A study in contradictions on a bright March afternoon in Los Angeles: Jessica Alba is strutting down a red carpet at the Kodak Theatre, preening in her formfitting gold Versace dress and an immaculate updo. Miles away in Santa Monica, Blythe Danner is padding around her kitchen in a cozy turquoise and green sweater, a carefree bob, and bare feet, brewing some Earl Grey tea. ''Everyone's been asking if I'm going,'' she says, nodding toward the breakfast nook where her TV is tuned to pre-Oscar coverage. ''But I wouldn't want to deal with all that not unless I'm celebrating someone I care about. I just like to watch it at home.''
Yet if ever there were a time when she might want to drop by and face the flashbulbs, it's now. In the past year, her résumé's been updated and it's now reading more like a rising starlet's than a veteran actress'. She's a standout among the ensemble on Showtime's psychodrama Huff, which returns for season 2 on April 2. Last fall, she took home her first Emmy for her work as Hank Azaria's hard-drinking mother, Izzy. That's not all: In a rarity for an actress, she was nominated twice more, for her recurring, fan-favorite role as batty Marilyn Truman on Will & Grace and her performance in the CBS movie Back When We Were Grownups. She's constantly recognized from blockbusters Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, and recently wrapped a part as Jacinda Barrett's ma in the Zach Braff romantic dramedy The Last Kiss. After four unassuming decades as an actress, the 63-year-old is hitting her It Mom stride.
''I wasn't ever aspiring to great stardom,'' she shrugs. ''I wanted to be a good actress.''
Daughter Gwyneth Paltrow, however, puts Mom's career in slightly less modest terms: ''People have always had total respect for her. Men always say, 'I've had such a crush on your mother.''' Now that fans' and industry types' long-held affection is coming together, Paltrow says, ''it's lovely to see her having this resurgence, because we're all out of the house now, and my father passed away. She's not only getting great parts, she's getting recognized.''
Danner sees her delayed renaissance as more than just a benefit of the empty nest. She credits her husband of 32 years, producer-director Bruce Paltrow (St. Elsewhere), who died in October 2002 after a battle with cancer. ''I'm not one of those wooga-wooga people, but I do think that he's such a strong presence in this town that all his energy is pouring down on us,'' she says. ''If anything, I wanted to curl up in a corner [after his death]. But I was forced out by good roles.''
One of the first she tackled was Izzy. Despite wildly mixed critical reaction to Huff, Danner garnered praise for finagling Izzy's more bitter and judgmental tendencies into a sympathetic, complicated woman facing down her golden years. (And watching her navigate a sexual liaison with portly Oliver Platt something that should've come off as ludicrous is, instead, a total kick.)