Although she initially gained fame for her real-life role as Brad Pitt's girlfriend, Gwyneth Paltrow went on to build a solid reputation as one of the leading actresses of her generation. Repeatedly summoning comparisons to such classic presences as Grace Kelly, the blonde, blue-eyed Paltrow has won acclaim for her parts in a number of films, most notably Shakespeare in Love, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar in 1999.
The daughter of actress Blythe Danner and producer/director Bruce Paltrow, Paltrow was born in Los Angeles on September 28, 1972. When she was 11, her family moved to Massachusetts so that her father could direct summer stock productions -- it was there that the actress began to receive theatrical training under her parents' tutelage. Schooled at Manhattan's exclusive Spence School, Paltrow went on to study anthropology at the University of California before deciding to drop out to pursue her acting career. She got her first screen role in the 1991 movie Shout and in the same year she played the young Wendy in Steven Spielberg's Hook.
Two years later, Paltrow made her first significant impression with a chilling turn as a young con artist in Flesh and Bone. She went on to minor but memorable roles in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) and Jefferson in Paris (1995) before earning her first true taste of fame with her part as Brad Pitt's wife in Seven (1995). Unfortunately, she got more attention for her status as the actor's girlfriend than for her work in the film, becoming one of the world's most photographed arm ornaments.
However, the actress was able to come into her own the following year with the title role in Douglas McGrath's adaptation of Emma. She won acclaim for her work and her flawless British accent, and the same year she could be seen in two more films: The Pallbearer, with David Schwimmer, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight. However, it was not until 1998 -- having broken off her engagement with Pitt the previous year -- that Paltrow became better-known for her acting than for her ability to look good in designer evening gowns. That year, she had starring roles in no less than five films. Although both Hush and A Perfect Murder proved disappointments, and Great Expectations received mixed reviews, Paltrow's two English excursions, the comedy Sliding Doors and John Madden's Shakespeare in Love, netted positive receptions. The latter film drew particular acclaim, eventually winning seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Paltrow.
The following year, she had the lead in another high-profile project, Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Starring opposite Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Cate Blanchett, Paltrow took part in a film that boasted one of the most photogenic collections of young stars that audiences had seen that year and it further enhanced her reputation as one of the most celebrated members of her generation to step in front of a camera. As photogenic as she may be, however, Paltrow's healthy sense of humor would give the delicate actress the gusto she needed to take on the role of a 300-pound object of funnyman Jack Black's affection in the Farrelly brothers' cheerfully offensive Shallow Hal in 2001. With roles in The Anniversary Party, Possession, and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums that same year, Paltrow's versatility and popularity showed no signs of waning - even if the subsequent flight attendant comedy View From the Top didn't even climb high enough at the box office to take a nosedive.
Of course the failure of View From the Top could not be placed squarely on the shoulders of Paltrow, and given the film's troubled production history it's a small wonder that the film was released at all. If that film had simply been a glazed-over comedy that gave its starlet little chance to shine, Paltrow would close out the year with a commendable and notably heavier performance in Sylvia. A film based on the life of literary legend Sylvia Plath, Sylvia couldn't have been more different than A View From the Top and provided Paltrow with a role she could truly sink her teeth into. Both her performance as well as the film itself fared fairly well through the duration of its limited art-house run, despite the fact that Plath's real life daughter Frieda Hughes publicly denounced the endeavor. The film also provided Paltrow with the opportunity to appear onscreen opposite her real-life mother Danner, who also played her ill-fated character's mother in the film.
In the wake of her accolades from Sylvia, Paltrow closed out 2003 by wedding Coldplay singer Chris Martin. The new family would soon expand five months later with the birth of their first child, a girl they bestowed with the unique moniker Apple Martin. But family life didn't slow Paltrow's film career too much. By Autumn she could be seen opposite Jude Law in the sci-fi actioner Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and before the close of the year, audiences could catch her in director John Madden's Proof. Paltrow played a supporting role in the drama Infamous in (2006), and co-starred with Joaquin Phoenix in the 2008 romantic drama Two Lovers. Paltrow appeared in Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2011) as the loyal assistant of zillionaire and hero du jour Tony Stark. The actress played a brief but vital role in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion in 2011, and reprised her role in Iron Man for the summer blockbuster The Avengers in 2012. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi