THE SUNDAY TIMES
08 JUNE 2019
She became a household name thanks to Bridget Jones — so why did the actress, 53, decide to quit Hollywood at the height of her fame? Christa D’Souza meets a reluctant star who prefers hiking with her dogs to hanging out on the red carpet
With a "crazy town handsome" husband, thriving global business and hard won singular attitude, Gwyneth Paltrow is revelling in the abandon of growing older.
Photo: SEBASTIAN KIM
Gwyneth Paltrow has never taken hallucinogenic drugs. Actually, she’s barely smoked pot — “It either makes me bum out or fall asleep.” But aware of the fact that they are being touted as the next big thing in mental health, she is “very open” to giving them a try. Particularly at this stage of her life. “It’s funny, I remember when I turned 40, interviewers going, ‘Oh my God, you’re 40! What does that mean?’ as if I was ready for the old people’s home. And yet, these last six years have been the most profoundly awakening years of my life.
“Actually, we were just talking about it the other day. You have to go to Canada, where it’s legal [trials are being conducted there, but hallucinogens are not generally available for therapeutic use], and they give you MDMA or psilocybin to work on your issue or trauma. I mean it’s got to be done in the right setting and with a professional doctor, of course.”
It is a hazy morning in downtown LA and Paltrow and I are sitting in a trailer on the lot of Rolling Greens garden centre, the venue for In Goop Health, the fifth wellness summit she has hosted. Already I’ve had my free B12 shot and a large handful of caffeine-laced Nerd Alert Goop chews, on offer here today along with cartons of Goop-approved low-alkaline water, Goop parasols and a whole bunch of other free Instagram-friendly swag.
Minutes earlier, Paltrow, 46, a picture of West Coast chic in a khaki G. Label playsuit and Robert Clergerie platforms, had appeared on the main “chatroom” stage for the opening ceremony — a ceremony involving a Soulstrology sound bath set to the accompaniment of plant vibrations (the optional group vaginal steam will come afterwards, she quipped to a sea of raised iPhones) — followed by a “fireside chat” with her first speaker of the day, the magnificent Elizabeth Gilbert. This evening, she’ll be back here with Jessica Alba, Olivia Wilde, Taraji P Henson and Busy Philipps. Later, I might get my 24-carat-gold ear seed to “stimulate my aural reflex centres”, go to a talk on interpersonal IQ in committed relationships, and maybe, if I can steal a march on the queue of Veja-sneakered, floral-frocked Goopies who have been waiting since 8am this morning, have a session in the Somadome meditation pod. Oh, gosh, and I must check out those famous jade eggs.
Last year, Goop paid £115,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the Californian authorities for allegedly “misleading” customers that the jade (£60) or rose quartz (£50) pessaries could regulate menstrual cycles, prevent uterine prolapse and increase bladder control. The company ended up offering refunds to the people who had bought them — though they said they settled without admitting liability — and now if you order them on the site, the description box is empty.
Well, I ask GP, what’s the deal? Should I get one? Do they actually do anything? “Of course you should,” she says in that languid yet somewhat mechanical drawl of hers. “I’m not kidding. Do it. They’re fantastic. For everything.”
I first interviewed Paltrow at the end of 2009. At the time, she was 37, just off the set of Ironman 2, and Goop was very much in its infancy; a mere newsletter, in fact, sharing secret addresses and tips she’d picked up on location, all written from her kitchen in Belsize Park, where she lived with her children and then-husband Chris Martin. Ten years on, and the company’s headquarters are in a sprawling warehouse in Santa Monica, with 220 staff. Valued at $250m, with its own website, clothing line, podcast and anticipated Netflix docuseries, Goop — so named because Paltrow was told that a lot of successful internet companies have double Os in their name — is not so much a company as a phenomenon: one, it must be said, that has attracted its fair share of haters.
“Oh, I don’t care about the haters,” she says, tucking those long golden legs underneath her. “Haters are irrelevant to me. It’s like Brené Brown says: I’m not making this work for people who aren’t in the arena. Haters don’t mean anything to me because they are not my people.”
Certainly there are no haters here today and nor will there be any when In Goop Health comes to London at the end of this month at Re:centre in Hammersmith (a stone’s throw from Paltrow’s favourite London restaurant, the River Cafe). Highlights will include speakers such as Paltrow’s personal psychotherapist, Barry Michels, nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik, naturopath to the stars Nigma Talib and much, much more. A cool £1,000 buys you a Summit Pass for the main event on Saturday, and includes a session with the trainer Tracy Anderson or yoga teacher Melody Hekmat; £4,500 gets you a Wellness Weekender pass, which includes two nights at the newly refurbished Kimpton Fitzroy London Hotel in Bloomsbury and maybe even a chance to meet GP herself.
“I can’t remember what it is exactly we are doing,” she says. “But there are definitely going to be some cocktail ‘me’ moments. I know some people need that extra piece.”
In the throes of perimenopause (for the moment, Goop Madame Ovary supplements are taking care of the disturbed sleep and irritability round her cycle she’s never noticed before — but when she gets the sweats, yes, of course she will consider HRT), Paltrow may look even better than she did 10 years ago. At the time, the memory of the postnatal depression she suffered after giving birth to Moses was still fresh and she was going through something of a “conscious uncoupling” with her then-friend Madonna (they are not close now). Yes, she has lines, but the texture of her skin is like that of a teenager, and boy is she fit, though, in fact, she’s exercising less than she did back then, only an hour of hiking, yoga or Tracy Anderson a day, six times a week. She seems less edgy, less driven now, too. Maybe this is something to do with not having to be “masquerading”, as she once put it, as an actor. “It sounds horrible to say that, because I was good at it, and it was a little humiliating to admit because it was like, ‘Who the f*** do you think you are?’ But I had to be true to my inner voice, I had to be brave enough to step away and create this thing I wanted to create.”
But maybe it is also to do with her ridiculously hunky new husband, the TV producer-slash-writer Brad Falchuk — “I know, crazytown handsome, right?” she says with an almost apologetic smile. Indeed, so much does she love him, she even agreed to appear in his latest project with Ryan Murphy. Netflix’s The Politician is a dark comedy starring Ben Platt and Jessica Lange, revolving around rich-kid student politics. “He said to me, ‘I’m writing this part for you. I know you are never going to do it, I just want you to know I’m writing it for you.’ I didn’t want to, but I could tell he really, really wanted me to do it and so I said yes. I play [*rolls eyeballs*] a wealthy Montecito mom.”
The couple first met in 2010 through her Ironman co-star Robert Downey Jr and later worked together on Glee, the TV show Falchuk co-created with Murphy and Ian Brennan. They married last year on Paltrow’s sprawling estate in Amagansett, New York, in front of friends such as Cameron Diaz, Jerry Seinfeld and Rob Lowe. Also in attendance were Paltrow’s mother, the actress Blythe Danner (who has an adjoining property), her godfather “Uncle Morty”, aka Steven Spielberg, and, of course, her children, Apple, then 14, and Moses, then 12. At Christmas the pair went on a “family honeymoon” to the Maldives, bringing both sets of children — Falchuk, 48, has two kids with his first wife, the producer Suzanne Bukinik — and Paltrow’s ex, Martin. “Well, of course,” she says earnestly, “Chris is family and Brad and he, they’re like, totally friends.” As for Dakota Johnson, Martin’s girlfriend: “I adore her. She’s a fantastic woman.”
Interestingly, she and Falchuk don’t live together yet, though he is close by. He sleeps at his own house when his children, Brody and Isabella, stay; on the other four nights he’s chez Paltrow — perfect, she volunteers, for the “polarity” her intimacy teacher, Michaela Boehm, has taught her to keep her relationship, er, fresh. “Oh, all my married friends say that the way we live sounds ideal and we shouldn’t change a thing,” she giggles.
We are already running dangerously low on time — in less than 10 minutes she’s got to be in an “expanded fitness” breakout session held by her friend Julianne Hough — but I haven’t quite finished. I want to know more about the sickeningly perfect-sounding “Faltrow” set-up. What are the house rules, for example? Be kind, eat delicious food and have no dishes in the sink overnight, apparently. “I can’t sleep at night if there are dishes in the sink.”
And is she a good stepmum?
“I have no idea,” she shrugs, matter-of- factly. “I mean, sometimes that piece gets complicated when there are two teenage girls. If you’re not all drinking the same Kool-Aid, it can be tough. I do think, though, at the end of the day, everyone wants the same thing, which is to feel love and be accepted.
“My stepson, for example, he had a rough beginning with it all, but now he and I have our own space together. I’m not his mother, he’s not my son, but he knows he is very special to me.”
What about Apple, then, now that she’s 15? Does she give her mother a hard time? That now famous bit of Instagram banter — daughter only allowing mother to post approved pictures — suggests she might be a little bit of, er, a madam?
“Oh, people misunderstand that,” smiles Paltrow. “That’s just her humour. Her British half makes her very dry. Whenever I post pictures of her on my private account, she’ll be, like, ‘Mom, I look like a lizard in that one .’”
Jokes aside, what in her experience are the difficulties gen Z faces today? We oldies might be toying with the idea of expanding our consciousnesses with hallucinogens, but what about our kids doing drugs? In light of the prescription-drug epidemic in America, and rising anxiety levels, isn’t she scared they might succumb?
“I think it is harder for boys,” she says carefully. “Boys, in my view, are a thousand times more sensitive than girls. Little boys need care and love and sweetness and physicality, while little girls tend to be more resilient. This culture does not set boys up with the tools for inner strength, so, of course, if they haven’t learnt to shore themselves up by other means …
“But, you know, my kids are f****** awesome people and I really trust them. Apple is an incredibly self-aware, strong girl; she knows what’s right for her and what’s not right. I’m sure we are going to have some pain and heartbreak, as we all do, but I want to honour who they are. I don’t want to force myself upon them. I am strict about manners, though. Table manners I’m really hard on. American kids sometimes don’t have such good manners. I notice that coming from London.” She’s a little devastated, by the way, that they have both already lost their English accents.
As to keeping it real for herself, she is ever vigilant. “Look, I’m famous, I get famous-person treatment. You don’t want to be an asshole, but slowly if people start removing obstacles for you, if you live in a world where you never have to sit in line, where people don’t confront you, where they don’t tell you the truth, that’s what you become. That’s what I became after Shakespeare in Love and was, for the moment, the No 1 female movie star in the world. Luckily, my dad burst my bubble for me in a way that it could never be reconstructed.
“I see so many famous people who are exempt from life, who’ve set up this construct where they don’t really have to risk anything,” she continues. “Usually, because of their ingrained fear of intimacy — and I don’t want to be like that. I want to be in the rough and tumble of life, I don’t want to be exempt.”
She looks forward, meanwhile, to eventually distancing herself a little from Goop — “I couldn’t have started the brand if I hadn’t been who I was in the first place, but it’s my hope that it will end up dwarfing me, if that makes sense” — and to being a confident, sexually fulfilled older woman. “I think there is something so incredibly powerful about getting to that stage. You’re no longer fertile, you’re no longer A/B testing all your behaviour and all your stuff out there in the world because you’re done, you don’t give a f***, you’re, like, ‘This is me.’
“I guess the only regret is that I had to turn 40 to start getting my head out of my ass. What if I’d been 30? Twenty? Still, I can only imagine in my fifties how much better it is all going to get.” Finally. Someone who has found a way to make menopause glamorous.
Welcome back to London, GP. I, for one, cannot wait.