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The spark of Zorro: Why is this franchise so close to Catherine Zeta-Jones's heart? Because after Michael Douglas saw her in the first film, 'he seduced me'
 
Bob Thompson
National Post

CREDIT: Associated Press/Paul Skipper
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is a famous force to be reckoned with, and not because she's the wife of actor-producer Michael Douglas. Her star confirmation came with 2002's best-supporting-actress Oscar for her efforts in the movie musical Chicago.

Still, she admits it was 1998's The Mask of Zorro that kick-started her showbiz journey in North America.

But wait. Before she recounts her glitter trip, she apologizes in a recent interview for her allergy-related vocal gruffness. "I sound like a cross between Demi Moore and a truck driver," says the self-deprecating Zeta-Jones. "I just wish it was more Demi Moore, but I'm thinking it's more truck driver."

The 36-year-old then carries on regardless. So, back to Zorro and the fact that she can't believe seven years have passed since the last one. And here she is returning to do promotion for the sequel, The Legend of Zorro, which opens on Friday.

In the latest edition, Zorro (Antonio Banderas) and his wife (Zeta-Jones) have a 10-year-old boy and much more to lose as Zorro battles land barons in the California territory just before it becomes a U.S. state. The new film has more humour and more hyper-real action. And befitting Zeta-Jones' new status, her character has much more to do and say.

Ironically, this time around she had less rehearsal to master the more demanding role.

"I had very little time in between finishing Ocean's Twelve in Europe and going down to Mexico, where they had been shooting Zorro for a few weeks," says Zeta-Jones.

"To make it more familiar to me, I ended up treating my swordplay scenes like choreography. So it was, 'One and two and three and four and five, and turn and step and down and up and lunge.' "

Schedule overload or not, she would never have turned down the Zorro sequel, which means so much to her in so many ways.

"I always remember that Michael [Douglas] saw me in Zorro and then seduced me," she says, smiling. "Actually, he hounded me around the world. And look at me now, two kids later," she says of Dylan, 5, and Carys, 3.

Before all that, Zeta-Jones was already a celebrity in England thanks to the popular 1991 Brit TV show The Darling Buds of May. Even in those days, it was heady stuff for a kid from a small fishing village on the outskirts of Swansea, Wales. That's where she quit school at 15 and moved to London to find work as an entertainer.

Luck and talent came together the following year when she won the job as the lead in the West End production of 42nd Street. She spent two years honing her skills there. The British TV fame followed, then some humbling failed auditions in Hollywood before 1998's The Mask of Zorro.

Which brings her back to her husband and their jet-set life. They have homes in Majorca, New York and their main residence in Bermuda, where their kids attend school. "A fantastic personal life," she says.

So what's her next professional challenge? How about playing a top chef in the upcoming Mostly Martha, despite being a lousy cook?

"Let's put it this way, Michael gets terrified if I'm in the kitchen," she says, giggling. "In fact, I'm not allowed to go into the kitchen any more, because I nearly burned down the apartment in New York."

So can her husband cook? "No," Zeta-Jones reports. "But he's really good at making dinner reservations."

And how's this for another stretch: After Mostly Martha, she's scheduled to start filming Stompanato, in which she plays actress Lana Turner, who was notoriously involved in the 1950s Hollywood murder of mobster Johnny Stompanato.

"My father-in-law is going to be my research," she says of actor Kirk Douglas, who knew Turner. "He's going to be my Google."

So how steamy is this picture, since S&M played a part in the Stompanato-Turner relationship? "You'll have to pay your money and see," she says.

Meanwhile, Zeta-Jones admits she's never been happier, and that's despite the fact that a woman was charged with stalking the actress last year in L.A. And, yes, she revels in the 25-year wife-and-husband age difference.

"And," she says, stressing this point, "what's really nice is that we are not the Hollywood couple everybody thinks we are.

"That's one of the great things about living in Bermuda," she adds. "Sometimes when I take the kids to school, I look pretty bad and catch myself worrying about it, then I realize no one knows me and nobody cares anyway."

© National Post 2005