My pal Gwyneth, the latest entry into the one-name celebrity club, and I are on the phone.
We're not real pals, of course, but for 45 minutes Gwyneth Paltrow is talking to me as though she is just another busy working mom who wants a happy, fulfilled life.
That she's sitting in a car in New York on the way to JFK airport to fly out to Los Angeles where she will do some talk shows to promote her new bestselling cookbook, My Father's Daughter, and I'm on a headset in a newsroom is immaterial - to her, at least.
The Academy Award-winning actress, lifestyle guru of Goop.com - her blog of all things cool and good - and newly fashioned songstress wants to connect.
"I am just myself," she says in her dry, humourless way. "People think I'm trying to be the next Martha Stewart. [But]it's just not the case. What I am is a very busy working mother who believes in good nutrition, making homemade food for the family, and making a kitchen and a house a home. I'm not trying to reinvent myself … Family is where it's at, and everyone can have that."
That's very nice, I say, but she doesn't have to put herself out there, so why does she?
"Because I know why I'm doing it," the 38-year-old mother of two, Apple (6) and Moses (5), responds. "Which is to share information."
But it comes with consequences, doesn't it? She has been vilified for offering up things on Goop that only someone in her rarefied circle - she and her husband, Chris Martin, the Coldplay rocker, split their time between homes in London and New York - could afford. She started the website - which she writes herself with the help of only one assistant, she says - in 2009 because her work took her to such fascinating places and she thought others might want to know about her great finds, such as antiques, personal trainers and great fried chicken.
"I think if they see it as snooty, that's just how they're going into it," she retorts with a slight edge to her otherwise calm, singsong tone. "It's not snooty. It's completely earthy. Certain people, especially journalists, they know what they're going to write before they meet you or look at you … The site is totally accessible. Yeah, sometimes there are things on there that are expensive and sometimes there are things on there that aren't expensive at all. But if you want to twist it the way you want to twist it, it says more about you than about me."
I expected this. It's a standard celebrity defensive posture. And I agree with her. Much celebrity journalism follows a fill-in-the-quote predetermined take.
Still, the response also carries a sly backhand putdown of the plebian interviewer - that he or she is just not cool enough to think that a celebrity is generous and normal. But even the most well-meaning journalist would find it hard to overlook the fact that while Ms. Paltrow presents herself as an average housewife at heart, she also engages in some pretty contorted celebrity behaviour.
Her cookbook's subtitle is Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness. And they are easy recipes - and not all vegan or vegetarian either. But it's odd that for a book about family life Mr. Martin seems to be nowhere in sight. He is not even mentioned in the dedication or in the acknowledgments, let alone in her description of "togetherness" moments.
"Oh yes he is," she replies in a finger-wagging tone. "You'll have to find it."
You would think that it might be easier to simply be more straightforward. "Well, I don't feel I have to explain," she counters.
Ms. Paltrow shares information on her own terms. From what she is willing to discuss, it would seem that her sense of being special - her proclivity to reach out to her fandom and connect to them on their level like a fairy godmother touching them with a magic wand - stems from three things: her late father's devotion to her, her early-career Oscar win at 26 for Shakespeare in Love, and her interest in Jewish and Christian mysticism.
Her father, Bruce Paltrow, a television and film producer and director who died of cancer in 2002, was "the love of my life," she writes in the book, which includes stories and photographs from her idyllic childhood with him and her mother, actress Blythe Danner.
Her voice grows soft and girlish when she speaks of him. "When you're a little girl and you have a dad who is totally engaged and present and thinks the sun rises and sets on you … it's intoxicating," she says. "It wasn't just general, 'Oh, you're great.' It was: 'I loved when we were at dinner tonight and you made that observation, and you're so smart,' and I'm, like, eight years old … He always felt that I had a lot to say and a lot to give and that's where my drive lay."
The Oscar win also helped give her permission to do what she wanted. "Winning an Oscar so young, you think, 'Well, there are no rules for me now. I can do what I want.' "
But it is perhaps her interest in mysticism that best explains her willingness to share her self-perceived wisdom. "I just understand kind of the trick of what life is," she says. "The purpose of being here is to kind of clean up your own mess and give as much as you can."
She won't tell me what some of her personal "mess" might be. But of her new moment as a singer (at the Oscars, at the Grammys, on TV's Glee and in the movie Country Strong) in combination with her lifestyle initiatives, she says: "Everything has happened very organically and it has taken off at the same time, and I feel that it's my responsibility to go with it."
It's karmic, in other words. And then she wishes me a very pleasant day.Report Typo/Error