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Posted 6/24/2003 10:55 PM     Updated 6/24/2003 11:44 PM


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The Sirens of 'Sinbad'
NEW YORK — California-dreamy Michelle Pfeiffer and dusky Welsh lass Catherine Zeta-Jones have more in common than meets the eye. (Related item:It's a sin we can't see them, but the pay's not bad.)

And what meets the eye this day is a stunning study in contrasts as the actresses, who have never met before, chat about, of all things, their voice performances in the animated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, which launches July 2.

Pfeiffer is Eris, goddess of chaos, a sultry schemer who messes with mortal lives just for the heck of it. Zeta-Jones, for once, is the good girl, Marina, a spunky Katharine Hepburn type who joins Sinbad (Brad Pitt) on his peril-filled voyage and shows him who wears the pants on deck.

The perpetually punctual Zeta-Jones, 33, arrives first, all voluminous raven locks and postpartum voluptuousness wrapped in a low-cut black dress splashed with exotic flowers. Baby daughter Carys, now 2 months and at home in Bermuda with her nanny, is "terrific," while adoring brother Dylan, almost 3, would dearly love to "jump in the crib and hop on the changing table."

Minutes later, Pfeiffer, 45, enters. She's model-slim and suburban chic, with just-so blond curls, dark jeans and a clingy off-the-shoulder black top.

One is dressed for a swank cocktail party, the other for an upscale soccer match. Yet both share much beyond their professions. They have the essential power husband. For Zeta-Jones, he would be actor/producer Michael Douglas. For Pfeiffer, TV mogul David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice). Both have a daughter and a son, though Pfeiffer's children, Claudia Rose, 10, and John Henry, 8, are far beyond toddler stage.

They both proved they could capably carry a tune on film, Zeta-Jones in her Oscar-winning showcase Chicago and Pfeiffer slinking across a piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys (not to mention Grease 2 — and let's not mention Grease 2).

And, for some odd reason, the two were exceedingly good at being mean to Renee Zellweger while playing jailed killers last year. Zeta-Jones gave her the cold shoulder in Chicago while Pfeiffer preyed on her fragile mind in White Oleander.

"She's such a good sport," Pfeiffer says of Zellweger. "I'm sure she'll get her revenge on us someday."

Like most voice actors in animated features, they did their parts without ever meeting their co-stars. Zeta-Jones, a cartoon newbie, found the experience stimulating if lengthy, with recording and re-recording spread over four years. "They told me the story and I knew I was pregnant (with Dylan), and I was like, 'Ah, now I'll be able to show my kids what I actually do for a living.' "

Plus, she didn't have to fuss with makeup and hair. Animators even gave Marina a sassy, easy-care 'do, a rarity for 'toon heroines. "I enjoyed going to work in my sweatpants with no worrying about zits on my face." As if.

By contrast, Pfeiffer is practically an old pro. She was Tzipporah, the wife of Moses, in DreamWorks' first animated feature, The Prince of Egypt, and once vamped Homer on The Simpsons, but she still was jarred by the process.

"It's so weird. When you're acting, you don't really want to be conscious of your voice at all. It's one of the last things you want to be thinking about. This is the exact opposite."

So what qualifies her to be a diva of destruction in Sinbad? "I'm so in control in life. I have lists. I'm a list person. The notion of being able to give in to chaos was thrilling."

Neither one, apparently, misspent her childhood stoned on sugary cereal while staring at Saturday-morning TV.

When asked to name their favorite cartoon character while growing up, both are stumped. Forget classic Disney. No fairy-tale princess role models for these screen queens.

"I didn't go to the movies when I was a kid," Pfeiffer says.

"We only had one cinema where I came from," Zeta-Jones says, "and what they showed usually wasn't anything for kids."

Since becoming moms, however, they have made up for lost time. Children do that to you.

"The cartoons now are unnerving, but they are kind of brilliant, too," Pfeiffer says. Her kids "love SpongeBob SquarePants. He's completely taken over the house. I love SpongeBob. I love Patrick," who is SpongeBob's dim starfish sidekick. "He makes me laugh. Thank God, they are past the Pokémon thing."

Way past the Pokémon thing. "The Nightmare Before Christmas is my son's favorite movie of all time. We were looking at something on Tim Burton in a magazine and I said to David, 'He might be old enough to see Batman Returns now.' Because he hadn't yet. It's a little dark. I finally told him, 'You know, I know Tim Burton.' They are getting to an age when I can share all these things I've sort of kept from them."

Knowing Catwoman is your mom, after all, could be a burden.

There also is a cartoon Bob prominent in Zeta-Jones' life these days. "Dylan is into Bob the Builder. His underpants, his cot. And Jay Jay the Jet Plane. We had Jay Jay as the theme for his second birthday."

She and Douglas occasionally peak at Boomerang, the cartoon oldies network. "They have shows from 1963. We love watching it with my son sometimes. When it gets to the '70s, you can see all the trippy, wacked-out ones."

So how do they balance a movie career, famous spouses and all the usual demands of family, while maintaining a relatively normal environment for their children?

"It's really just a day-to-day improvisation," Pfeiffer says. "I guess you just always try to look at things through their eyes, and what the experience is for them."

"That age is harder," Zeta-Jones says. "My little one just poops and eats and sleeps. But for Dylan, we're just very lucky to be living in Bermuda."

"You live in Bermuda?" asks Pfeiffer, clearly fascinated by the notion. She inquires how long they have lived there (2½ years), how much time they spend there (as much as they can), why they picked the island as home base (Douglas' mother is Bermudan, so he has Bermudan status, as does his wife), and how long it takes to fly there from New York (about an hour and a half).

But Zeta-Jones, capitalizing on her Oscar success, won't be lolling in the sun for much longer. She will soon be shooting Monkeyface in Miami and overseas. Douglas will be her co-star in the racetrack heist thriller, directed by Stephen Frears.

And, she reveals, "I'm doing a movie for DreamWorks with Steven and Tom, which I can't talk about because it's top secret."

That's Spielberg and Hanks to you and me.

Pfeiffer, meanwhile, is in pursuit of the perfect romantic comedy. "Usually they are not romantic or funny."

Besides, she and Kelley might just be busy looking at some Bermuda property.