, I try and I try,” she smiles. “Chris is a big fan and one day, I was like ‘right, I’m going to get into it,’ and I sat down and I was watching. And watching. And I carried on watching and then I said to him, ‘Look, I am enjoying the game but is anything ever going to happen?’ And he said ‘is anything going to happen? These are the highlights!’ And that’s a true story…”
Ms Paltrow, 39, is not quite what you expect. Judging from some of her press, you might assume that she is a Hollywood princess with the foibles and fads of a high-maintenance prima donna. There have been stories of macrobiotic diets (washed down with coconut water and kale juice, don’t you know), sonic micro-massages (part of an anti-ageing routine, apparently) and rigorous exercise routines.
We meet during the Venice film festival, where her latest movie, the Steven Soderbergh thriller Contagion, was given its world premiere. Far from being rather stand-offish and a little flaky, she’s sharp, funny and has an impressive repertoire of one-liners, which she has started to share with her followers on Twitter.
She was particularly proud of her latest tweet: “I said, ‘Who do I have to bang to get an advance copy of the new Coldplay album.’ I mean, really! I just thought it was funny. And, by the way, he still won’t give me an advance copy…”
She met Chris Martin backstage after a Coldplay concert in 2002 and they married a year later, in a relatively quiet ceremony – by Hollywood standards – in her native California. Since then they have made London their main home.
They have two children: a daughter, Apple, now seven; and a son, Moses, five. Since becoming a mother she’s scaled down her leading roles and ensures that work fits into family life.
“I’ve just had the summer off with the kids and I’m leaving Venice tomorrow to go and get them back for the first day at school,” she says. “I look for interesting supporting roles and I’ve not starred in a movie since I had my daughter seven years ago because it’s too much.
“If I was starring in a film, playing the lead, I’d never see them, they would hate it and so would I. Contagion is a good example – a good supporting part and then I’m back with the kids.”
Paltrow is joined by an all-star cast (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law) in Soderbergh’s frighteningly realistic story (in cinemas from Friday 21 October) of a virus that spreads across the world at an alarming rate.
“I got sent the script and they said, ‘Do you want to go to Hong Kong for a couple of days? Chicago for a couple of days?’ For the chance to work with Steven, I mean, absolutely, I’m there. My character is killed very early on and I think Steven knew that if you had a main character die right away then all bets are off and you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Watching the film is enough to make anyone paranoid about a pandemic – did it affect her? “Could something like this happen? Yes, it could. But I try not to worry about things that I can’t control because there’s no point.”
Before motherhood changed her career, the daughter of director Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner was a leading lady starring in The Talented Mr Ripley, The Royal Tenenbaums (Saturday Sky Modern Greats) and Shakespeare in Love (which won her an Oscar). Now she picks and chooses – playing Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films and teacher Holly Holliday in Glee, which showcases her very fine singing voice.
“I love doing Glee and people seem to have enjoyed it, which is nice. I think they see me how I really am. I felt that I never really had parts that showed that side of myself so it’s been fun and the reaction has been great.”
And what side of herself does Glee show, you wonder? “The silly, singing, dancing side of myself,” she giggles. “Which really exists…”
There’s clearly more to Gwyneth Paltrow than the macrobiotic diets and intensive workouts reported furiously in the tabloids would have us believe – a doting mother, actress, singer and caring wife, even prepared to watch cricket with the hubby. Now that’s devotion for you…