Oscar-winning star Gwyneth Paltrow recently delighted the TV world, singing a great rendition of Cee-lo's "Forget You." Apparently Gwyneth has been fine-tuning her pipes, as she plays a struggling singer in her new film, Country Strong. Buzzine talks with the lovely actress about this and other behind-the-scenes experiences in a revealing, exclusive interview.
Izumi Hasegawa: This is quite a dramatic change from getting up on Glee and knocking it out of the stadium, so to speak, and singing here as tragic, more memorable Kelly. You obviously did this way before Glee happened. Can you talk a little about where this came from, how they thought of this role for you?
Gwyneth Paltrow: I think Shana Feste, who wrote it, just had me in mind for it and she sent it to me, and I of course didn't read it 'cause I never read scripts, but fortunately my old friend Jenno Topping was producing it, so she urged me to pick it up.
IH: Did she urge or plead?
GP: She was like, "You better fucking read this script! Now!" So I did, and it was funny. I just couldn't get it out of my mind, and there was something about it that I found really haunting and cool and beautiful, so I decided to do it.
IH: One of the themes in the movie is that love and fame don't go together, but obviously you've proven otherwise in your own life. Can you talk a bit about that?
GP: I think it's interesting that that was Shana's take, but I suppose, in a lot of cases, that is true or it seems true. In my case, I think I was raised by people who were very focused on the family and the importance of family, and that's where you get real richness in life, and that success is great, but it's kind of an illusion. Like real life, when your kid is at the table and making a joke about their butt and you are laughing, that's the best thing about life and that human interaction and connection, so I think luckily, because of my parents, my priorities are there, and that's how you sustain relationships.
IH: Is it difficult to separate both worlds, or do you just mix the two?
GP: I keep it pretty separate. My kids really have never seen me in anything. I mean, they know what I do. Apple does more now because people in her class know and they say, "I saw you in a magazine," and you are like, oh god, having to deal with all of these questions that will inevitably be coming. But I try to really separate it. They know that I work, and they think I do singing, which is hilarious...
IH: Because their dad sings?
GP: Because they probably saw, for a year, me practicing my guitar and singing, and they think that's my job. But they know I'm in movies and stuff, but I don't think they fully get it, and I don't show them or really get into it. But when I go away, of course I have to explain what I'm going to do, and they are still really young...
IH: Six and four?
IH: Do you go to your mom and say, "Do you remember when I first started asking about this, what you told me?"
GP: I remember asking my dad 'cause someone had asked me, I think in an interview, "When did you know you wanted to do this?" and I said to him, and he said, "I do not remember a time where you did not want to do this." He's like, "When you were one year old, you were memorizing your mothers lines and her plays." I think also, when your mom does it and she's so good, and I saw how much it fulfilled her, I just always wanted to do what she did.
IH: We've gotten samples of your voice over the years, but now it's like full blast. Was there something going on that made you say you really wanted to find some projects where you can do music?
GP: No, not at all. I mean, obviously the singing part of this role was one of the draws of the role, 'cause I thought it would be such a challenge to learn properly how to sing Country music. And then I did a little part in Ryan Murphy's movie, Running With Scissors, a few years ago, and he just e-mailed me saying, "If I wrote you a part on Glee, would you do it?" And I was like, "What is Glee?" I literally live in a cave, and my brother was like, "You have to do it. It's this amazing show and..." blah, blah, blah, and it's huge in England too, but...
IH: That's where you live pretty much?
GP: During the school year...
IH: And then you go to New York?
GP: We come here every holiday we can. Yeah, we live in both--we go back and forth, but they are in school there, so we are there when there's school. So he said, "Would you do it?" so I said...'cause my brother was like, "You have to do this," and Tracy Anderson, my trainer, she's like, "You have to do that show." So then I started watching it and I got totally obsessed with it to the point where I got on set, I was kind of starstruck...
IH: Do you think you'll do it again?
GP: I signed up for two, so there will be another one.
IH: Is music something you want to maybe explore at any point?
GP: I don't know, maybe. I mean, I've learned never to say never, 'cause if you had said to me three years ago, "Would you ever sing at the Country Music Awards?" I would say never, so you can't say never. I've really loved this whole process and learning how to sing properly and play guitar, and I still do it every day. I may make a record, I may just like sing to my kids, I don't know, but it's in there.
IH: Speaking of music, Chris Martin is a musician--did he give you some music tips? And did you see your lifestyle similar to the character in this film?
GP: No, not similar to my character. I mean, I have a lot of people in my life who do this job, so of course my husband was very supportive, but I kind of picked the brain more of Beyonce and Faith Hill because they are women. When I was doing all my research, I noticed that most of the great female stars of Country are very petite, and I was like, oh my gosh, they have such a low center of gravity and how am I going to do this? I'm so gangly and tall. And then Faith is as tall as I am, so I would study her a lot, and then I asked her a million questions, and the only reason I got through my performance at the Country Music Awards was because of Faith Hill. She was the most amazing, generous friend--everything from telling me, starting a month before, how to prepare...and Beyonce too was just so good to me and very generous with her time, and helping me through it. So yeah, I was lucky.
IH: Was Faith Hill on set at all?
GP: She came a couple of times, but it was more like we were in Nashville and I just became friends with her, and I was up at the house a lot--her kids and my kids. My kids loved her older girls, so I just asked her tons of questions and I was able to sit with her and ask her things, and she's just honestly, genuinely one of the nicest people in the entire world.
IH: What about for the singing?
GP: I asked her a million questions 'cause she gets nervous before she performs, and I asked her how she counters that, and she was so specific with her advice. It was amazing. She was like, "If you notice, I hold onto my microphone like this," with her thumb underneath, 'cause she feels like that really anchors her, and I almost copied that, but then I thought, no, that's too Faith, so I won't do that then.
IH: There was so much talk about how you put on all this weight, and look at you...
GP: The press always writes the wrong thing. Not you guys, but basically what happened was Shana said, "I don't want you to work out 'cause I don't want you to be so defined looking, and Kelly, your character, is not the type of person who goes to the gym." And I said I agree. So I stopped working out, and they said I gained 20 pounds, which is totally not true. I just tried to soften up. I ate whatever I wanted, I didn't work out, I probably gained like ten pounds. I do this Tracy Anderson thing, and because it works so well, it was really frustrating 'cause my body didn't really start to totally fall apart until kind of the end of the movie, so still on screen I look more or less how I look, but it was right when the movie ended.
IH: How do you get in the mind of an addict?
GP: I understood what it was like. I used to be very addicted to cigarettes, which is obviously very different from where Kelly is, so I did understand that thing of I know that this is potentially going to give me cancer, and I know it's given my dad cancer, but I'm going to smoke it anyway--that sort of disconnect. So I tried to extrapolate that out as much as possible, but what I didn't understand was how you could wreck someone's life, or wreck your own life, and then just keep going. I had a really tough scene, and I wrote to Robert Downey and I said, "Explain this to me, how you can like cheat on your person, you can just be a total disaster and really hurt people, and just kind of wake up and have a cup of coffee...like, how does that work?" And he explained it to me really well, and I credit him with helping me to understand how addiction is in the physical present.
IH: What about this idea that she seems totally shocked by the ending, even though she comes in and she gives that list of, "Take this down," but it's such a triumphant thing when she says that's how it's done to Chiles Stanton, and knocks off. So it was kind of devastating to me about this whole thing. Since the thing that happened in Dallas, which she comes to a whole year later--did that sort of kill her?
GP: I think what kills her is that she can't get her husband back and that she knows she's burnt that feeling, and it's true with so many self-destructive people--they bring on their worst outcome themselves, and she's done it, and I think it's almost kind, in a way. There used to be a line in the script that I love that they took out, but it's where Tim [McGraw] looks at me after I've done something horrific, and he just says, "When are you going to let me off, Kelly?" And that's all he says, and in a way, it was like I'm going to let you off, and I sort of liked her becoming a guardian angel, in a way, for the kids, and I thought, if there's reincarnation, in her next incarnation, she'll hopefully get her shit together.
IH: I saw you on Chelsea Handler and you were saying that you do have a glass of wine or a vodka or whatever...so I wondered if you had a good hangover tip...
GP: Steam shower, and lots and lots of water.
IH: The live performance you did at the Music Awards for national's elite and the Country fans right there in front of you--how was that experience? How did you deal with it, and what kind of response did you get afterward?
GP: For the two weeks before I landed in Nashville, I was so nervous that it was genuinely a problem. I had the horrible nightmares and I was like, "Why did I say yes to this?" It's like, am I insane? Who would say yes? What is wrong with me? I couldn't eat, I was sick, it was just awful. And then, when I got to Nashville, I started to feel slightly more comfortable 'cause I was staying at Tim and Faith's house, and I felt kind of cocooned by them, and I remember, a couple of days before, we were sitting around having breakfast with the girls and everything, and they were like, "How are you feeling about everything?" and I was like, "I feel better than I did, but I'm nervous. I know I can do it, but what if I can't? It's like, I know I can, but what if I choke?" And Tim was like, "Well, you've got no choice now. You've got to do it," and I was like, I just have to do it. I said I would do it, and I've got to do it, and I had prepared so much for it that I knew I could do it if I could just get out of my own way, and then I actually kind of enjoyed the thing.
IH: How was the movie performance compared to a real performance?
GP: Oh my god, it's completely different because, first of all, in the movie, those fans are being paid to be there, and they can cut, and this was the real deal. It was crazy. There was like Reba McEntire, and it was insane.
IH: Kelly gives really good advice to the younger singer like Leighton. When your kids grow up and become teenagers, what advice would you give to them?
GP: I don't know. My kids are really good people and they've come out like that, and I just don't want to mess them up along the way. They are great, and I think that if you can get your kids to just believe in themselves, I guess it will depend on what they want to do and what they want to be, but I'll always be there for them if they want my advice.
IH: I read that you were in 70 hours of labor with your first child...
GP: I did.
IH: Before this CMA thing, did you ever get nervous before that?
GP: In my life, yeah, but that was extreme...
Screen Gems' 'Country Strong' is in theaters January 7, 2010.