Open-mindedness might be her new career watchword too. Not long ago, a big-budget popcorn movie like Iron Man would have been the last place you'd expect to see Paltrow. But she says she was won over by the people involvednotably Favreau and Downeyand the desire to have some fun. "Robert called me and he said, 'This is gonna be fun, and this is gonna be good.' And then he said to me, 'Don't you want to be in a movie that people see?' And I was like, Whoa! What would that feel like?" she recalls, chuckling. "And he's right. Moviemaking is not supposed to be a masturbatory exercise; it's supposed to be shared by other people."
Whether the multiplex masses will pay to see Paltrow as a superhero's leading lady, however, remains to be seen. For all her acting ability and natural glamour, she has never exuded the easy likability of Cameron Diaz or Reese Witherspoon. There's nothing goofy or girl-next-door about her. She attended the poshest of posh Manhattan private schools; she's a champion of gloomy art-house fare (think Sylvia); she's talked in the past, at length, about her devotion to all things detoxed and macrobiotic; and she's an ardent Anglophile who, for the past few years, has spent the preponderance of her time in Martin's native England.
This last bit seems to irk American audiences most. Last December, for example, she took a lot of heat in the press after a Portuguese newspaper quoted her as saying that "the British are much more intelligent and civilized than the Americans" and that she preferred the English way to the "capitalistic" American lifestyle. "I went nuts over that," says Paltrow, who insists she was misquoted. "I love America, and I'm an American through and through. But the conservative media won't let it go . People love to give you a moniker and then, you know, they've designed this hole for you that you have to fit in."
These days, she's all about defying those labels. Though she doesn't eat meat, for example, she's far from macrobiotic. Last night's dinner out included fried shrimp and onion rings. And while she still does yoga, she sounds more excited about the Hybrid Body Reformer, a souped-up version of a Pilates machine invented by her trainer, Tracy Anderson.
Being unpredictable in both her personal and professional lives, it seems, is not only her best defense against the pigeonholers, it's also her way of enjoying the success she's earned. In September the family will be back in London. But in October and November, she reveals, she'll be making several trips to Spain for her latest projectbelieve it or not, a PBS food show that she's cohosting with Mario Batali. "We'll be in a car, road-tripping," she says with a grin. (When she was 15, Paltrow, who speaks fluent Spanish, spent a few months with a Spanish family in Toledo and considers the country a third home.) She and Batali are (surprise!) friends, and when he told her he had this show in the works, "I told him, 'I'll go with you.' Later, he was like, 'Are you joking?' And I was like, 'No, I'm actually not joking!' "