Now, she puts herself to the test again in her new film, Country Strong, as Kelly Canter, a recently out-of-rehab country music star on the road to recovery and a comeback. And from singing and strutting to learning about doing drugs, the task was daunting. "I just didn't know how to do so many things this character knows how to do," she says. "I felt trepidation about being believable. I've never prepared so much for anything in my life."
Learning to play the guitar even took a physical toll on the actress. "It took me so long to get my fingers to do what my brain told them to do," she laughs. "I had bleeding fingers and cramps and shoulder problems -- I pulled a muscle in my armpit -- it was a disaster." Moreover, while Paltrow had an inside track on how to command a concert stage -- her husband is Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin -- she points out their situations were not identical. "He's a male in a band, which is a different formula than being a woman alone up there," she says.
Instead, Paltrow relied on someone else for inspiration. "I watched Beyonce. She defines superstar. She has an incredible self-confidence, and not only is she so mind-bogglingly talented, but there is this abandon and fun with all this technology at the same time. It's like a master class," she notes. "I thought if I could just get a thimble full of what she has, maybe I can pull it off."
Oddly enough, the darkest parts of her character were some of the most enjoyable for Paltrow to play. "I loved playing someone who was coming off her hinges. My life is so ordered, and I'm so organized. I loved playing someone who didn't care about consequences. There was something liberating about playing somebody that was so reckless, because I'm the opposite of that."
Paltrow proudly admits that her ordered life revolves around her two children, Apple, 6 and Moses, 4, which is why she'll only do one film a year. "Other than that time for myself, I do everything for them -- homework, bath. When I'm home, I'm 100 percent present." Indeed, it's that commitment to her family that has kept her off the stage, although she hopes to return someday. "My time out of my house and away from my kids is no joke. When I do my work, I want to be inspired and I want do something that they'll be proud of."
"It's a nice melding of different energies," says Danner. "Barb and Dustin are very free, and I think their freedom is just wonderful. I'm actually glad when my roles are more comedic these days, because, although they say comedy is harder, for me, it's joyful."
The group's on-screen interactions are always amusing, but Danner says what goes on behind the scenes is the real entertainment. "I've done imitations of Bob, where he just kind of puffs up and closes his mouth and eyes and just sort of shakes," she notes. "He'll start to laugh and it's just hilarious." The in-laws bring a different kind of charm to the ensemble."
Although Danner works steadily in film (she will soon be seen in Forever Is Waiting) and on television (where she earned an Emmy Award for Huff), her first love is the stage. And she's ready to tackle the boards again. "I would love to do a play again," she says enthusiastically. "I'm ready, willing and able."
Moreover, she would particularly like to work again with her daughter, Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow, whom she co-starred with years ago at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. "Maybe one day it will work out. If the right thing comes along, we'll be up for that."
When she's not working, Danner stays involved by teaching. "I encourage the kids to get theater experience because it holds you in good stead" she explains. "You get that in your instrument and you can do so much more. It teaches you a discipline and a physical strength. I tell students to get as much theater experience as possible."
In addition, she's actively involved with the Bruce Paltrow Fund, which she established in memory of her late husband, who died of oral cancer in 2002. "We aim to raise money for free clinics because there's a high rate of oral cancer in disenfranchised communities," she notes. "We're proud of this project and we're working hard on getting the word out."