New love has given Gwyneth Paltrow a fresh perspective on her painful 1997 breakup with Brad Pitt, the loss of her father last year, and the drive to rejuvenate her career.
In an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer on Primetime Thursday, Paltrow unflinchingly takes responsibility for the ill-fated engagement to Pitt, but says she has found peace.
"I'm so lucky that I spent time with Brad, somebody who was such a good person! Especially when I was, like, such a mess," Paltrow said.
The interview marked the first time Paltrow, 31, talked on camera about losing her father, producer-director Bruce Paltrow, last year to throat cancer. The Oscar-winning actress also offered perspective on another ex-boyfriend, Ben Affleck, saying she wasn't too surprised that he and Jennifer Lopez put their wedding on hold last month.
"Ben makes life tough for himself," Paltrow said. "He's got a lot of complication, and you know, he really is a great guy. So I hope he sorts himself out."
It's been a tough year personally and professionally for Paltrow, who has struggled through a string of disappointing movies since winning a Best Actress Oscar in 1998 for Shakespeare in Love. She moved from New York to London and took a lighter work load, to step out of the spotlight and hone her skills on the British stage.
Then, in July of last year, she met singer Chris Martin backstage after his band, Coldplay, performed in Britain. The couple now lives together, and the blond actress is looking forward to the Oct. 17 release of her next film, Sylvia as she takes on the role of American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath.
‘We Have Very Different Value Systems’
Her engagement to Pitt in her early 20s — and seeing her life played out in the tabloids — has made Paltrow more self-protective.
Looking back, she said she regrets any pain she caused Pitt, admitting for the first time to Sawyer that she hurt him.
"My kind of internal stuff really tripped up that whole relationship," she said. "And I felt really responsible, and also like I was the architect of my own misery … I just made a big mess out of it."
Pitt and Paltrow were hounded relentlessly in their two years together. In one instance, the couple sued after nude pictures of them vacationing in the Caribbean island of St. Barts, taken with a telephoto lens, were circulated on the Internet.
Paltrow says she carried grief for the breakup with Pitt for five years.
"I was very upset for a long, long time," she said. But, she said, she is over it and now she and Pitt share a cordial relationship.
"We're able to sort of see each other and smile and wish each other well," Paltrow said. Pitt is now married to Jennifer Aniston.
Paltrow looks back on her relationship with Affleck quite differently, saying she never expected to end up with him. "I just think we have a very different sort of value system," she said.
While they were dating, Affleck told Good Morning America that he believed Paltrow's perfect man would be someone like her dad. She said that his perfect woman would be "any sort of stripper at Scores. Anyone that serves cold beer in a bikini."
Now, Paltrow laughs when reminded of her comments.
"Oh, God!" she joked. "Why do I drink before these interviews?!"
An Enduring Grace
From her early stardom in Emma (1996), to her breakthrough success in Shakespeare in Love (1998) and her singing debut in Duets (2000), Paltrow has managed to maintain a certain grace while living her adult life in front of the cameras.
The death of her father, who produced and directed the landmark TV hospital drama St. Elsewhere, shook her world. In October 2002, the family thought his cancer was at bay, and he went to Rome to celebrate Gwyneth's 30th birthday. But he began feeling sick.
"We got him to the hospital and he didn't make it through the first night, because the cancer had come back," Paltrow said. "It was in his bronchial tubes, which we didn't know. None of us knew, including him, thank God."
She thinks it is a blessing that her father did not know how sick he was.
"Because he would have faced a few really miserable months and I don't know, I think there's something kind of elegant and great about dying in Rome," she said.
But the grieving period was extremely difficult for Paltrow. The young actress said she couldn't believe she was able to wake up and function each day while feeling such pain.
But her father had really wanted her to make the Sylvia Plath film, so just two weeks after his death, Paltrow started work on Sylvia, the story of the poet who struggled through a rocky marriage before committing suicide.
Paltrow says she poured her own grief into the role.
"She was this woman in the '50s and she was trying to be everything that a woman in the '50s was supposed to be," Paltrow said. "A wife and a mother, and a baker and a sewer and an organizer. And she was also most importantly this incredibly complicated, cracked spirit."
There was someone else in the movie who had to work through heartbreak, too: Gwyneth Paltrow's mother, actress Blythe Danner, who plays Plath's mother.
Paltrow said she wants so much to see her mother heal.
"I would just love her to have some peace and — you know she's had — we've all had such a difficult time with it," Paltrow said. "She's so incredible and she's such a beautiful woman and she's so full of life. And she's in so much pain. So I hope that sort of subsides."
Paltrow is now left with a perspective that only comes with facing the harsh realities of death.
"The amazing thing is how unprepared we are in this culture for grief. I mean, no one talks about it and it is a monster," she said.
"I had crazy things happen to me, like I woke up probably a week or so after he died and all of the muscles around my rib cage were in spasm. I couldn't breathe.... There were some days where I thought 'I can't believe I'm waking up. I can't believe I'm still alive.' I mean, the weight of the pain was so great …"
"But you just keep waking up."