Having reprised her role as flame-haired Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3, Gwyneth Paltrow talks to Susan Griffin about getting older, her growing empire and why she considers co-star Robert Downey Jr a wimp.

By Susan Griffin

Gwyneth Paltrow was recently hailed 'most hated celebrity in Hollywood', beating the likes of Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart to the dubious title.

The accolade, if you can call it that, does seem a little harsh given that (bar the tearful Oscar acceptance speech way back in 1999 and a rumoured desire for depriving her children of carbs) the girl has done nothing to warrant such animosity.

Perhaps it's her predisposition to do annoyingly well at anything she turns her hand to.

There are the indie films (Sliding Doors, The Royal Tenenbaums, Sylvia), the singing (Glee, Country Strong), the lifestyle website Goop and subsequent cook books and the news that she's set to star opposite Antonio Banderas in the Spanish film 33 Dias. She is of course fluent.

All this and she still manages to boast a gym-honed body and the picture-perfect family in the shape of Coldplay's Chris Martin and their two children Apple, eight, and seven-year-old Moses.

You just don't want to like Paltrow - but then you come face to face with the Hollywood actress and she seems really rather sweet, nervous even.

She might not relish interviews but needs must when there's a movie of mega proportions such as Iron Man 3 to promote.

In this third instalment of the franchise, she returns as redhead Pepper Potts opposite Robert Downey Jr's billionaire-inventor-superhero Tony Stark, aka Iron Man.

She hadn't even heard of Marvel's Iron Man until the actor Jon Favreau approached her with the idea in 2007.

"I'd taken a few years off and was at home having kids, and there was no script so I was really flying blind," recalls the actress, who divides her time between London and the States.

"I didn't know anything about comics or the movie we were going to do but Robert and Jon talked me into doing it."

She admits she'd never thought of herself starring in a comic book superhero movie "and now I'm so glad it's been my main job for the last six years".

This is the first movie that's technically a sequel to two films (Iron Man 2 and The Avengers Assemble) and places Iron Man and Pepper, who's now his live-in girlfriend and the CEO of Stark Enterprises, opposite super-powered humans.

"There's a lot of comfort between them now, so it's not the kind of tentative relationship they had in the first two films," says Paltrow, who's understandably grown close to Downey Jr over the last six years.

"Robert and I have always had a really great working relationship and it's nice to phase it into something new," she says, before adding: "Robert definitely keeps you on your toes."

You sense Paltrow's no walkover and she jokingly berates her co-star for moaning about the Iron Man costume.

"Robert used to complain about it all the time but let me just tell you he is a wuss because it's very easy to wear," says the actress, who also dons the iconic suit this time round.

"I really liked being in it. It felt very superhero-ish, very strong," she says, laughing.

Iron Man 3 boasts everything you'd hope from a summer blockbuster, a stellar cast including Sir Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce, eye-popping action sequences and brilliant special effects.

Even Paltrow was impressed with the final result, having watched it the night before with her family and friends. "Everybody loved it, including myself. I was really surprised," she says.

While each movie in the franchise has been "great in its own way", Paltrow reveals she had the most fun shooting this one.

"Pepper really steps into her power this time. She's incredibly strong at work, you see her really as an equal partner with Tony and then she gets involved in all sorts of action so this one was the most fun in terms of where she is in her life."

Like any businesswoman worth her salt, Pepper can work a power suit and Paltrow, who's known for her red carpet style, had a long meeting with the costume department about achieving the right look.

"Any time you put me in a Tom Ford suit I'm very happy," says Paltrow, looking slender in a printed black and white dress and fierce five-inch black heels.

In the flesh, she's as you'd expect, all glowing skin, barely there make-up and poker straight blonde hair. It's incredible to think she turned 40 in September.

"When I was 39 I was freaking out about it but when I woke up on my birthday I was like, 'Oh this is fine, yeah I like this,'" she says, smiling.

"I felt empowered by everything that I'd achieved and I have two healthy children."

It doesn't hurt that she's in such good shape, and she gets to show off her washboard stomach in the movie.

A devotee of personal trainer Tracy Anderson, who she met through Madonna (before the actress and singer fell out), did she feel the urge to take her training up a notch in preparation?

"The real answer to that is no," she admits. "I work out all the time and my trainer's really strict with me and I'm very disciplined about it."

The daughter of the late producer Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner, Paltrow was 19 when she made her screen debut alongside John Travolta in Shout.

But it was a role in Se7en four years later, and her ensuing relationship with co-star Brad Pitt that propelled her to stardom.

While she and Martin are notoriously private, her 'celebrity' was key to the 2008 launch of Goop, a website 'to share all of life's positives' as it states on its homepage.

It was met with the sort of eye-rolling saved solely for celebrity-endorsed projects, but Paltrow has proven the naysayers wrong.

"I was really just doing it for fun and to share information. I really didn't know that it would end up having so many subscribers and such a big audience. It's really thrilling for me," says Paltrow.

"I love women and I love to create a community for women and it's been such a rewarding experience to do it."

In recent years, Paltrow has spent less time on the big screen but she isn't tempted to give up acting to focus solely on a business empire.

"You know, I really like the balance I have now in finding one really interesting film a year to do around the family schedule and my business life," she says.

"I don't think I'd ever want to give up acting to only do business but I'm very stimulated by my website."

Looking ahead to "the second half of my life", she hopes to continue this comfortable pace.

"I'm really happy at home, so I've got to find things where I'm really going to learn something or push myself to the edge of my capabilities."

And really, that's no reason to be criticised.

Extra time - Gwyneth Paltrow

:: Gwyneth Kate Paltrow was born on September 27, 1972, in Los Angeles.

:: Her godfather is Steven Spielberg.

:: She went for the role of Kelly in Beverly Hills, 90210 but lost out to Jennie Garth.

:: Paltrow auditioned for Legends Of The Fall. She missed out but Brad Pitt was so impressed, he recommended her to play his wife in Se7en.

:: She was engaged to Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck before marrying Chris Martin in December 2003.

:: Iron Man 3 is released on Thursday, April 25