Byline: Merle Ginsberg, December 1998

Why has Gwyneth Paltrow reigned as America’s It Girl for the last three years?
Some might attribute it to her undeniable style, and the fact that just about every designer worth his pincushion is dying to dress her. Others might say it’s her ability to shine in small, unpredictable films, including “Emma” and “Sliding Doors.” Still others might cite her knack for snagging the right It Boys: first Brad Pitt, and now Ben Affleck.
But regardless of who Paltrow’s dating (she won’t even mention Pitt by name these days), the 25-year-old actress always charts her own course — especially in her career.
In her latest movie, “Shakespeare in Love,” which opened over the weekend, Paltrow plays an Elizabethan woman who becomes the new muse for playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes). The project required her to master yet another British accent, to play a dual role (one of them in male drag), and to speak in verse alongside a cast of Royal Shakespeare Company pros.
According to the critics, she more than held her own.
As usual, she’s full of surprises. At the recent New York premiere of “Shakespeare in Love,” which attracted no less a fan than Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gwyneth decided to forgo her “first love” — Calvin Klein — for a dazzling dalliance with Giorgio Armani.
She had planned to make it up to Calvin at the film’s Los Angeles premiere — but the cold north wind came between her and her Calvin.
“I was too cold. It’s not a statement or anything,” she said in Los Angeles, dressed in a black cashmere sweater and long beaded skirt by Celine. “Calvin is my first and true love. Sometimes you can wear something else. I don’t think anyone will be offended.”
One suspects Calvin will forgive her.
Earlier in the fall, while she was passing through New York on her way to a girlfriend’s wedding — the first of her Spence classmates “to go down” as she puts it (“There’s honor in being single!” says Gwyneth) — she sat down to talk with WWD about her latest role, among other things.
WWD: For most of this year, you’ve been out of the country, working in Europe. Why did you decide to do “Shakespeare in Love” after vowing to take a break?
GP: The script was the best I’ve ever read — really. Tom Stoppard wrote it, and he’s brilliant. It’s really a romantic comedy — Stoppard really embraced the medium. But there are lots of little in-jokes for people who know Shakespeare well.
WWD: Do you think you get offered the best scripts?
GP: I probably get really different scripts from what people perceive. Maybe I get the ones that go to Claire Danes and Winona Ryder, but not the Julia Roberts ones. I’d be last after Julia and Sandra [Bullock] and Nicole [Kidman]. I don’t think of myself as this box office wonder. The truth is, I like my work in small movies better. But that may be just because I have yet to do a Hollywood movie that’s been artistically satisfying. When you do something like “Shakespeare in Love,” you’re putting everything you have into it — I was so wrecked after that movie. I was dressed like a boy and speaking in verse with an English accent.
WWD: What was it like playing a boy?
GP: It was fun. I had this cute little wig and moustache. My character, Viola, wants to be an actress, but that wasn’t allowed in Elizabethan England. So she dresses like a boy to audition for the play. We’re not really asking people to believe I’m a boy — the audience is in collusion with me. But it was still hard. I mean, I’m not very manly. I thought of myself as an English gay guy dressed in an Elizabethan outfit.
WWD: How did you get on with Judi Dench [who plays Queen Elizabeth in a cameo]?
GP: She was just fabulous, and kind of intimidating — so regal. She has this formidable presence. You think, it’s Dame Judi, do I bow? What do I do? But she was really cool.
WWD: Another actor who has a small role in the film is…Ben Affleck. How did that come about?
GP: [Pause] They offered him the part.
WWD: Is it a bit part?
GP: No, it’s kind of a cameo.
WWD: So he did it to be with you.
GP: Oh, we don’t discuss this! WWD: How did you and Ben first meet?
GP: [Zips her mouth] Talking about a relationship in print is just not a good thing.
WWD: Aren’t you ever tempted by trends, or by the really avant-garde clothes?
GP: I don’t revisit anything that was ugly the first time. The Eighties, for example — I hate the Eighties! I made a pact with all my girlfriends: “Girls, we’re not getting involved in this Eighties thing.” And I don’t need to wear your idea of deconstruction or theory. I want to wear a dress, not an idea. I’m really not behind ideas in clothes. I’m much more behind ideas in music or art or literature. With an outfit, what matters is if you look pretty, if it’s cut well and the fabric’s nice.