'English, polite, and a great dad': Why Gwynnie's mum Blythe Danner adores her rock star son-in-law
20:43 GMT, 3 May 2012
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, left, with her mother and co-star Blythe Danner at a screening of their film Sylvia
As someone who cheerfully admits that when she gets recognised these days, ‘it’s usually as Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother’, actress Blythe Danner is self-effacing to a fault.
A career spanning almost 50 years, a marriage which survived the vicissitudes of Hollywood and an Oscar-winning daughter would give many women a reason to boast, but Danner is a study in softly-spoken modesty.
Paltrow has often gushed about her family, most notably during her embarrassingly long and tearful Oscar acceptance speech for Shakespeare in Love in 1999, when she thanked her mother ‘for all the love she has bestowed on me’.
After meeting her mother, it’s easy to see why she made so much fuss about her.
A star of Meet The Parents (with Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller) and Paul — last year’s sci-fi comedy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — Blythe Danner turns 70 next year, though she could easily pass for a decade younger. Gwyneth’s delicate, blonde beauty owes a lot to her mum.
What she is, however, is Hollywood royalty, along with daughter Gwyneth, son Jake Paltrow, a director, and her late husband Bruce Paltrow, who produced the ground-breaking Eighties’ medical drama St Elsewhere and to whom she had been married for 33 years.
Bruce died due to complications from cancer and pneumonia ten years ago, and, says Blythe: ‘There are still days I’ll wake up and feel his absence really heavily; it’s present all the time.
‘He’d been ill [with throat cancer], but we thought he was really kicking it and we all miss him terribly — Gwynnie talks about him all the time. Keeping busy and working has helped keep me going.’
Close family: Gwyneth Paltrow and her mother Blythe at a Valentino fashion show in Paris
Elegant: Actress Blythe Danner attends a special screening of her latest project The Lucky One
Playing Nana, Beth’s savvy grandma, Blythe tends to steal whatever scene she’s in. ‘But I was given some great pithy lines, and playing Nana was a good lesson for me in how to be a good grandmother,’ she says, ‘because she has the wisdom and experience of a mother, but also that slight distance so she can say the things a mother might be a little self-conscious about saying.
‘Plus, it was lovely to work with Taylor, who I adore, and Zac, who did a wonderful job.
‘He has lots of quiet moments in the film which are slightly antithetical to what he’s done before in High School Musical. And those eyes!’ she adds. ‘I could see why all the teenage girls are so crazy for him.
‘But, more importantly, he treated his mother very nicely. His mum was there on set visiting and he was very nice to her, which to me is always the sign of a good kid.’
You can tell a lot about a man by his manners and, interestingly, Blythe later says a similar thing about Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay and Gwyneth’s husband of the past nine years.
She patently adores her son-in-law and the way he is with her two grandchildren — Apple, who is eight on May 14, and Moses, six.
‘Oh, Chris is wonderful and he’s so good with their children,’ she says, ‘and he’s taught them those good English manners.’
And is Blythe a big Coldplay fan now ‘Oh, yes, I am. I’m mostly a jazz fan and I’ve never really been into rock ’n’ roll music — although I guess Coldplay isn’t really rock ’n’ roll — but he’s made me a convert.
‘I do go to their concerts whenever we’re in the same town and I don’t even have to wear earplugs any more, which I did in the beginning. He wrote the song Fix You for Gwyneth when her father died and I weep every time I hear it.’
With Gwyneth having had relationships with Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck prior to meeting Chris, did Blythe know instantly that he was the right man for her daughter
‘I wasn’t there from the beginning of their relationship,’ she says, ‘but when I finally met him, I thought he was really wonderful.
‘I think he met Gwyneth about a week after Bruce died. He would have loved him.’
That Blythe still misses her husband is evident. He had taken Gwyneth to Italy in 2002 to celebrate her 30th birthday and it was while they were in Tuscany that he complained of chest pains and was flown to a hospital in Rome where he died aged 58, suffering from complications due to pneumonia and a recurrence of the throat cancer he had been battling.
Gwyneth was understandably distraught. She later remarked of her father’s death that: ‘The absolute love of my life has died’ — and as Blythe says: ‘He was the heart of our family, a rock. It’s almost ten years and I miss him every day.’
The couple had married in 1969 and had Gwyneth three years later, followed by Jake in 1975, by which time Blythe was a successful Broadway actress — she won a Tony Award in 1970 for Butterflies Are Free.
‘When Gwynnie was born, I was shooting a film and Bruce was a young, struggling actor and writer,’ says Blythe, ‘and I think that’s when they bonded.
‘This was at a time when men really started pitching in at home, and he would walk her all night long. He did everything for her in those early days; he was wonderful.
‘He learned to cook, too, and that’s where Gwyneth learned her love of cooking as well, since I was never a good cook.’
Co-stars: The Lucky One cast members Taylor Schilling, left, Zac Efron, center, and Blythe Danner
Art imitates life: Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath and Blythe Danner as Aurelia Plath, in a scene from the 2003 film Sylvia
Paltrow even brought out a cookbook last year entitled My Father’s Daughter, where she shared family recipes.
‘He used to say to me: “Darling, you go do the Chekhov or the Tennessee Williams plays and I’ll do the TV and get the bread on the table,” ’ recalls Blythe. ‘He was a rare one.’
He sounds a pretty hard act to follow, and Blythe admits: ‘I never tried to follow it or find anyone else. I think once you’ve had the best, you don’t want anyone else, and I just haven’t been on the lookout.
'My daughter-in-law was trying to matchmake for me and I said: “No, stop! Don’t do it!”
‘I live in New York, and when you’re older and widowed it’s a perfect place because you just don’t feel lonely there and, luckily, I like my own company, too.
‘There’s always something going on, and because I don’t live far from NYU [New York University], it’s fun sometimes to go out and look at all those young faces. Of course, I miss my family sometimes, but I see them a lot so I’m not distraught. I’m very content.’
Celebration: Gwyneth Paltrow hugs her mother Blythe after winning an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Shakespeare in Love
Blythe gets to England, where Gwyneth and her family are based, ‘once, maybe twice a year, although they’re here in America so much because you have those lovely, long school breaks.
‘I loved the first Christmas I had in England. This was a few years ago and there had been a snowstorm and everything was snowed in because all the ploughs needed to be at the airport. So we all went sledging and made snow forts and the kids loved it.’
Surely they must consider her the coolest grandmother in the world for having starred alongside High School Musical’s Zac Efron
‘They’re much more into Glee because Gwynnie’s been on the show,’ says Blythe. ‘Mosey is very musical and he sings a lot of the songs from Glee.
‘He’s a lot like Gwynnie because when she was three, we’d lie in bed and make up songs at night and she’d do this extraordinary harmony. She was just born with this amazing ear and I think that’s also why she’s so flawless with accents.’
The pride Blythe has in her family is tangible, but if Gwyneth is able to do everything — act, sing, write, raise children and look effortlessly lithe and blonde — she probably learnt how to do so from her mother.
Blythe starred in hit TV shows such as Columbo and M*A*S*H, and later, films like The Prince Of Tides with Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen’s Husbands And Wives, while raising her two children.
‘I really pulled back on my career when the kids were young and my husband and I made a pact never to work while the other one was,’ says Blythe.
‘So, for the most part, one of us was always around. But I was never a good cook and I never had the patience Gwyneth has as a mum.’
Occasionally Blythe has, she admits, missed out on a couple of roles. One was that of Lady Astor, the first woman to take her seat as an MP in the House of Commons. ‘I was asked to do it and really wanted to, but it didn’t work out for me.
‘It didn’t do so well and so they ended up calling it Lady Dis-Astor! I was glad I didn’t get to do it in the end.’
Kiss: Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin share an intimate moment while out and about in New York
As luck would have it though, Blythe gets to play an Astor of sorts in the pilot episode of a new American show, Gilded Lilys — the U.S. answer to Downton Abbey — the storyline of which is thought to be loosely modelled on that of the Astor family.
Created by Shonda Rhimes, who gave us Grey’s Anatomy, Gilded Lilys features Blythe, as the wicked-tongued matriarch of the moneyed New York Lily family, and John Barrowman.
‘John plays the ne’er-do-well son whom I adore. John was a complete riot while filming. He gave us all his skin products the other day and told me he has one of the most successful shows on TV [Tonight’s The Night]. He’s just so much fun; the life of the party!
‘I loved making the pilot and I have a feeling it might have been inspired a bit by Downton Abbey. Penelope Wilton is fantastic in Downton, and, of course, Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern, too. And I think Shirley MacLaine will be great in the new series.
‘I love period pieces and I said to the kids: “If you want to see something as wonderful as Downton, you have to watch Brideshead Revisited with Claire Bloom and Jeremy Irons.”
‘That was an extraordinary period piece. But then, Americans are bigger Anglophiles than anyone.’
■ The Lucky One is in cinemas now. Turn the page for Chris Tookey’s review