Wales' favourite movie star Catherine Zeta-Jones joins the Hollywood elite with her newest film, The Terminal. Here, she talks exclusively to Simon Banner about films, family and why she'd 'be back in Wales, love' if she had to rely on auditions for every job...
AT one point Catherine Zeta- Jones looked set to corner the market on tough-as-nails female leads. The Swansea-born actress won an Oscar as double-murdering Velma Kelly in Chicago and she coolly drove George Clooney to distraction in last year's Intolerable Cruelty.
In Steven Spielberg's new film, The Terminal, however, Zeta-Jones takes a new direction. Co-star Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a guileless Eastern European traveller who ends up living in a New York airport lounge when a coup in his homeland leaves him without a valid passport.
Zeta-Jones, meanwhile, plays a down-on-her-luck, romantically-challenged flight attendant by the name of Amelia.
Shortly after the film's Los Angeles premiere, Zeta-Jones - movie-star gorgeous in little black dress and high heels - sat down to talk about working with Steven Spielberg, why she's no good at auditions, and the last time she lost her luggage.
Q. There's a really sad line in the movie about your character: something about her "ingesting poisonous men until...
A. ...She makes herself sick." I wanted to play her so on the outside she's exactly what you think a flight attendant should be - you know, groomed, well put together and ready to direct you to the nearest exit in case of an emergency. But inside, she's this complete shambles and keeps getting her heart broken.
Q Is that depressing to play?
A. No, but scary in some ways because to be vulnerable is something that I've been looking to do in a movie. I mean, forget the character's personal life for a second - because I'm very happy in my life - but I feel more affiliated to her in relation to being klutzy or insecure in than I do to any of those tough women I've played in the past. I mean, I was a double murderess in one film and a gold-digging vixen that seduces George Clooney in another. So I loved the chance to do something different and Steven was like 'go for it, let it out'. And I always wanted to play just like the regular girl, someone who can slip on a banana skin. She's actually a complex character, but I think she's probably also the worst flight attendant you'll ever meet in your life.
Q. Did you ever dream of being a flight attendant as a kid?
A. Yes, and I know my mother had wanted to be an air hostess, as we called them then. There's this TV advert I remember where because the flight attendant brushes with whatever this particular toothpaste was, she was spotted by the captain. Falling in love with the captain, a dream come true!
Q. So how did this part come about for you? Does Steven Spielberg just get on the phone?
A. Yes, he gets on the phone. I actually thought it was going to be for Zorro 2, which is actually just happening now. I had my first costume fitting yesterday.
Q. So how did you even know it was Steven Spielberg? Someone could be winding you up.
A. That's funny, because I really thought I was being wound up when I had my first meeting with Steven and that was before I was cast in Zorro. My agent called me up and says, "Guess who wants to meet you? Think of a really great director. Think of somebody beginning with " And it was getting slightly irritating, so I say, "Who? I've been in Los Angeles for months, I just want a job." So they say, Steven Spielberg, and I say, "Oh, yeah. Oh right. Thanks a lot. Very funny." But it was true. I had to go to the set of The Lost World the next day. So off I went in my little rented car to see Steven Spielberg and I got cast in Zorro.
Q. And you stayed in touch with him since?
A. Well my father-in-law [Kirk Douglas] and Steven and my mother-in-law are friends on philanthropic issues. Michael [Douglas] knows him, of course. But no, since I was married, I have never really lived in LA, so on a social level I didn't really know him. But he'd always come up to me if I did see him at an event and say hello.
Q. So you said you thought he was calling you this time about Zorro 2?
A. Yes, I thought that was that. But he got on the phone and said I'm sending you a script that I really want to direct and Tom Hanks is on board. And so I said "Yeah, whatever it is, fantastic"! I would have done anything with him, but once I read the script I just loved it. I love films - Traffic was one and The Terminal is another - which are ensemble pieces with all these different interactions between different people.
Q. No rehearsal or anything?
A. We just jumped right in. And I'm a big rehearser, you know. I come from theatre and I think to calm my nerves and to get over some inhibitions, I like to rehearse. I would rehearse forever if you'd let me. But we didn't do anything.
Q. At least at this point you probably don't have to audition though, do you?
A. I still to this day wonder how I ever got a job through the auditioning process. I hate auditions, at least as a straight actor, and they really scare me. If I had to rely on auditions I'd be back in Wales, love.
Q. You must spend a lot of time in airports?
A. I'm not a great flyer, so I usually shop to pass the time and calm my nerves. I buy ridiculous things that I'll never use.
Q. And when was the last time you lost your luggage?
A. Not the last time, but I remember the first time I went on a school trip. We went on a skiing holiday to France and I must have been like ten, eleven. And my mam and dad had bought me a lovely new pink ski suit from C&A. And my luggage got lost, never to be found. Somewhere in the world there is a pink ski suit with my name on it.
Q. Getting back to The Terminal, what did you learn from being that close up to Steven Spielberg?
A. He's a real person, not enthralled by his own genius at all. And because he's so profoundly prepared, you never get the feeling that you can't break his concentration. I mean you'll be in mid-conversation and he'll go, "Are you all right? Are you okay? 'Cause I just I want everyone to be having as great a time as me." I really think every person from film school should go on a set of Steven Spielberg to see how to do it.
Q. And what about Tom Hanks?
A. Well, those guys are friends, real friends. So I wondered if there would be some boy power thing going on and I'd be like the new girl at school. But they're great people and proof that you haven't got to torture yourself or be impressed with yourself to do beautiful work. I think so many people in this business torture themselves unnecessarily and forget the joy of making movies.
Q. Seeing the finished film, what do you make of it?
A. I have seen it twice. I saw it on my own and then with an audience last night at the premiere and it was great to see all the reactions that people had. I mean, it's really funny and sweet and has a lot to say about breaking down prejudices and just opening up your heart. I hope after seeing this movie everyone turns around at an airport and gives somebody a hug or says "Hi, my name's Catherine. Nice to meet you." [Laughs]
Q. And when you are not working, how is family life treating you?
A. I have been working a lot. I've been doing Oceans 12 in Europe, working with Steven Soderbergh again, and right now Michael is looking after the kids [the couple's son, Dylan, turned four in August, daughter Carys was one in April]. Any trips beyond about ten days, they travel with me, but for the shorter trips, I just try and get home as soon as possible. I also have a web cam, which is never going to be the same, but I can see them in real time and Dylan can talk to me and tell me what he's done and what he's eaten.
Q. Do they understand how far away you are?
A. Dylan thinks I go to work so I can buy him more toys. Because he's travelled so much, he really gets the whole map thing too. He can tell you everything on a map. We have a little sports fishing boat that you can take out around the harbour, and he told me very seriously the other day that I shouldn't take that boat to go to Bermuda or anything. He told me I'd need a cruise boat. So he's got the whole thing down and he loves reading. He's got a really scary vocabulary. Sometimes I think I'm going to need a dictionary to communicate with my own son.