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Posted on Sun, Jul. 04, 2004

Zeta-Jones flying high

Doesn’t stumble in role choices

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The shapely brunette slips on the freshly mopped floor and goes down. Hard. Loses her dignity and the heel on one of her shoes.

It’s a laugh, a meet-cute for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Hanks in “The Terminal,” which opened recently, and perhaps a signal that, despite appearances to the contrary, her character, Amelia, really doesn’t have the world by the tail.

She has been a flight attendant since age 18, has been seeing a married man for years, is an avid reader of history books and regularly lies about her age. Amelia tells everyone she’s 33, men think she’s even younger, but she’s really 39.

“She’s a vulnerable woman,” said Zeta-Jones, 34. “And then, her dreams didn’t come true in the way she thought her Prince Charming would come riding on a white stallion, and she’s kind of confused by that ... She’s a really good girl and she has a wonderful heart, and she doesn’t quite understand what went wrong. And I think she’s a creature of habit ... We all know women who have a pattern.”

Hanks is Viktor Navorski, a resident of the fictitious Krakozhia whose country erupts in a coup while he’s traveling to John F. Kennedy International Airport. After he lands, he learns he cannot leave the airport, but he also cannot return home.

“Currently, you are a citizen of nowhere,” he is informed.

Viktor, who speaks almost no English at the start, ends up adopting the airport, with its Burger King, Brookstone, Starbucks and other chains, and the airport employees take him under their wing, too.

He befriends Zeta-Jones, a flight attendant who regularly breezes through, but theirs isn’t the standard Hollywood romance. She calls it a beautiful friendship between kindred spirits.

“It’s more of a courting. The art of courting, of being friends before you’re lovers, is slowly slipping away from us, in the life and in the movies,” she says.

It was a phone call from director Steven Spielberg that sealed the deal for Zeta-Jones, who knew Hanks was set to star.

“Steven called me up and said, ‘I have a script that I’m really proud of, that I’m going to direct, and I’d love you to read it and see if you want to come on board.’ ”

Zeta-Jones is on a roll with good directors, working with Steven Soderbergh on “Traffic,” Rob Marshall on “Chicago,” the Coen brothers on “Intolerable Cruelty” and, now, Spielberg.

“Actors go for a long career without having the ability to work with such talent. I feel very privileged,” she says.

The terminal, which included four working escalators, was built from the ground up in a hangar in Palmdale, Calif.

“It even smelled like an airport, just the extras and the stores and the sheer expanse of it, it just blew my mind,” Zeta-Jones says.

Zeta-Jones, who won an Academy Award for playing a homicidal hoofer in Marshall’s dazzler “Chicago,” has been in Spain filming “Ocean’s Twelve” with Brad Pitt and George Clooney. She plays a European Interpol agent, and she can finally use her own Welsh accent.

Next, she will head to Mexico to reunite with Antonio Banderas for “Zorro 2.”

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