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Seven Days Showbiz; Gwyneth's getting over her crying shame.

SHE doesn't mean to name-idrop, it's just that Gwyneth iPaltrow really does know everyone, including her family friend Steven Spielberg and personal mentor Madonna.

Lesser stars would be rightly ridiculed for slipping Hollywood's most powerful players into the conversation, but the elfin- faced actress is explaining how she coped with what she describes as the humiliation of last year's Academy Awards.

And explaining why, 11 months on - just days before this year's nominations, in which she is expected to get the best supporting actress nod for The Talented Mr Ripley - her greatest ambition is to take a break and take stock of her life.

One thing 27-year-old Gwyneth has learned from Madonna is the trick of reinvention. She swapped her trademark cool, icy blonde look for deep, dark sophisticated locks.

Her brunette hairstyle was initially for Bounce, the movie she made recently with her on- again-off-again boyfriend, Ben Affleck. It made her barely recognisable - which Gwyneth liked.

"Yes, I might keep the look," she said. "No one recognises me much, which is a good thing."

This desire to flee the spotlight stems from last year's ordeal when she took to her bed and cried for 10 days after deeply embarrassing herself when picking up her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love.

But Hollywood being Hollywood, she has been unable to drop completely from view. Aside from the new thriller Mr Ripley, she has been working on two independent films - Duets, directed by her dad, Bruce Paltrow, and Bounce, with Affleck.

Both are due out soon, and even though her fans will barely notice as she jets around the world for promotions and premieres, a well-deserved rest is finally in sight for Gwyneth.

She has two priorities - going back to her roots to perform at a tiny theatre festival in Massachusetts this summer, and finally spending time at the New York townhouse she bought last year.

Builders have been working on her four-storey, pounds 2million Greenwich Village home for months, and now Gwyneth wants to turn it into a home.

She also wants to chill out and enjoy her millions. She has a couple of holidays planned - and whether she chooses Affleck or record producer Guy Oseary to accompany her is anyone's guess.

Affleck, 26, will be at her side as they promote the romantic Bounce, and they have been spotted on an almost weekly basis, cuddling up together at trendy Manhattan restaurants and clubs. On other occasions, she's out and about with Maverick Records boss Guy, who is also 26.

Her love life is one of the few things Gwyneth is coy about. "It's so funny. I love all these questions because my friends tell me that right now I am supposed to be dating six different people," she says, carefully dodging the obvious.

It's the same with former fianc Brad Pitt, who she met on the set of Seven. She calls him a beautiful person, says she was too young at 22 to consider marriage, and refuses to slag him off.

But if you ask her about the best advice she ever received, she roars with laughter and says candidly: "Someone, who shall remain nameless, told me: `Never sleep with a co-star, or at least wait until the film is over'.

"I had a little problem with that one..."

Gwyneth is far more open when it comes to talking about last year's Oscars.

Knowing that she'll go down in Hollywood history for the most cringingly- awful acceptance speech - sobbing hysterically as she thanked everyone from a dead boyfriend to her ailing grandpa - still embarrasses her.

"Could I have been wimpier?" she asks. "I was positive I wouldn't win. So I came completely unprepared. I just started crying and couldn't stop. I've never had such a sense of surreality in my life. I don't even remember what I said.

"When it was over, thank God Steven Spielberg was in the wings. He's a really close family friend and I really needed somebody I knew right then.

"The whole night is just a blur. I still get kind of uncomfortable thinking about it. Right after I won, I got really sick and I was in bed for 10 days.

"I didn't want to leave the house. I just felt really exposed and embarrassed. I felt like people were making fun of me."

Traumatised by the event, Gwyneth has kept her Oscar in storage for the past year. "I don't want that thing in my house. It scares me," she says.

It was after her public humiliation that she then, surprisingly perhaps, turned to Madonna, who introduced Gwyneth to her record company partner, Guy, to cheer her up.

"Madonna is so helpful in any kind of problem - life problem, work problem, boy problem. She has a very maternal energy. If I have some problem, whatever it is, she's been through it 100 times."

Spielberg and Madonna aside, many of Gwyenth's closest friends are people she went to school with. Even though she was born in Los Angeles, and the Paltrows - including her actress mother, Blythe Danner - are considered thespian royalty, the family moved to New York when Gwyenth was 11. Brought up in a spacious house on the upper East Side of the city, she went to the preppy Spence School in New England.

Gwyneth and younger brother Jake went with their parents every summer to the small, but prestigious, Williamstown theatre festival.

But when it came to a career, she decided to study art history in California. However, with acting in her blood, she changed her mind halfway through university and dropped out to try her hand at drama.

She was just 21 when she made her debut in Spielberg's ill-fated swashbuckler Hook. After a string of minor roles, she became known first and foremost as Brad Pitt's girlfriend.

"I didn't realise that being in love with somebody was detrimental to my career," she says. "I didn't worry that people weren't going to take me seriously. I felt very secure. I was totally unaware.

"Now I sometimes think about Nicole Kidman and I think this is so unfair. She's so brilliant, so talented and she's gorgeous - what is that little thing that's holding her back? I think that being married to Tom Cruise undermines her in some way. It's so unfair, it drives me crazy."

After splitting with Pitt - who is now engaged to Friends' star Jennifer Aniston - she met Affleck, who was on the verge of fame and has since picked up his own Oscar for the Good Will Hunting screenplay he co-wrote with his closest pal, Matt Damon.

Damon dumped Minnie Driver to go out with Gwyneth's best friend, Winona Ryder, and for a while they were Hollywood's golden quartet.

Matt, who also stars in the creepy Talented Mr Ripley, is still with Winona, and all four of their lives constantly intertwine as they all work on movie projects together.

They often get together to go through the piles of film scripts they are all sent on a daily basis. Recently, Affleck was offered the role of Batman and jokingly said he would only do it if Gwyneth could be Catwoman.

The rumour took off, but Gwyneth just laughs when asked about it. In nine short years she's gone from bit-part actress to superstar and, with 20 films under her belt, she can now pick and choose.

Of Duets, filmed in Vancouver and co-starring Eighties rocker Huey Lewis, she tentatively says she is looking forward to promoting it. In the film - described as a karaoke-hustler comedy - she intends to prove she can sing as well as act.

As if to make her point, she rushes to her car to pick up the first rough copy of the soundtrack. She sings along as her version of the Smokey Robinson hit, Cruisin', blasts from the stereo.

The soundtrack is full of old favourites like The Heart of Rock and Roll and is expected to shoot up the music charts. In which case, Gwyneth can add the title pop star to her growing list of accolades.

It was obviously a joy for Gwyneth to work with her father, Bruce. "Yeah, it was fun being directed by dad. I was always asking him if I could get off early to catch a concert or movie," she jokes.

For the rest of this year, though, Gwyneth would like to add `lady of leisure' to her CV. Sighing, she adds: "I think it's good to work really hard when you're young. I think the more you work, the better.

"But now I'm slowing down. I got to the stage where I wasn't liking work. And I felt like I was an ungrateful, horrible person."

That was the moment she decided to take a break. Ask her what her idea of a perfect day is and she doesn't hesitate. It's not an exotic film set, it's home: "I like to sleep late, go to my yoga class, read or sort out my house. Then I like to meet up with friends for dinner, go to bed and watch a little TV before I fall asleep."

It is something Gwyneth has dreamed about for more than a year... and very soon she intends to do just that.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 13, 2000
Previous Article:A man who has hit rock bottom; THE BOSS ON THE COUCH.
Next Article:KENNY'S BONDING SESSION; Bid for peace and quiet ended in fun and games.

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