IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Paltrow tries her hand at suicide

Actress’ personal tragedy helps her capture tortured ‘Sylvia’
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gwyneth Paltrow is back. The Oscar-winning star of “Shakespeare in Love” and the upcoming literary drama “Sylvia” confesses she had lost the joy of acting after a decade in the celebrity spotlight.

But her father's death, a stint on the London stage and her most challenging film role yet as doomed poet Sylvia Plath have brought a sadder, wiser Gwyneth back to the screen.

Expect her to appear in fewer films in the future, but in more challenging roles, like her tormented turn as Plath, she said in an interview with Reuters.

“I spent my 20s just working back to back to back. I don’t even know how many films I did: I think, close to 30 in 10 years,” the 31-year-old actress said.

“Then I took a year off when I was 29, and I sort of lost the joy. I lost the thread of why I was doing it,” she said.

“I think also the whole celebrity part of it really just put a bad taste in my mouth, all the time,” said the former girlfriend of Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck, currently hounded by tabloids for her relationship with Coldplay rock star Chris Martin.

It took a role like that of Plath, who killed herself in 1963 and posthumously became a literary icon, to remind Paltrow “why I became an actor in the first place.”

“I think that the experience of playing her really changed me. It was so difficult and so harrowing, but I got so much back from it, that I thought: I really don’t want to waste my time doing things that are mediocre.”

It’s not as though she’s spent the last decade zooming around the galaxy blasting aliens, but does anybody remember her in the critically panned stewardess comedy “View From the Top?”

“I’d rather have two lines doing something really special than make a ton of money blowing things up, or pratfalls,” she said.

Does that mean no more zipping herself up inside a fat suit, like in the oddball gross-out comedy Shallow Hal?

“Probably. I’m glad I’ve done everything I’ve done because it’s all part of who I am and all part of my experience, but I have changed the way that I see things.”

“Grace” is the word that seems to float around Paltrow like a hint of perfume. As she extends a slender movie star’s hand to shake a reporter’s, she is wearing a sleeveless top and chunky bracelet that make her arm look even longer and more elegant.

Her grace comes less from her flawless cheekbones than from an almost mystifying, artless self-confidence, the more stunning for the occasional glimpse of human fallibility that she uses to devastating effect in Sylvia.

She plays Plath — who is tormented by depression and kills herself after her marriage to poet Ted Hughes falls apart — as a brilliant poet, heroic lover and effortless mother, the equal of her genius husband, but not quite equal to the inner terror that causes her to tape up the windows and turn on the gas stove.

The poet Sylvia Plath was in her early 20s when she came to Britain from America, and was not intimidated by the shining intellects and ferocious egos of the English literary scene.

It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to the part than Paltrow, who came to England at the same age to take on the role of Emma in the film of the Jane Austen classic, accent and all.

Paltrow is aware how uncanny such self assurance must appear to ordinary mortals.

“When I think about that now, I think: ‘My God, why wasn’t I petrified? I was 22 and I just came over and did Emma.’ I’ve always been brave in the past about coming over here and working and trying things. Sylvia had a lot of that bravery too.”

Parents Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner, film producer and actress, raised Gwyneth to assume she could “do anything,” she says. Danner plays Plath’s mother in the film, in haunting scenes you may well see on the highlights reel at Oscar time.

But it was Bruce Paltrow’s death from cancer a year ago that Gwyneth says gave her the sadness to play Plath.

“I was pretty decimated emotionally at the beginning of the film and throughout the filming. And my father’s death informed everything. It was just who I was — it was all I was.

“I think when you’re suffering to the degree I was suffering during the film, and you’re playing somebody who is also suffering, the overlap was quite extensive. So I felt like I had a lot of empathy and great understanding for where she was.”

And her father’s death changed Gwyneth’s career plans, too.

“I thought, from now on I want to do things that are worth my time. Because we are all dying. ... Get something out of your life and make your life worth something.”