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A Case of Like Mother, Like Daughter : Gwyneth Paltrow’s Following in Blythe Danner’s Footsteps

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As an amoral miscreant in Steve Kloves’ fateful, funky new psychodrama, “Flesh and Bone,” Gwyneth Paltrow swills whiskey at the wheel, chain-smokes disconsolately, bares a breast and steals jewelry off corpses lying in state.

“It’s so easy to pick up bad habits when you’re learning,” Paltrow said, referring more to pesky acting shortcuts than to nasty behavior. Still, one wonders what her parents must think--her mother, after all, is Tony Award-winning actress Blythe Danner, her father TV producer Bruce Paltrow (“St. Elsewhere”).

“They didn’t want me to act,” the 21-year-old actress said, pulling on a Camel Light in her publicist’s office. “ ‘We wanted to protect you,’ they told me. My mother told me, ‘I wanted you to be the next Margaret Mead.’ I think she was speaking metaphorically--I don’t think she meant I had to be an anthropologist. But when they saw my work, they were very supportive.”

Her father reportedly came around when he saw her in a Williamstown, Mass., Theatre production of “Picnic” in 1991 opposite her mother. The young Paltrow went on to land TV, theater and film work on her own, culminating with a major role in the 1992 miniseries “Cruel Doubts"--a Pyrrhic victory, because Danner soon joined the cast. It was if, at the last minute, mom had showed up to chaperon a hot date.

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“I was so upset,” Paltrow said, “because I’d gotten the role first. It was my first real job, my first real role, and I told her, ‘Everybody’s gonna say I got it because of you.’ ”

But that was in her rebellious phase. “I was terrible,” she said of the period. Now she’s more sanguine about the family business.

“I love to work with her,” says Paltrow now about her mother. “She’s amazing. Yeah, people say I look like her, but as far as I’m concerned, the more like her I am, the better. She’s so great.”

The relationship has another benefit for a young actress struggling to rise above the crowd.

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“It helps, because people are curious to see what the progeny will do, if they can perform at the same level as the parents. It sort of singles you out, but I don’t feel it as a pressure.”

She recently had the chance to compare notes on the subject with other children of actors on the set of “Mrs. Parker and the Round Table,” Alan Rudolph’s ensemble film about the historic literary colloquy at the Algonguin Hotel, to be released next winter. It was a virtual who’s who’s spawn: Matthew Broderick (son of James Broderick), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Vic Morrow), Campbell Scott (George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst) and Robert Downey Jr.

“It was really weird. But we found that everyone has had different experiences growing up as the child of someone famous,” said Paltrow, who plays the film’s only fictional character, a screen vamp based loosely on Tallulah Bankhead. “I mean, whose childhood is normal?”

Certainly not that of Arlis Sweeney, the diamond-hard concessions stocker played by Dennis Quaid in “Flesh and Bone.” It’s his relationship with his remorselessly crooked dad, played by a gleeful James Caan, that drives Kloves’ grim fable through its paces. And it’s Paltrow’s coldblooded gamin, Ginnie, who drives the old man from one small-town score to the next.

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“I play James Caan’s girlfriend--how scary is that ?” Paltrow says. “He’s insane, but he’s terrific, he’s brilliant. And Meg (Ryan) and Dennis were totally great. My relationship with Steve Kloves has continued; he’s one of the few people I can have really good, long talks with.”

Her childhood was, perhaps, more even-keeled for its distance from Hollywood. Growing up in New York City, Paltrow recalls, “Most of my parents’ friends were, like, Wall Street executives, professional people. My parents were never immersed in the Hollywood scene; they just worked like everyone else’s did. If I’d grown up out here, it would have been an issue, like, ‘Who’s your father?’ ”

Paltrow now lives in Venice, and finds L.A.'s mood to be more manic-depressive.

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“It’s nice to be here when you’re occupied or resting. But when you’re questioning life’s bigger problems, it’s not the most nurturing environment.” Least of all in an audition room.

“I’m having a hard day of existential torment and feeling disconnected from my own soul,” Paltrow said. “And I went in for this audition, had to wait 45 minutes, and then I was so bad it was a joke. It was so humiliating; now I feel like an idiot.”

The joke may be on her, but Paltrow breaks into an ironic grin. “I’m just learning, for God’s sake.”


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