The Sound and the Fury: Can Celebrities Knock the U.S. Without Taking a Hit?

Lost in translation.

That's Gwyneth Paltrow's story, and she's sticking to it.

The Oscar winner says she's "proud to be an American," and says the Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias got it all wrong when it quoted her as saying, "The British are much more intelligent and civilized than the Americans."

Paltrow says the Portuguese media misunderstood her.

"I never, ever would have said that," she says on People magazine's Web site.

However, interviews given to the British media earlier this year suggest the "Shakespeare in Love" star might protest too much.

"I love the English way, which is not as capitalistic as it is in America," the actress said in a January interview with The Guardian newspaper.

Paltrow put down stakes in North London, after marrying Chris Martin, the lead singer of the band Coldplay.

"I like living here because I don't tap into the bad side of American psychology, which is 'I'm not achieving enough. I'm not making enough. I'm not at the top of the pile.'"

Backlash From Fans?

But can bashing Americans, their culture or their country cost a celebrity a pile of box-office receipts?

"Something like that is probably said in the 'slight of the moment,'" said Stuart Levine, senior editor of Variety. "I think people are willing to forgive and forget as long as it's not too insulting."

Or as long as you are not the Dixie Chicks.

The fallout from the now-famous comments casually uttered from a London stage has lasted three years.

The Texas trio began 2003 at the top of the country and pop charts, achieving rare crossover success, playing to sold-out crowds everywhere.

In March of that year, though, Natalie Maines' offhand observation that the group's members "were ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas" blew the group's good fortune to pieces.

By year's end, the Dixie Chicks could no longer fill a venue.

Country radio stations stopped playing their songs. Angry Americans burned their photos and CDs. And death threats were not uncommon.

"In that situation it was what they said and when they said it," Levine said. "Not so much who they were. The wounds of 9/11 were still fresh. People were very pro-American and rallying around the president."

Double Standard for Musicians and Actors

The risks of uttering anti-American sentiments may also be different for singers and musicians than for actors.

Sean Penn is a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, has visited the country twice in the last three years, and has taken out a $56,000 newspaper ad criticizing the American government's military role in the region.

Still, Penn gave virtuoso performances in two critically acclaimed films released in 2003, "21 Grams" and "Mystic River."

He took home a Best Actor Oscar that year for "Mystic River," and the Clint Eastwood film was a certifiable box-office hit, grossing $157 million.

"When the Dixie Chicks sing, they are singing as themselves, who they are," Levine said. "When Sean Penn is in a movie, he is not Sean Penn. These actors are not in the films as themselves, so that automatically helps take the pressure off of them, box-office wise."

The 46-year-old actor's fortunes changed this year with "All the Kings Men," which has grossed $8 million since its release in September. Was it Penn's politics?

"To say 'All the King's Men' did not do well because people did not like Sean Penn's left-leaning political viewpoints would be silly, because the film was not very good," Levine said.

A Star 'Pirate' From Afar but Not Box-Office Poison

Like Paltrow, ex-patriot movie star Johnny Depp views America from afar with a bit of a jaundiced eye.

The "Pirates of the Caribbean" star resides with his family in France.

In 2003, he was quoted in a German magazine criticizing the U.S. government's behavior in the world.

"America is dumb, is something like a dumb puppy that has big teeth -- that can bite and hurt you. Aggressive," Depp's quote reads.

Depp also said that he had been misquoted and that his true meaning had been lost in translation. The controversy never mushroomed and clearly did not follow him to the box office.

"Dead Man's Chest" -- this year's installment of the "Pirates" franchise and a Disney enterprise -- has broken box-office records, pulling in more than $423 million domestically and more than $1 billion worldwide.

Depp is hardly box-office poison.

"He keeps his politics low key, and he is also a bit of a heartthrob, which helps," Levine said.

Whether it's Jane Fonda's infamous photo ops with the enemy during the Vietnam War, Vanessa Redgrave's pro-Palestinian politics, Bruce Willis' support of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, or Kanye West's suggestion that President Bush doesn't care about African-American victims of Hurricane Katrina, the celebrity pulpit has a storied history.

But the consequences to careers -- if any -- seem generally short-lived.

And any American who might have taken offense at even the possibility that Paltrow thinks they're stupid, take heart.

Just a few years ago, the actress complained in Marie Claire magazine that she was growing tired of London and missing the United States.

"The street is filthy. … Customer service is rubbish in England. … And I miss being able to get anything at any time of day," she said.

Shakespeare often observed that love is fickle. Maybe patriotism is too.