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Gwyneth Paltrow initially turned down 'Shakespeare in Love' because of 'terrible breakup' with Brad Pitt

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Who doesn’t recall Gwyneth Paltrow’s memorable Oscar win at the 1999 Oscars? That speech. That dress! Well, it turns out there’s one person who can’t recall what was said up there — and it’s Paltrow. In fact, she even forgot to take home the envelope after winning Best Actress.

In an interview with Variety, Paltrow said she doesn’t remember giving her Best Actress acceptance speech for her performance in Shakespeare in Love and revealed she has never even watched. She does, however, recall who handed her that envelope.

“Jack Nicholson gave it to me,” she stated. “There’s a funny story where he’d been trying to ask me out before, and I was like, ‘I have a boyfriend!'” But it wasn’t awkward, Paltrow maintained. When she forgot to take the envelope from him, Nicholson sent it to her with a sweet note. “I have it framed,” she said.

That’s just one interesting revelation from the in-depth profile where Paltrow reflected on how Shakespeare in Love changed her life 20 years ago. And it was a role that almost never came to be.

Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow attend the New York City premiere of <em>The Devil’s Own</em> in 1997. (Photo: Ron Galella/Getty Images)
Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow attend the New York City premiere of The Devil’s Own in 1997. (Photo: Ron Galella/Getty Images)

“The movie had many iterations,” Paltrow declared. “Julia Roberts was going to do it for a long time, and then that version fell apart. It ended up in Miramax, and I was the first person they offered it to.”

The actress, in her mid 20s at the time, wasn’t interested because of personal reasons.

“I was in the middle of a terrible breakup,” she said, alluding to her high-profile split with Brad Pitt, “and the idea of going to England and being far from home just seemed … I didn’t even read it. I was just like, ‘I can’t read anything right now. I’m having a really hard time.'”

Roberts initially signed on to the project over at Universal Pictures but dropped out when her choice for Shakespeare, Daniel Day-Lewis, declined to jump on board. The rights for the film were sold to Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. After Paltrow said no, the role of Viola De Lesseps was offered to Kate Winslet, who passed too. Paltrow eventually read the script months later.

“I just couldn’t put it down,” she recalled. “It was perfect.”

The script may have been perfect, but the circumstances were less than ideal. Agreeing to star in Shakespeare in Love meant working with Weinstein again. The disgraced producer has been accused of sexual harassment, misconduct and/or assault by nearly 100 women, including Paltrow.

“I had one really uncomfortable, weird experience; then he was never inappropriate with me again in that way,” Paltrow explained, referring to the 1996 incident she said occurred when they were collaborating on Emma. She claimed Weinstein summoned her to his hotel room, put his hands on her and asked her for a massage. (Pitt, who was dating Paltrow at the time, threatened to kill Weinstein over the alleged harassment.)

Weinstein was “a very difficult boss” in other ways as well, the actress noted. Paltrow claimed he refused to pay her back-end compensation she was owed from the box office success of Emma. “I got him to pay me something. I remember I got this legal letter that said, ‘This is not an acknowledgment that we owe you this money, but here’s a check,'” she recalled.

“He was a bully,” she added. “I never had a problem standing up to him. I wasn’t scared of him. I also felt for a period of time, I was the consumer face of Miramax, and I felt it was my duty to push back against him. We had a lot of fights.”

That included disagreements after she agreed to star in Shakespeare in Love.

“At the last minute, Harvey wanted Ben Affleck to take over and play Shakespeare,” Paltrow explained, saying she intervened to stop that from happening. “I said, ‘No, you can’t do that. You have to have an English person.'” Joseph Fiennes was eventually cast in the lead role, and Affleck — whom Paltrow went on to date — joined as one of the Globe’s actors. (Weinstein denied Tuesday he thought of Affleck for the lead part.)

For the record, Paltrow doesn’t believe that Weinstein’s involvement with Shakespeare in Love tarnishes the movie’s legacy in any way. “It’s a beautiful film,” she stated. “A movie is not going to be successful if it’s not a good movie, not like that.”

The 1998 film’s success catapulted Paltrow to a level of fame she had yet to experience. “I think you cross into some hemisphere of being recognized,” Paltrow said. “It happens in steps and stages, but that was like, ‘OK, you’re categorically not this anymore. … You’re in this realm!'”

After a grueling awards season culminating in Paltrow’s Best Actress win and the film taking home the top prize for Best Picture, the actress crashed.

“Afterward, I was wrecked,” she recalled. “I moved in with my parents for three weeks in Santa Monica. I was just overwhelmed and tired and really exposed.”

While winning the Oscar was an amazing accomplishment, Paltrow said it made her doubt herself when movies she made didn’t have the same success. “Unfortunately, I’m a very results-driven person, and I had quantifiable feedback,” she declared. “Well, what do I do now? It was the beginning of my questioning my overall career choices. It started a whole series of thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

Twenty years later and Paltrow is semi-retired from acting, focusing all of her energy being the CEO of her lifestyle brand, Goop.

“I think the movies and the business around them have changed so much in the last 20 years,” she reflected. “I don’t think any of the movies that I’m known for would get made today. Would they make The Royal Tenenbaums? Would they make The Talented Mr. Ripley? Would they make Shakespeare in Love?”

Paltrow will appear as Pepper Potts for the last time in this summer’s Avengers: Endgame. “I mean, I’m a bit old to be in a suit and all that at this point,” she said of her Marvel character. “I feel very lucky that I did it, because I actually got talked into it. I was friends with [Iron Man director] Jon Favreau. It was such a wonderful experience making the first Iron Man and then to watch how important it has become to the fans.”

If she does decide to act again full-time, there’s one thing Paltrow has to do first. “I promised my mother if I ever exit my company, I’ll do a play,” she said.

As for this year’s top films, Paltrow — who is a member of the academy — admitted she isn’t as up to date on Best Picture nominees as she should be. (When asked about the Olivia Colman and Emma Stone film The Favourite, she replied, “What’s that?”)

“I better get busy,” she said, admitting to having seen only A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody. “I usually end up watching the ones that I’m supposed to watch. But this year I’m a little bit behind, apparently.”

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