Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) (Photo by: Zade Rosenthal © 2012 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2012 Marvel. All Rights Reserved)
Gwyneth Paltrow wants you to know that Pepper Potts is no pushover.
Paltrow plays Tony Stark's (a.k.a. Iron Man) business partner and significant other in Iron Man 3, the third film of the franchise that put Marvel Studios on the map and helped usher in this unprecedented age of superhero movies.
Take a peek at the film's trailers and you'll see Potts has more to do than just worry about her man. The usually calm and collected character gets in on the action, even donning the Iron Man suit to help Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) battle terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).
Of course, the extent of that action remains a closely guarded secret.
"Marvel makes you sign away your life if you reveal information," says Paltrow on the line from London, England, where she lives with her musician husband Chris Martin and two kids, Apple, who turns nine this month, and seven-year-old Moses.
"But I can say Pepper has some fun in this movie, and yes Pepper gets to do more. That's all I can say."
The evolution of Pepper Potts in the trilogy — from "Girl Friday" to a heroic character in her own right — is rare in superhero movies when you consider so many of the films are based on comic books conceived long before the arrival of feminism.
Where Spider-Man's Mary Jane, Superman's Lois Lane and Thor's Jane Foster give dewy-eyed looks to their superhero fellas, Potts isn't afraid to speak her mind and stands on equal footing with her live-in hero.
| Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) (Photo by: Zade Rosenthal © 2012 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2012 Marvel. All Rights Reserved)
Paltrow is especially thrilled that Potts' relationship with Tony, which began as playful (original Iron Man director Jon Favreau based the pair's sexy repartee on dialogue from 1930s and '40s screwball comedies) now focuses on deeper emotional issues.
"The relationship part of this movie is very sweet," Paltrow says. "There's something very real about it. You see Pepper and Tony a few years into their relationship and you see some of the issues caused by his behaviour, his obsessions, but you see their love of each other and how they work through it.
"I really love their relationship in this one," she says, "it really evolves."
The chemistry between Paltrow and Downey is palpable, which she says has been there since the moment they stepped on set.
"From day one, when we started working together on the first Iron Man, we just had a real ease with each other. We have a very close friendship, and we work in a similar way. I love his very off-the-wall, improvisational style, and I can keep up with him and he likes that.
"We have fun, you know, and luckily with him it's super easy. I feel very lucky when I am on set with him."
Not all co-stars are so well matched. You can't help but wonder how important it is for two actors to like one another in order to create an on-screen spark.
"It's always much easier when you like your co-star," Paltrow admits. "Luckily, I've only had a couple of experiences where I really have not liked the guy, and he's been a real d-ck,” she says with a laugh. "In my 40 or so movies, it's only happened to me twice. And normally it's because the person is really insecure and working through something."
While we'd all like to know which two actors she's talking about, the polite Paltrow would never tell, and in fact understands the pressure her co-stars face.
"I think being a male actor is harder than being a woman actress because, in a way, its very hard for a man not to be able to control his destiny, to fight for parts, and I think its demoralizing. So I think a lot of actors feel lack of security around that. But most get on with it and are happy to have the job, and have a good laugh."
Paltrow's perspective on showbiz comes from a life spent in the industry. The daughter of producer/director Bruce Paltrow and acclaimed actor Blythe Danner, Gwyneth, now 40, began acting as a teenager, making her film debut in 1991's John Travolta pic Shout. She was just 18.
The young actor quickly earned acclaim for memorable turns in films such as Flesh and Bone, Seven, Emma and Sliding Doors, and then in 1999 she won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Shakespeare in Love.
But the pace was gruelling, and the death of her father when she was 30 forced Paltrow to push the pause button on her career. Soon after, she started her family.
"I did a lot of movies before I turned 30, and when I turned 30 I started having kids. Because I worked so much it was a real relief to step out, to live in London, have my babies and be home. I really did not want to work.
"And when I wanted to go back to work, I wanted to figure out a way to do it a little bit because I had set it up in such a way that my children were used to me being at home all the time, and me raising them. I was lucky to do the Iron Man movies because they were every few years."
Now that her kids are older they understand what mom does for a living, and her son is particularly impressed.
"[The kids] can come visit me on set. It's exciting, my son is a fan of the Iron Man movies, all the Marvel movies, and when he came to set he got to try on the Iron Man mask."
One imagines Paltrow's kids running around speaking with perfect British accents, but that's not the case.
"Interestingly enough, both of my kids have American accents even though they've lived here basically their whole lives. It’s very funny, we can't understand why, but they do, they talk like me."
Ingrid Randoja is the deputy editor of Cineplex Magazine.