Zeta-Jones and her crazy, fabulous year
A major Hollywood actress, she has won an Oscar, and given birth to her second child. Can life get any better for Catherine Zeta-Jones? She talks to John Hiscock
Catherine Zeta-Jones looks back on the past few months and sighs with quiet satisfaction. "It's been quite a year, I must say," she says. If anything, it is a bit of an understatement. A quick tally shows that within six months the Welsh-born actress has won an Oscar, had a baby, appeared with George Clooney in a romantic comedy and signed to star in a film for Steven Spielberg. "It was a really special year and probably one that will be hard to beat," she acknowledges. "It wasn't until a few months ago that I passed the Oscar in my office and thought, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe that happened.' And then I look in the crib and see my little girl and think what a crazy, wacky, fabulous year."
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There was also the drama of that highly-publicised lawsuit in which she and her husband Michael Douglas accused Hello! magazine of publishing unauthorised photographs of their wedding. The case lasted six weeks, cost £3 million and ended with both sides claiming victory.
But real-life legal battles are not something she wants to talk about, even though in her latest film, Intolerable Cruelty, she plays a tough and devious divorcee who squares off against Clooney's slick and unscrupulous divorce lawyer.
Her character accumulates her fortune by marrying wealthy men, and the film raises the topic of pre-nuptial agreements. "I'm not going to talk about my personal life, but people think this film could only happen in Los Angeles," she says. "In fact, it happens all over the world. But I think that if you love somebody, you love them for what they are and whatever they've got. The ability to fall in and out of love really quickly stems from insecurity. I know a person who has been married four times and she has a fantastic house in the Hamptons which she says quite matter-of-factly came from her first husband. It's kind of humorous but I don't want to be a part of that world."
She does not need to be. The statuesque and confident Zeta-Jones married Michael Douglas in November 2000, automatically becoming a member of one of Hollywood's wealthiest and most famous acting dynasties. She cemented her credentials by winning an Oscar this year for Chicago. Their son Dylan is now two and a half and on Easter Sunday she gave birth to a daughter, Carys. Motherhood clearly suits her, and her children feature prominently in her conversation. She readily tells how she and Michael had to devise a way to persuade the reluctant Dylan to accept a new arrival into the family. "When my son was born there was nothing else. It was just Dylan, you know, and when Carys was born we kind of made a decision to really focus our energies on Dylan," she says.
"When we came home from the hospital we brought him a Thomas the Tank Engine which we said Carys had got him and he loved the girl from that moment on.
"Dylan needs our attentions because I didn't want him to see me constantly holding Carys and feeling that he was being pushed away. Before Carys was born I asked if he wanted a brother or a sister and he said, 'No, thank you.' He really didn't want one, so I thought, 'How do I handle this?'
"But he just came up trumps. He's so much fun to be around and she's the lady in waiting, as my father calls her. She lies there and she just looks at Dylan, who's running around being a monster, like she pities him." She pauses, and adds: "He did ask me once when she was going back, though."
Michael Douglas, who has a 25-year-old son by his previous marriage, is the doting father. "Of course, Michael is completely obsessed and has no idea what it's going to be like when Carys starts wanting to go out and dating and all that stuff," she says. "I know the father-daughter relationship and Michael has never had that. He has no idea what's to come so he'd better start preparing for it now."
Zeta-Jones is a difficult person to pin down as she divides her time between homes in Bermuda, Spain and New York and film sets in Los Angeles.
We are talking in New York just before she is due to fly to Los Angeles for a birthday celebration with her husband – they share the same birthday, although he is 59, she is 34. She wears a low-cut black top over a black trouser suit and her hair hangs down past her shoulders. The only jewellery she wears is a diamond ring on the third finger of each hand. She is friendly and forthcoming, sipping occasionally from a glass of water as she talks.
Her Welsh accent is still noticeable and she makes sure her children are well aware of their heritage. "I've given them Welsh names and they go back to Wales regularly," she says. "I think it's important, you know. I have a strong affiliation with Swansea and the Dylan Thomas Theatre and all those places and people who started with me when I wanted to go into this business. Michael's mother is Bermudian so when we live in Bermuda we have a whole bunch of Bermudian family and I think it's very important for the children to have that sense of where they come from."
The children, she says, resemble her but both have the "Douglas dimple".
"It's like the stamp of approval and of course, Kirk is crazy about it," she says. But, she believes, two children is not enough. "I would like some more," she says. "I'm one of three so I like that equation. But I have a stepson who's 25 years old and I guess I have to speak to my husband about it. He has something to do with it."
She admits she has a big advantage over most working mothers in that she can take her children with her. "There are hundreds and thousands of working mothers around the world who don't have the ability to pack up their children and take them to work," she says. "When I'm acting they're able to come and be around me and that's really great to have. At their age I can pack them up and go, too, so when George Clooney bought his house in Italy and invited us over, we went. And that's a great luxury that I don't take for granted.
"There's going to come a time when Dylan is going to say, 'Hey mum, I'm not missing soccer practice and I'm sorry I'm not going to come and see your movie.' And then my life will change in a different way again, so I'm just taking it one day at a time."
If Zeta-Jones seems to have the ideal life, she has worked hard for it and seized her opportunities. She has been acting, singing and dancing since she was a child and when she was 12 she starred in a local stage production of Annie. She went on to play the sophisticated Tallulah in the musical Bugsy Malone and then headlined the West End production of 42nd Street. In 1991 she became known to a wide audience as Mariette in the television series The Darling Buds of May. A decade later she has emerged as a modern-day incarnation of an old-time movie star, smiling readily for photographers, prepared to talk to reporters and always with time to chat to fans. But, she hastens to point out with a laugh: "I always tell people, don't confuse my niceness with weakness, because I can change really quickly."
Then, seriously, she says: "I'm strong because in many ways I have to be. I left home at 15 and if I was going to survive and pursue the life that I wanted to, I had to be strong. I've never been the broken-winged victim and it infuriates me when I see people playing that role in life."
Even when she arrived in Hollywood 1995 as a relative unknown, she very quickly found her feet. After she co-starred in The Phantom, Steven Spielberg saw her in the television mini-series Titanic and recommended her for the leading female role opposite Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro. She went on to appear with Sean Connery in Entrapment and played the wife of a drug lord in the Oscar-winning Traffic.
She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in March for her role as murderess Velma Kelly in the film version of the hit Broadway musical Chicago. "Hollywood was really good to me," she recalls. "When I went there I thought it was just parties and sunglasses, which I was very happy to partake in, and then I realised it is a working town and if you're not working and you're not in that vibe, it can be a very lonely town. Partying every night around the Sunset Strip wasn't my idea of how to do things so I rented an apartment way out in the Pacific Palisades where I couldn't get into any trouble.
"I never felt like the alien in Hollywood because everybody there is from somewhere else. And I never felt I had to be a certain type, or weigh a certain weight. I just wanted to go there because it was the nucleus of the industry that I dreamed about being part of and when I got there I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of character of the people that I met. It wasn't just fake grass and curlers. I have a lot of good friends in California."
She will be going back to work there soon, co-starring with Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's romantic drama Terminal, playing a flight attendant who falls in love with a Balkan immigrant who is forced to make an airport transit lounge his permanent home after his passport is voided. "I'm sworn to secrecy about the script," she says. "You know what Steven's like. I'm still waiting to see the script and I start shooting in four weeks.
"Because Steven recommended me for Zorro, I feel indebted to him and always wanted to have the chance to work with him. So I was thrilled to get the call." She smiles her sparkling, film-star smile.
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