Truth be told, Paltrow seems far from a mess, so the concept of imperfection should be considered only in relative Gwyneth terms. Fractured tibial plateau or no, she has a pretty charmed life. There are the two beautiful children and the rock-star husband (about whom she declines to say much, in line with their agreement not to discuss each other in the press); the homes in London, New York and the Hamptons (the house they're staying at now in Sagaponack is actually a friend's place, which they're living in while their own $5.4 million abode undergoes renovations); the lucrative Estée Lauder contract; and the continuing adulation of the fashion community (she was voted best-dressed woman in Britain last year by British Harper's Bazaar).
And Paltrow seems to surround herself with those who've been equally blessed. In London her bosom buddies include Madonna and Stella McCartney. The couple's closest New York pals, Christy Turlington Burns and Ed Burns, are out in the Hamptons this summer too, and Apple and three-year-old Grace Burns are "best friends" at camp. Paltrow and Martin are also tight with Michael Stipe, Helena Christensen, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Last year, in what had to be among the strangest pairings in hip-hop history, Paltrow performed at a Jay-Z concert. "Jay was playing at the Albert Hall on my birthday, and he said, 'Will you sing on this song?' " she recalls. "At first I didn't want to do it!"
Still, Paltrow insists that in most ways she and Martin are just like any other thirtysomething pair"When Chris gets home, we're not going to do anything other than what any regular couple does"and that she has plenty of nonfamous friends, "but nobody writes about them."
One such (relatively speaking) non-boldfaced intimate is producer Alison Owen, with whom she formed Go Go Pictures three years ago. "She's one of the most loyal people I know," says Owen, who was a producer on Proof. "She's fairly instinctive about her friendships, and once she forms an opinion about someone, it's hard to budge her."
As a mother of three herself (one of her children is singer Lily Allen), Owen says she respected Paltrow's decision to take time off, but she's relieved to see her friend taking on projects again. "She's such a terrific actressone of the best actresses of our generation," she says.
That talent is certainly on display in The Good Night, widely considered one of the standouts at this past winter's Sundance Film Festival. "I read the script, and I was like, Please let me be in this! It's so weird and real and amazing," says Paltrow, who shares the screen with Martin Freeman of the BBC's The Office, Penélope Cruz and Danny DeVito.
Paltrow's role is decidedly unglamorous. She wears a heavy brown wig and brown contact lenses, and the opening scene has her dressed in oversize men's pajamas, spitting toothpaste into the sink. Asked whether she was at all worried about making her return to the screen with a film in which someone else plays the hot babe, she shrugs. "I never read a script and think, What will the impact be on my career?" she says. "I just love how the film depicted a long-term relationship and what happens when you don't communicate. I found it so realistic and frightening."