Standing outside Gwyneth Paltrow's airy California childhood home is a lithe, shirtless rock star. Inside, Paltrow's 15-month-old daughter toddles around, all eyes and cheeks, so fresh and juicy looking that her name, Apple, immediately makes sense. Paltrow offers tea. Her mother, veteran actress Blythe Danner, frets that there are no almond cookies to eat and instead suggests a peach. Chris Martin, the aforementioned rock star, who is Paltrow's spouse and Apple's dad, wanders in and chats about how there might be "people" (that is, paparazzi) outside. Paltrow mentions there is a journalist in the house. The air snap-freezes.
That is the dilemma facing Paltrow these days. Fame has brought her many of the things she holds dear. Her famous mother and producer father guided her down career avenues that were closed to others. Her celebrity, as well as her talent, helped bring her interesting work, the cutest guys (including her husband, who fronts the band Coldplay and whom she met backstage at one of his concerts), homes in New York City and London, a Best Actress Oscar and such close friends as Madonna and Jude Law. But Paltrow, who will turn 33 this month, has now had her fill. Fame is an asset of which she wishes to divest herself. "Everything I wanted to achieve, I achieved," she says, all legs and elbows and neck and tiny little daisy head propped in a poolside chair. "I'm not one of those people who keeps raising the bar. Am I supposed to say I'm going to become the biggest movie star that ever lived? I don't want to."
Her most recent movie choices should keep her from that fate. They're all passion projects not calculated to draw a crowd: Sylvia, a biopic about Sylvia Plath; Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, an arch, retrofuturistic movie in which all the acting was done on an empty soundstage, then all the scenery added by computer; and her new film, Proof, about a woman whose life is almost the direct opposite of Paltrow's. She plays Catherine, whose years of caring for her mentally ill, math-genius father (Anthony Hopkins) have left her bitter, maybe nutso. After her father dies, she falls for a winsome former student of his (Jake Gyllenhaal) and gives him a brilliant mathematical proof that no one believes she has written.
The glum, cardigan-swaddled Catherine doesn't sound like the right kind of role for Paltrow, whose most successful movies give her the sort of sweetly wispy presence one associates with cirrus clouds. This is more the forbidding thundercloud area of Mary-Louise Parker (who originated the role on Broadway and who some thought was unfairly overlooked for the movie). Paltrow was in the later London version of the play, directed by her old Shakespeare in Love comrade John Madden, and two years after was cast in his film version.