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Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and Baz Luhrmann talk careers, inspiration at RSIFF

JEDDAH: Academy Award-winner and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow cut a business chic look as she headlined three high-profile In Conversation panels that took place at the Red Sea International Film Festival on Wednesday night, with Australian director Baz Luhrmann and US actress Halle Berry taking part in panels on the same day. 

Taking part in a retrospective conversation moderated by Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG) CEO Jomana Al-Rashed – who introduced Paltrow as a personal role model – the latter looked back on her career as a successful movie star as well as an entrepreneur, recently celebrating 15 years of her wellness company, Goop.   

“Entrepreneurship and acting are very similar. Both require the same kind of energy,” said Paltrow of her decision to launch Goop.  

Paltrow went into some detail about the first ever MCU film she shot, 2008’s “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey Jr. in his famous titular role. (Getty)

“I’m really happy I did it because I’ve learned so much through the process of growing this company and working with this team and all of the challenges, whether it be inventory management or Excel. I never thought in a million years I would have to learn how to read a P&L. It’s been so thrilling to build this business and still do what I love to do.”   

On the topic of films, Paltrow was asked by an audience member about how she felt about working in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to which she said she stopped watching the films at some point, having also never watched “Avengers: Endgame,” in which she has a significant role.  

Paltrow did, however, go into some detail about the first ever MCU film she shot, 2008’s “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey Jr. in his famous titular role.   

“The first film we did was very different from the rest because the studio didn’t think it was going to be a big hit,” she said. “They hired Jon Favreau to direct who was great. And they hired Robert Downey Jr., who was un-hireable at the time. His career was at a very low point. 

Paltrow with Mohammed Al-Turki and Jumana Al-Rashed. (Getty)

“And then I remember they called me one day and said, ‘Come do this thing with us.’ And I said, ‘I’m not going to be in a superhero movie.’ And then they said, ‘No, but it’s going to be like doing an indie film. We’re going to have fun and, you know, you don’t have to be in too much of the action part anyway.’”   

“And so I thought, ‘Oh, okay.’ And we had such a good time. We improvised almost every scene of that movie. We would write it in the morning in Jon’s trailer, and it was like doing an independent film. Then, the movie was such a huge hit that then we didn’t make them like that anymore. But it was fun. It was a fun ride,” she added.  

Paltrow, whose last onscreen role was Netflix’s “The Politician,” was also asked whether she saw herself returning to Hollywood.  

“I never say never. I’m really happy and busy doing what I’m doing. But again, I can never know what the future will hold,” she said.  

Here’s a look at what Luhrmann and Berry had to say at their respective In Conversation panels:  

Halle Berry talks Oscars and inspiration  

US actress Halle Berry took part in the panel. (Getty)

US actress Halle Berry, the first and only African-American actress to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, spoke about empowering herself as an actress, filmmaker and producer as she delved into topics like the creation of her production house, upcoming projects and possibly shooting parts of her next movie in Jeddah.   

Berry, revealed to huge applause, that inspiration struck her on her flight to Jeddah for a new story she wants to direct.  

“Finally on the plane coming here I saw a story, I saw what’s in my heart, and realised what I wanted to share,” said Berry, who recently launched production company HalleHolly with former WME partner Holly Jeter.   

Asked by moderator and Lebanese presenter Raya Abirached to elaborate, Berry said, “It’s a love story at its core, but it deals with the supernatural and time travel and the future. It’s taken me the last few years to figure this out.”   

Berry also spoke about her famous Oscar win in 2002 for her devastating role in Marc Forster’s “Monster’s Ball,” also starring Billy Bob Thornton.   

About her win and speech, Berry said, “I don’t remember any of it and here’s why. I didn’t expect to win. I don’t know if anybody ever expects to win. Back in those days, usually whoever won the Golden Globe, would win the Oscars. So, any hopes I had were dashed when I lost to Siccy Spacek for the Golden Globe.  

“And it was in that moment that I thought this was a good run. Look how far I got. I dared to take a chance and I took the role of ‘Monster’s Ball’ and all of my agents and everybody around me said this would be the end of my career.   

Halle Berry spoke about empowering herself as an actress, filmmaker and producer. (Getty)

“So, knowing all that, I didn’t write a speech. I just wanted to go and have fun and sort of bask in the moment of this achievement, being at the Academy Awards and being nominated. So, I was not prepared. So, when I went up there when they called my name, I absolutely went blank. And all I remember was Russell Crowe. Walking up there and seeing his face and hearing him say, ‘Breathe, mate.’ And I remember taking a big breath turning around and then it’s kind of a blur. And the next memory I really have is backstage, and realizing, ‘Oh! An Oscar!’ I think I saw it for the first time backstage.”  

Berry also talked about her upcoming collaboration with Angelina Jolie for the action-comedy film “Maude v Maude,” which the two actresses are co-producing.   

“I’m just thrilled to just work with another woman and craft a story from our sensibility, from our point of view. So many times, we’re characterised in movies, and the writers are usually men, so we’re portrayed from their perspective. And, so, there’s a female director, Angelina and I are there, and we can tell a story from our point of view.”  

She also said the Warner Bros. film is a big action movie that will shoot around the world: “And maybe we’ll come back here (to Jeddah). When I was looking around the old town today, I was thinking about what we can get in here.”   

Baz Luhrmann reflects on his biggest hits  

Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann, known for films like “Romeo + Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Elvis,” sat down with Raya Abirached to look back on his 30-year-long career, reflecting on his biggest hits.  

Talking about his hit biographical film “Elvis,” starring Austin Butler in the lead role, Luhrmann went into some detail about losing hope on the film when COVID-19 hit. However, Butler never gave up, he said.  

“Austin carried a very precious secret with him that he didn’t tell me about until much later in the process, and that is that he had lost his mother at exactly the same age that Elvis did. And it affected him profoundly because she was the one who would go with him to auditions and you know helped him start out. His work ethic was like… Denzel Washington rang me out of the blue. I didn’t know Denzel at the time. He said, ‘Look, you’re about to meet Austin Butler.’ Austin was doing a play with Denzel on stage and he said he’s never seen a young actor work as hard as he was. ‘You’ll be all over him,’ said Denzel. And I was,” said Luhrmann.  

“And then the movie went away. I told everyone to go home from Australia. But Austin wouldn’t leave. He said, ‘I’m not leaving.’ We would see him walking up and down the beach and people would think he was mad because he’d be yelling his ‘Elvis’ lines into the ocean,” he added, laughing.  

Luhrmann, in an offhand comment, also said he’s considering retiring while talking about how he picks the projects he works on.  

“I’ve always got so many pieces in my mind and I’ll never make all of them. It’s just so much noise out there and not to criticize anyone but there’s just so much stuff out there. I would rather retire – which I am considering doing – and not put more noise out there. If I can’t put something that’s actually useful and can be worthy of someone’s incredibly precious two-and-a-half hours when you invite them into a darkened room with strangers to look at something that they can’t walk out and either be uplifted or moved or something… It’s got to be worthwhile to do it. That’s all they care about. And if I can believe I can do that, then I would do it,” he said.

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