Given her skill with a sword, it could be a grave mistake to get on the wrong side of Catherine Zeta-Jones.
The feisty Welsh actress has rediscovered her love of swashbuckling swordplay for The Legend Of Zorro, the sequel to The Mask Of Zorro, the film that made her an international star in 1998.
This time the 36-year-old, as the fiery Elena, is anything but a damsel in distress with three action-packed fight scenes to master.
“I think that if I hadn’t already been trained so well by Bob Anderson and Mark Ivie on the first movie – trained really classically – coming back and picking it all up again so quickly would not have been as easy and my fights in this movie wouldn’t have turned out so smoothly,” she says.
“There was something that came over me when I had a sword in my hand. It was so empowering.”
The Legend Of Zorro is set a decade after the previous adventure, when the hero must fight against a group of nefarious businessmen and landowners to ensure California becomes the 31st state.
Elena and Zorro – played again by Antonio Banderas – are now married with a 10-year-old son, Joaquin – but Zorro is torn between his duty to the people and his role as a husband and father. In his valiant attempts to foil the dastardly plot, Zorro runs headlong into a crisis that threatens his life and the safety of his family.
“None of us wanted to embark on a new adventure if we didn’t think it would have the same magic as the first film – but when we saw that the script had captured that, well, we knew it was just a slam-dunk!” she says.
She adds that it’s unlikely that there would ever have been a Zorro sequel without the talent and craftsmanship of Martin Campbell – an accomplished director with huge box-office hits under his belt including GoldenEye, Vertical Limit and, of course, The Mask Of Zorro.
“This film is filled with so many different elements – there’s familial love, romance, a great deal of humour.
“I think we topped ourselves this time, due in part to the added element of introducing our son Joaquin, whom you meet and quickly learn to love.”
Catherine says Campbell has also managed to intensify the comedic elements so well-loved in the first film.
“He really allows the humour to come through amidst all the action, especially in the use of the Zorro theme,” she says.
“It makes the movie so much fun. Also, there is no heavy violence in the movie – it relies on the beautiful artistry of swordplay. The fights are amazing, wonderfully paced and stylised.”
Not only did the actress have some extremely demanding fight scenes to contend with, she also had to battle against severe weather fluctuations – in particular during a crucial dance sequence which included 500 extras.
“Every time we were ready to roll the cameras, thunder and lightning would start in the distance. Within seconds there would be a torrential downpour. All the flowers would be damp and limp. The candles would go out. They’d be hurrying to drag in the fireworks so they didn’t get wet.
“When you see the scene in the finished movie, you’ll find it incredible that all that actually happened, because it looks so effortless. But let me tell you...”
Making hard work look effortless is something Catherine knows a lot about. It’s a long way from the Welsh valleys to the peaks of Hollywood stardom, but the patriotic actress has taken the shift in her stride.
She won hearts in Britain with her portrayal of Mariette Larkin in the Yorkshire Television adaptation of The Darling Buds Of May in the early 1990s, and minor film roles soon followed.
But it was her star turn in The Mask Of Zorro in 1998 that catapulted Catherine into the big league. Big-budget films like Entrapment, The Haunting and Intolerable Cruelty have mostly been her stock-in-trade ever since.
While some critics thought she deserved an Oscar for her portrayal of a drug dealer’s wife in the Steven Soderbergh movie Traffic, that honour finally came in 2002 when she won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for her singing and dancing role as Velma in Chicago.
Despite eyebrows being raised at her marriage to Michael Douglas – a Hollywood stalwart some 25 years her senior, the couple appear rock solid. They have two children – Dylan, five, and two-year-old Carys, and spend as much time as they can near Catherine’s family in Wales to avoid the Hollywood hubbub.
“In Wales it’s brilliant,” she says. “I go to the pub and see everybody who I went to school with. And everybody goes, ‘So, what are you doing now?’, and I go, ‘Oh, I’m doing a film with Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins’. And they go, ‘Ooh, good’. And that’s it.”
Real name: Catherine Jones
Birthdate: September 25, 1969
Significant other: Wrinkly actor Michael Douglas
Career high: Receiving the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Velma in Chicago
Career low: Having to battle it out in court after sneaky paparazzi took unflattering pics at her wedding in 2000 – even though the couple had sold the rights to the occasion to a rival publication
Famous for: Being passionately proud of her Welsh heritage
Words of wisdom: “I used to go around looking as frumpy as possible because it was inconceivable you could be attractive as well as be smart. It wasn’t until I started being myself, the way I like to turn out to meet people, that I started to get any work.”