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Zeta-Jones on swords, Zorro and raising kids

Catherine Zeta Jones and Antonio Banderas in The Legend of Zorro

Catherine Zeta Jones and Antonio Banderas in The Legend of Zorro

December 21, 2005 - 12:00AM

It's cocktail hour in San Luis Potosi and Catherine Zeta-Jones has kicked off her high-heels and is going barefoot.

After a 10-hour day wielding a sword on the dry and dusty set of her new film, The Legend of Zorro, Zeta-Jones has retreated to the top floor of one of the better hotels in this quaint city in central Mexico.

A quartet of musicians is playing in the corner of the room, her Zorro co-stars, including Antonio Banderas, are scattered among the  50 or so VIP guests in attendance for the party, organised by officials from the Mexican government.

Waiters are wandering around with trays of chardonnay, margaritas and other concoctions.

Zeta-Jones, as her Welsh heritage demands, does not mind a stiff drink, but after the arduous day of filming on a barren piece of land outside of town in 30-plus degree celsius heat, she opts for an iced mineral water.

"My shoes were killing me,'' the barefoot Zeta-Jones, exquisitely decorated in a floral summer dress, whispers.

Shooting The Legend of Zorro has been an emotional experience for this dark-haired beauty for a number of reasons.

The $US75 million swashbuckling adventure film set in the wild west of California in 1850 is a sequel to 1998's The Mask of Zorro - the film that transformed Zeta-Jones from being another pretty face in Hollywood to one of its top leading ladies.

When she made the original, Zeta-Jones was an unknown.

"I could walk around and nobody had a clue who I was,'' she says.

Today, she is an Oscar winner, one of Hollywood's highest paid actresses and is married to screen legend Michael Douglas.

Add her two children with Douglas, five-year-old son Dylan, and two-year-old daughter, Carys, and Zeta-Jones' life appears perfect.

It was Steven Spielberg and a bit of luck that changed Zeta-Jones' life.

In 1996, Spielberg just happened to be watching the movie Titanic.

Not the Oscar-winning Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, but a forgettable, small-budget TV version of the tragic story of the sinking of the giant passenger ship.

Spielberg had never seen Zeta-Jones before, but he was mesmerised by the stunning brunette actress who stood out in every scene she was in. He called her agent the next day and she was soon cast to play alongside Banderas in The Mask of Zorro, which Spielberg executive produced.

While life has changed dramatically for Zeta-Jones in the past seven years, she now faces dilemmas every working mother deals with.

She wants to spend time with her family, but with their home on the the tranquil island of Bermuda in the middle of the Atlantic and the film requiring her to be on set for months in Mexico, it's tough.

"I miss my family,'' says Zeta-Jones as she finishes off her mineral water.

"Of course, they have been down here quite a bit, but they have to go back.

"We have had so many night shoots it's really hard to keep a husband and two kids quiet. That is the only reason why.''

In The Legend of Zorro, Zeta-Jones reprises her role as the feisty Elena.

"She hasn't lost the spark and the feistiness she had, especially with Zorro. I didn't want her to lose that,'' Zeta-Jones, 36, said.

:"Once you're born with that fire, you are like that forever.''

The story is set 10 years after the original. Elena has married Zorro (Banderas) and they have a 10-year-old son, Joaquin, (played by Adrian Alonso) who is also pretty handy with a sword.

Zeta-Jones said her own son, Dylan, got a bit carried away when he visited the set with his dad and little sister.

"They actually came to the set the day I did my first fight scene,'' she recalled with a smile.

"My son Dylan, of course, tried to fight Zorro.

"He wanted a real sword. The plastic one just didn't cut it after he saw me doing it.

"Then I had to explain to him why he couldn't have my sword.''
 
Back in 1997 when Zeta-Jones was preparing for her first Zorro movie, she spent long days fine-tuning her action scenes, but this time around her back-to-back filming schedule meant she only had one week of training before filming began.

The actress believes her dancing background, including her 2002 best supporting actress Oscar-winning performance in Chicago, plus the tough training from the first film had her ready to swing the sword.

"They trained us so specifically the first time around, but I only had a week's preparation for this one because I came straight off the set of Ocean's 12,'' Zeta-Jones said.

"But, it was like riding a bike.

"All of the work we did on the first one really paid off and I remembered just how much fun I loved doing it.

"It's like a workout hobby. It's so good for you and so much fun.''

Life as a Hollywood star looks pretty nice, but it also has its drawbacks.

While Zeta-Jones was filming The Legend of Zorro, she was dealing with a stalker, Dawnette Knight, a 35-year-old from Los Angeles who sent disturbing letters to Zeta-Jones' agent and Douglas. In one letter, Knight wrote ``we are going to slice'' Zeta-Jones up.

Knight was sentenced to three years jail for threatening and stalking the actress.

During the sentencing a letter from Zeta-Jones was read out in court, describing how Knight's letters had "profoundly affected me in how I conduct my life. ... your actions will be with me the rest of my life - how I will be constantly observing, looking over my shoulder''.

What is important to Zeta-Jones is her family and her work.

"The family unit is very sacred to me,'' Zeta-Jones explained.

"It is very difficult to leave and come to a different country.

"We have a 10-day rule where we never go without seeing each other for more than 10 days.''

Modern technology also helps.

"I'm a bit of a gadget geek,'' she says.

"I have a web cam so I do get to see the kids and Michael at least three times a day.

"I know everything they are doing. Where they have been after school.

"Obviously, it doesn't replace the real thing, but that web cam is my saviour.''

The Legend of Zorro opens in Australia on Boxing Day.

- AAP

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