Gwyneth will play Marlene Dietrich in biopic. Paltrow will also produce the film, which has the blessing of the movie icon's family

By Gary Susman
Updated May 27, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Gwyneth Paltrow: Axel/ZUMA Press/NewsCom

Just two weeks after the birth of her daughter, which had prompted her to say she was taking a long sabbatical from acting, Gwyneth Paltrow has signed on to a DreamWorks biopic of Marlene Dietrich, which she will not only star in but produce as well, Variety reports. The studio will adapt ”Marlene Dietrich,” the biography by the movie legend’s daughter Maria Riva, and the casting of Paltrow has earned a thumbs-up from Dietrich’s family, says her grandson, Peter Riva.

Years ago, a planned Dietrich biopic was to have starred Uma Thurman, who resembles the voluptuous star of such 1930s classics as ”The Blue Angel” and ”Blonde Venus” more than Paltrow does. (The project fell apart when director Louis Malle died in 1995.) But Peter Riva told Variety that the ”Shakespeare in Love” Oscar winner is one of the few current stars who’s suited to play his grandmother. ”She has the stillness required in an aristocrat, and the ability to plumb the depths of character without too much emotion, which was Marlene’s trademark,” he said. ”Like Marlene, she has the kind of body designers love to hang clothes on. And while Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald taught Marlene to maximize her limited vocal range, Gwyneth is a much better singer. She’ll just have to sultry up her voice a bit.”

Rivas suggested that the movie would not shy away from Dietrich’s bisexuality (”She would fall in love with a song, with Paris, or a beautiful woman or a powerful man, and she would pour all her passion in that direction for as long as she wanted to,” he said) or ignore her World War II service entertaining American troops for the USO (or, less publicly, doing intelligence work for the OSS), in defiance of Hitler’s urging her to return to her homeland after her Hollywood career had cooled. After spending much of her later career as a successful cabaret act, Dietrich died in 1992 at age 90 but ”stayed in bed for her final 11 years,” Riva said, rather than let fans see her grow old.

Paltrow, too, said she’d stay out of the public eye once her daughter was born. ”I might not work for ages,” she told W magazine, shortly before the May 14 birth of Apple, her daughter by husband Chris Martin. ”Acting is a fantastic job, but it’s not going to define my life, much to my agent’s horror.” In any case, there’s no start date for the Dietrich movie, so she may be keeping her word.