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film: THE MOVIEGOER

Zeta-Jones's seven-year zip

Headshot of Johanna Schneller

Seven years. That's how long it takes for all the cells in our bodies to turn over, to die and regrow. This makes us entirely new beings every seven years. It also explains Catherine Zeta-Jones.

It was a mere seven years ago that she swashbuckled into North America's consciousness, opposite Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro. But between then and today, when the sequel The Legend of Zorro opens -- with Zeta-Jones, 36, reprising her role as Mrs. Z -- she permanently Super Glued herself onto the Hollywood firmament. We now know her in every cell of our bodies.

It helps that she moves quickly. It took me seven years to put up shelves in my bedroom closet. In that time Zeta-Jones made 11 films; met and married Michael Douglas; sold their wedding photos, then sued the photographer; gave birth to two children (Dylan, 5, and Carys, 2); testified against a stalker; appeared in countless T-Mobile ads; screen-kissed Sean Connery, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks; ping-ponged among her homes in New York, Los Angeles, Bermuda and Spain, and won an Oscar (best supporting actress, for Chicago).

She was also interviewed for three different magazine profiles by me, most recently in July at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, during the final hour of her month-long stay. She was lean, tanned as mocha ice cream, and so beautiful that even the chambermaid who set up a drinks cart seemed to have to struggle not to kiss her.

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Zeta-Jones and their children were keeping Douglas company while he shot The Sentinel, his first film since 2003's The In-Laws. "He's been the best Mr. Mom in the world, but I've got him back to work," she said with a grin. "I would have come here sooner, but my little boy was in preschool. We know this city so well; I filmed Chicago here, this is the third movie Michael's done here. We rent the same house, we love it here." They also recently bought a farm in Quebec near Mont Tremblant, where the Douglases golf and ski.

Two things always impress me about Zeta-Jones. The first is her energy. She was forever popping up to get a fresh glass of juice; or fiddling with the gold palettes on her deep pink, swirly Indian skirt and the straps on her brown wedge espadrilles; or doing brief dancer's stretches. She waxed rhapsodic about biking through Toronto's ravines, and about a trainer called Isaac who teaches something called Strolf.

She even sleeps "boisterously," she said. "I'm all over the place. But I can sleep anywhere. It drives my husband crazy because when we go on long flights they have to wake me up as the landing gear is coming down. And I'm usually in my pyjamas -- 'Quick, where's my lipstick?' "

That's the second thing that strikes me about Zeta-Jones -- how much she loves being famous. I'm sure her first word was "Ta-daa!" She worked steadily from childhood on in her native Britain. She played an orphan in Annie on the London stage, and remembers "hours of wanting desperately to be Annie, asking my father and mother why didn't I have red hair."

Now she's enjoying every nanosecond. The day after she finished shooting her last film, Ocean's Twelve, she was in Mexico brushing up her swordplay for Zorro 2. "Thank God it didn't take long, because I only had a week," she said. "I was just happy that I could get into the corset."

When that film wrapped, she homed in on mother- and wifehood for a while. She spent her month in Toronto "hanging out in Michael's trailer on set," she said. "I had my book, my knitting, I'd go watch him do a scene. He said, 'You haven't got to do this.' But I think he really appreciated it. You spend so many hours alone in those trailers. With the toilets you have to pump."

At home, which is mainly Bermuda (Douglas's mother's family has lived there for generations), Zeta-Jones's secret is two nannies -- though she cut back to one this fall -- and a strict schedule: She's up at 7 a.m. with the kids. ("Michael gets up a little earlier, to put the coffee on. I can't do anything before a cup of coffee; it's scary.") She schleps them to school, ballet, music, swimming. "After lunch they have quiet time, and that's when I get on the phone, when L.A. opens up. At 5:30 p.m. they're sitting down to dinner. We don't eat with them, but we chat. At 6 they're in their bath. Bedtime at 7."

Now I'm tired. "Oh, I'm really enjoying exploring the world with them," Zeta-Jones purred. "I've learned so much. Ask me anything about jellyfish."

Okay, what's the biggest jellyfish in the world? "Lion's Mane," she answered instantly. "Dylan's also really into Luke Skywalker, so I got one of Michael's shirts and tied one of his belts around it. And Carys knows the verse to I Am Sixteen Going on Seventeen [from The Sound of Music]. They also do the Jolly Holiday with Mary [from Mary Poppins]; it's really quite funny."

There is one thing Zeta-Jones can't do: cook. A few Thanksgivings ago, it took her three tries to make a pumpkin pie, and the last time she made dinner she nearly set her New York kitchen on fire. "Michael says I do a great salad dressing," she said, leering wickedly.

Yet I have no doubt that if she wanted to, Zeta-Jones could become a world-famous chef with a restaurant franchise, a line of cookbooks and a television show. Within seven years.

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