May 11, 1998 12:00 PM

She’s regal with a delightful hint of rowdiness, injecting some ’90s spunk into the traditional private school grace. “Audrey Hepburn comes to mind when you look at her,” says Hank Azaria, Paltrow’s costar in last winter’s Great Expectations. “Except that Gwyneth is highly her own creation.” At 25, the bicoastally bred daughter of actress Blythe Danner and TV producer Bruce Paltrow is still a work in progress. Yet already she’s a postmodern masterpiece. “Her best feature is her bearing,” says Ann Roth, costume designer for Paltrow’s recent psychodrama, Hush. “The chin up, steady eyes, her posture. She has perfect skin and an absolutely pristine physique. She’s quite amazing.”

And she doesn’t gild the lily. “She’s an astonishingly beautiful person who still looks like a real person,” says Douglas McGrath, who directed Paltrow in the elaborate 1996 Jane Austen film Emma. “In photos, you see precisely what she is feeling at the time. Delight, annoyance, hilarity—it all shows up.” In her current romantic comedy Sliding Doors, notes New York Observer critic Rex Reed, Paltrow’s “a game and gorgeous commodity…[who] displays more depth and range as an actress than her previous films have allowed.”

As of last winter, the 5’9″ Paltrow, who split with fiancé Brad Pitt in 1997, has been sporting the look of love, thanks to Good Will Hunting actor and Oscar-winning screenwriter Ben Affleck. But even when glued to an Adonis, this Venus has a coltish-ness that Matt Reeves, who directed her in 1996’s The Pallbearer, finds “approachable and accessible. Then suddenly she shifts her head a bit, and you realize that she is extraordinarily stunning. It takes you by surprise, like a sucker punch.” What a knockout!

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