Gwyneth Paltrow recently returned from a break away from the world of acting to spend time with her husband (Chris Martin of Coldplay) and her two young children (Apple and Moses) to star alongside Robert Downey, Jr. in the eagarly anticipated Marvel superhero tale Iron Man. Gwyneth plays Virginia 'Pepper' Potts, assistant and confidante to Downey's Tony Stark/Iron Man and recently sat down with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier to talk about broken bones, superheroes and the balancing of her own personal and professional lives...
Emmanuel Itier: Is doing Iron Man your way of slowly sliding back into a full-time acting career? Having a smaller part in a big summer movie like this doesn´t take all your time and it maximizes the number of moviegoers that get to see you…
Gwyneth Paltrow: I wasn´t quite that Machiavellian about it, but what happened was that I had taken a long time off to be at home. I had done a couple of cameos and stuff like that, but basically Proof was the last big role that I had. I was pregnant with my daughter then, and she is now nearly four. It was kind of a long time ago. I didn´t know if I would ever really feel the desire to go back to work. Then, when my son was about six months old, I started to kind of feel the fire. I thought I need to wait until he´s a year old because I had given my daughter all this time. I thought, “If something comes up when he´s about a year, where I feel like it will be inspiring and the people are really good, then I´ll do it. I´ll see.”
Then, just around that time, [Director] Jon Favreau called me. First, my agents called and told me, and I had never heard of Iron Man. I didn´t know anything about it, so Jon called me. He described it to me, saying, “There is a script. I´m not sending it to you because it’s terrible and we are not making that movie.” He said that this is the face-value story. This is the underlying message, these are what the characters are like, and he said, “Your character is great. Your scenes are going to be good. They will be good, fun acting scenes. There will be a lot of layers.” I had always wanted to work with Robert [Downey, Jr.] – always, always – so I said, “Yes,” and it was just the perfect job for me. Robert is totally insane, brilliant, and hilarious. I´m madly in love with him. Working with him every day was very refreshing. He has such a different approach. He´s very spontaneous. He would change lines.
EI: You had a very loving household, even though your parents [director Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner] were involved in show business. Since you are in a similar situation with your own family, how much of that have you taken into your own life?
GP: I just feel so lucky. When I look around at a lot of people who are thrown into this business, I feel like I had a real advantage in being brought up by people who really understood what was real and important in life. They imparted that to me. I just feel lucky that my instinct is to put my family before my work. That is what my mother did as well, so that´s how she raised me, and that´s how you keep a family successful and thriving. The mom has to be there and put the time in, in every relationship in the house.
EI: How would you feel about either of your kids going into the business?
GP: I want my daughter and my son to be good, compassionate, intelligent people. Whatever it is that they want to do, I will totally support them. It will be hard for me if they want to work in the sex industry, but other than that, I feel like as long as they are good people, I´ll support whatever they want to do.
EI: Do you feel like you brought the nurturing aspect of being a mom to your role as Pepper Potts? You love and take care of the Tony Stark character, even when he screws up.
GP: Yeah, of course. It´s funny–I remember a very good friend of mine had a son, and she said she was just crying with joy afterwards. A few weeks later, she said, “I just look at every man now that I meet and I just think, you were a little baby boy.” And I know what she meant. It´s almost like once you are a mother, you see everyone in a different light, almost. I feel like I was able to bring that caring thing in with her relationship with Tony. It´s really essential. Even though they do have sexual chemistry, what is deeper than that is there is a real love that is there between them.
Emmanuel Itier: How was experience of making this film?
Gwyneth Paltrow: It was so great, and I never expected to have so much fun. I loved doing it and working with Robert [Downey, Jr.], Jon [Favreau], and Jeff Bridges. All of this was a huge attraction for me, to go back to work after almost three years of not doing anything. Even before I read the script, I have always wanted to work with Jon and Robert Downey, Jr. This combination was an obvious “yes.” Also, Jeff Bridges is so nice and fun to be around. I really was lucky to be in it. It was just great, and I loved being the only girl. I mean, Leslie Bibb was there too, but we didn´t get to cross paths very much.
EI: Since Pepper and Tony aren´t romantically involved (at least yet!), did you ever have to worry about crossing the line? Did Favreau help you out in that situation?
GP: No, I think he was very happy with what I was bringing to this woman. She´s kind of Tony´s conscience, in a way, and in order to be somebody´s conscience, you have to project a kind of groundedness and level-headedness. She really has a good head on her shoulders. She is a good person. She doesn´t have an agenda for herself. She just wants to aid him in being the best person that he can be.
EI: What is Pepper´s back story?
GP: I´m not really sure. Her real name is Virginia. 'Pepper' is her nickname. She is very strong, and she is the moral center of the movie. She is amazing. I’m like “Pepper,” in a way, because I’m very organized like her. You always bring a big part of yourself in the characters you play. You find parallel things that you have. My only difference with “Pepper” is that I don’t have a complicated relationship with a superhero!
EI: Except you kind of do…
GP: You’re right…I kind of do have that! My husband is a superhero of his own!
EI: Are you looking forward to getting your own action doll when the movie comes out?
GP: Well, not really. I think it’s cool but also so weird. I’m a little scared to find out what it will look like.
EI: Did you like having red hair for Iron Man?
GP: I did! It really worked very nicely. And my husband did like it as well…
EI: It looks like there will probably be an Iron Man sequel. Would you like to be a part of it, if it happens?
GP: Yes, of course. I hope there´s another one. I´m really open to anything. The boys in the film loved to torture me and say, “In the next movie, you are going to have to do this and that.” I think it was challenging enough to run in high heels with a broken knee. I was thinking that was enough action for me.
EI: Didn't you actually break your leg during the shoot?
GP: I fractured my tibia at some point, and I waited and waited and it created a few problems, but we worked it out and I had surgery. It was very painful, but there was an opportunity in it. It ended up being a good thing somewhat…
EI: One of the best sequences with you has to be the heart operation scene. Was the whole scene scripted, or was there improv? Because it seems so natural…
GP: I think improv is the wrong word. What would happen every morning is that they would say, “Okay, Robert and Jon are ready to talk about the scene in Jon´s trailer.” I would go in Jon´s trailer and be chatting with Jon. Then Robert would come in with his 88-liter coffee and his sunglasses. He would saunter in and take the sides, and he would literally ball them up, whip it against the wall, and be like, “Screw this. This is the worst thing I´ve ever read. We are not doing this.” And we would be like, “Okay, okay.” So then we would sit down and rewrite a lot of it, and that´s sort of how we did the movie. It was kind of crazy, but it was fun. We always knew where we wanted to go, but it was a lot of time. Robert cannot say something that he doesn´t feel. He can´t do it, and he just won´t do it. I think it´s a testament to why he´s such a good actor.
EI: I wonder how the writers felt.
GP: Oh my God. I don´t even want to think about that. Don´t tell them I told you this!
EI: Were you always supposed to reach in his chest and pull out his faulty power source?
GP: Oh yeah, that was all scripted. That required a special effects body, and that was very set up. It was just the dialogue.
EI: How would you compare this fantasy movie with the other one you did in the same genre - Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?
GP: Well, that movie was so different. It was like doing an off-Broadway play. It was all shot in a blue room, and we didn’t know what we were doing. I had never done anything like that. It was a very experimental thing. Super interesting to do, but Iron Man is so different. It has a life that precedes the movie and a whole group of people passionate about it. Also, lots of the stunts are practical – there aren’t so many CGI effects compared to Sky Captain.
EI: Sky Captain was also sort of an action, sci-fi movie, and with Iron Man and other upcoming films, there are more and more of these kinds of movies coming out. Since they seem like boys’ movies, is the trick trying to make bigger roles for women so that women and girls with come see it?
GP: I don´t know. It´s kind of a strange time for us gals, because we have good roles in independent things, but nobody sees those any more. It just seems like it´s very hard to find something that is going to reach people. That doesn´t necessarily have to be the point of doing something–that it reaches people. But I didn´t do Iron Man because I thought it’s good for me to be in this movie. You never know what is going to happen. You never know if they are going to work or not work, or if audiences are going to like them or not.
For me, it was about the people involved. I really liked the role, and I was very lucky in this scenario. Jon really wanted us to bring everything. All of the reasons that we were hired was because he wanted us to bring those qualities to our characters. You can´t do that, if you don´t have a good part. It´s not multidimensional. It´s nice to be in a film where it is what it is–it´s an entertaining, fun, great popcorn movie, but at the same time, she´s a great woman.
EI: Do you think Iron Man has an appeal for women?
GP: All the relationships make it very good stuff, and I think women will enjoy seeing the film as much as their guys. Also, Tony, played by Robert Downey, Jr., has quite a special charm and charisma, and this also should attract women. It really is a film for everybody out there. It’s great to be part of a movie with that large scale and budget but still having some strong relationships at the heart of it.
EI: Beyond the visual treat, what is this movie about for you?
GP: The reason superhero movies appeal so much to people is because it appeals to the side of us where we all know we have untapped potentials, and we all have dreams of what we could be and what we could do. We all have sides to ourselves that we don’t understand or are difficult to grasp, and it goes the same for superheroes. I think superheroes have a dark side as well, like us. It’s an amazing metaphor for the struggle to be human. That’s why it resonates so much with people…
EI: You´ve already done another film, haven´t you?
GP: I did. I did a movie called Two Lovers that James Gray wrote and directed in New York - with Joaquin Phoenix.
EI: What was that like?
GP: It was great. Unbelievable.
EI: Was it a really different experience after doing Iron Man?
GP: Completely different. First of all, shooting in L.A. and New York, they are such different experiences. We had no money, so we were shooting a lot in one day. It was very intense. It´s a drama, a lot of work. It´s very raw. It´s serious stuff. I don´t know that I would characterize that one as fun, but it was an amazing experience.
EI: Isn´t the lack of budget hard, when you are making movies–especially indie ones?
GP: I think it’s good to have a movie that has constraints of money and time, because you end up getting a product that is what it´s supposed to be. Do you know what I mean? If it had all the time and money in the world, it wouldn´t be what it was intrinsically made to be.
EI: So the Independent Spirit Awards, which are right before the Oscars, seem a bit redundant.
GP: I know. It´s hilarious.
EI: Ten years ago, everybody saw all the big Oscar movies.
GP: Do they not anymore?
EI: Well, a film like Juno had a bigger box office than most of the studio-nominated films. How do you get people to come to movies that aren´t considered high-concept?
GP: I have no idea. I don´t know. It´s a weird thing. Things in cultures ebb and flow, don´t they? I have no idea. [Laughs]
'Iron Man' is in theaters now from Marvel/Paramount Pictures.