interview

Zeta-Jones' acting roles head in new direction

By Lisa Kennedy
Denver Post Film Critic

DreamWorks Pictures
Flight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) falls victim to a wet, slippery floor as she rushes through "The Terminal.”

Amelia may be her name.

And, like a certain, famous aviatrix, she even spends most of her time airborne.

Yet Catherine Zeta-Jones' flight attendant Amelia Warren in "The Terminal" is arguably the least put- together character the actress (who took home an Oscar for her "Chicago" character, Velma Kelly) has played.

Even her T-Mobile persona exudes a natural esteem Amelia lacks.

"I think Amelia's a really bad flight attendant," says Zeta-Jones on the phone from Los Angeles. "If she's pouring coffee on an airplane, you know she's gonna drop it into your lap."

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but usually Zeta-Jones is an actor whose characters wear an "I know what happened to the canary" certainty on their stunning faces. It's certainly a new destination for her.


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Any other Zeta-Jones' femme, fatale or not, might never give Tom Hanks' befuddled Viktor Navorski the time of day. And it's more than touching

that Amelia slows her rush across the JFK terminal long enough to connect with this man without a country.

Actually, she takes a tumble.

"Amelia's vulnerable and messy," admits her portrayer. "I'm always looking for roles where I can show my vulnerability and klutziness. She's a regular girl with all the insecurities regular girls sometimes have."

Zeta-Jones' Hollywood breakthrough came playing anything but regular. She was a fiery match to Antonio Banderas' and Anthony Hopkins' characters in 1998's "The Mask of Zorro."

She followed that film with a role as an undercover insurance agent trying to outfox Sean Connery's art thief in "Entrapment."

Clearly, her leading men have been slouches - not.

In 2000, she played Helena Ayala, the wife of a drug kingpin who goes from clueless to calculating in Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic." Yet another slouch - not - of an actor, Michael Douglas, starred in that gritty film. (The two married in 2000.)

With "The Terminal," this streak continues with Hanks and Spielberg. The actor and his director seem to be making a habit of working together. This is their third outing, and they produced the award- winning HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers."

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Catherine Zet-Jones describes her favorite part of the movie.
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Catherine Zet-Jones talks about working with director Steven Speilberg.
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"They're great buddies," says Zeta-Jones about one of Hollywood's power friendships. "Not to the point where they won't let you in their circle. The better they are, the greater they are."

Viktor and Amelia's connection has an endearing Golden-

Age Hollywood aura: It's improbable yet ripe with screwball possibility.

"Courtship these days doesn't seem to exist, even in movies. This is a friendship," says Zeta-Jones.

"We forget that forming a friendship before anything else is the most important thing. It doesn't mean you have to end up together but to have that flicker of romance to friendship is something we don't see."

During the shoot, Zeta-Jones worked almost exclusively with Hanks and Spielberg. She does, however, have a priceless exchange with Stanley Tucci's increasingly frustrated security chief, Frank Dixon.

In an effort to understand what makes Viktor tick and why he's becoming an airport hero, Dixon questions Amelia.

Of all the men she could be interested in, why Viktor?

Amelia - who can, as Zeta-Jones said, be "insecure" - reveals a glimmer of her own inner Velma Kelly.

Staring back at him, she answers, "that's something a man like you can't understand."

Friendship, it turns out, may be the truest romance in "The Terminal," the feeling most in need of protection.

"The movie should be a great advert for homeland security," believes Zeta-Jones, who was born in Wales. "All around the world, it's the same thing. If we didn't have to go to another airport I'm sure we wouldn't."

"The Terminal" may not be a cure for what ails us, but it's a Spielbergian dose of hope.

"We spend our lives not looking people in the eyes these days," says Zeta-Jones, adding "The whole movie is a metaphor for just opening up, letting people in."

Film critic Lisa Kennedy can be reached at 303-820-1567 or lkennedy@denverpost.com .