There’s something of the old married couple about Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr., though they’re married to other people.
They’ve known each other for 20 years and are cozy sitting together for an interview, shifting easily between talking about their Marvel Studios superhero sequel Iron Man 3, and trading small talk.
“I think I picked up a little bacteria on the road,” Downey says of his trips promoting the film worldwide ahead of its U.S. debut Friday. “No big deal.”
“I got really sick from the plane from England,” Paltrow says. “Just terrible stomach problems.”
“Travel’s tough when you’re not a kid anymore,” Downey adds. “You’ve got to take it really seriously.”
Both are taking everything seriously now. At 48, Downey is the great reclamation project of show business, rebounding from a fitful early career overshadowed by drug abuse and prison.
At 40, Paltrow’s diversified into a super-hyphenate. While slowing down to raise her two children with her husband, Coldplay singer Chris Martin, Paltrow has just published her second cookbook, runs the lifestyles website Goop.com and is a business partner with trainer Tracy Anderson. Paltrow also managed to book-end her Academy Award for Shakespeare in Love with an Emmy win for her guest spots on Glee.
Downey and Paltrow are following Iron Man 3 with smaller dramas, Paltrow starring opposite Antonio Banderas in the Pablo Picasso tale 33 Dias, Downey joining Robert Duvall for the father-son story The Judge. He also has plans for a third entry in his other franchise, Sherlock Holmes. The future of Iron Man, Downey’s billionaire genius Tony Stark and Paltrow’s Gal-Friday-turned-girlfriend-and-CEO Pepper Potts are uncertain.
Paltrow and Downey became friends after meeting at a film festival in the 1990s, though like much of Hollywood, she had doubts about the talented but manic actor who squandered his early promise through his partying.
Paltrow: “He was really wild, and I was very naive. I immediately took a shine to him. … Then he went off the radar for a little while.”
Downey: “She was out there banging out one hit after the next, and I was locked in a bathroom somewhere. So be it. Life is beautiful.”
Downey looks like a man in complete control now. Backing him up and keeping him honest is his wife and producing partner, Susan Downey. They have a year-old son, and Downey’s happiness on the home-front seems an appropriate complement to his career turnaround, which included an Oscar nod for 2008’s Tropic Thunder.
“I see perpetual vainglory,” Downey initially jokes. Then, “I see transitioning into things that are age and spirit appropriate, and I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be here five years ago. Ultimately, it comes down to relationships. What keeps driving me to feel that there’s more to explore in this universe is sitting right next to me,” he said, glancing at Paltrow.
“And my significant other, my partner, is a great, creative producer, and there are ways she is starting to inch me toward that are probably for my highest good.”
The actor has an advantage over Iron Man. Tony has one Gal Friday in Pepper, while Downey has two — his wife and Paltrow.
“[S]he and the missus are friends,” Downey says. “They’re both, like, type-A, organized, and so Susan and Gwyneth organize our ability to stay close and keep our doors open to each other and be current with each other’s lives and each other’s kids.”
“We make an effort,” Paltrow says, “because life can just get so busy and complicated, and we really go out of our way to carve out little pockets of time.”
The great perk of hanging with Paltrow?
“Suffice it to say,” Downey says, “it’s also really easy for me to get good tickets to a Coldplay concert.”