But Paltrow, who turns 35 in September, is gearing up for a comeback. "It's been a long time since I've done a big part in a movie, and I'm very excited about work now," says the actress. Dressed in slim-cut black shorts and a sleeveless white cotton blouse (Rodarte for Gap) that shows off her flab-free upper arms, she appears strong, lean and well rested. Her normally pale skin has just the barest hint of a tan, and she looks poised even perched on the floor next to Moses, who is playing with a bowl of ice, occasionally shooting a cube across the floor.
One might expect Paltrow's return to the spotlight to come in the form of a highbrow romance, perhaps a period piece or a literary adaptation. But instead the actress signed on for a pair of quirkier projects. The first, opening in September, is The Good Night, written by her younger brother, Jake Paltrow, who is making his directorial debut. Paltrow plays the alternately sarcastic and tenderhearted girlfriend of a washed-up pop star. The second, the comic book-inspired action flick Iron Man, is due out in the spring. Paltrow is Pepper Potts, the secretary-turned-love interest of the superhero title character (Robert Downey Jr.).
When the first photos of the actress on crutches appeared earlier this summer, most people assumed that Paltrow had injured her knee on the Iron Man set, perhaps during some sort of intense stunt sequence. But in truth, she explains, "I bashed it on some furniture." On Memorial Day the family was visiting Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw ("Uncle Morty and Aunt Katie," as she calls them) in Malibu. "The kids were sitting on stools with legs that sort of protracted out. I turned to do something and I just whacked it," she says, grimacing slightly.
Paltrow had unknowingly fractured her tibial plateau. But she didn't see a doctor for three weeks, during which time she continued working on Iron Man. "It was only after I was doing a scene that involved running when I said to the director, 'Uh, you know, I think I did something to my knee.' " The doctor ordered her to stop walking on it and scheduled her for surgery. Fortunately, she had only a few days' worth of shooting left on Iron Man. "I filmed the rest sitting down," she says. "And one scene I did standing on one leg."
"She was a super trouper," says Downey. "She was like, 'Yeah, it's a little uncomfortable.' Then we hear her X-ray looked like a broken egg."
Although the actress allows that the injury in some ways has been "a nightmare," she's also determined to turn the setback into an Oprah-ish "aha" moment. "When I went back to work, I felt guilty about not being with the kids," she explains. Overcompensating for her absence, she thinks, may have kept her from seeking medical attention sooner. "I always try to do everything all at once, and to do it perfectly," she says. "I think it was the universe saying to me, 'Just stop. You don't have to make yourself crazy.' It made me realize that I need to be slightly easier on myself and just be imperfect, or a mess, and it's okay."