Kitchen sink drama helps Zeta-Jones research role

By Arifa Akbar

Published: 10 March 2006

Hollywood's history is littered with tales of actors going to painstaking lengths to experience the inner lives of their movie characters.

Marlon Brando and James Dean were known as champions of the "method" school of acting and Robert De Niro became legendary for the physical transformations he underwent for some of his film roles.

Now, the British actress, Catherine Zeta-Jones, has joined the ranks of method actors by spending a week "undercover" in a New York restaurant to help her understand her forthcoming film role as a chef. The actress was reckoned to be "a great garnisher" at Fiamma, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan where she worked in the kitchens preparing food for unsuspecting diners.

The stunt was arranged to provide her with insights for her role in the romantic comedy Mostly Martha. The Swansea-born actress worked mainly as a chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant, in the heart of the trendy SoHo district. In an interview with People magazine, Fiamma's co-owner and chef, Michael White, said: "She's been doing a lot in the kitchen - sautéing and cutting. She's a great garnisher. Drizzling oil and balsamic on plates - she does a nice job." She even spent one night as a waitress without guests realising that a Hollywood star was serving them. A fellow waitress told how Zeta-Jones went largely unrecognised by guests: "One night she did a little serving. A few people said to her, 'You look so much like Catherine Zeta-Jones'. And she said, 'Oh, I get that all the time'."

In Mostly Martha, due for release next year, Zeta-Jones plays a chef whose life is changed when she has to care for her niece (Leah Ward). Her co-star, Aaron Eckhart, plays the sous-chef who helps her discover that there's more to life than work.

Zeta-Jones has not been noted hitherto for her devotion to "the method", but she has won acclaim for past performances, and won a best supporting actress Oscar in 2003 for the film musical, Chicago.

Whether or not her stint in the restaurant enhances her performance, it might come in handy off screen. She has said of her culinary skills: "I am a terrible cook and my husband won't allow me to go in the kitchen any more."

Suffering for their part

* When Robert de Niro was cast in Taxi Driver, he drove cabs for a month as preparation. De Niro also gained 60lb to play boxer Jake La Motta in Raging Bull.

* Adrien Brody learned to play Chopin's Ballade Number 1 and lost 30lb to play a Jewish musician in Nazi Germany in Roman Polanski's film, The Pianist.

* Uma Thurman underwent a punishing regime in which she became proficient at kung fu and mastered how to use a samurai sword for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, in which she plays a martial arts expert and assassin.

* To perfect her Oscar-winning role as June Carter, the country singer who falls in love with Johnny Cash, in Walk the Line, Reese Witherspoon spent several months of intensive work with famed producer 'T Bone' Burnett, learning to sing and play the notoriously difficult autoharp.

* Daniel Day Lewis spent six months in the wild to become Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, spent time in a cell for In the Name of the Father and learned to be a butcher for his role in Scorcese's Gangs of New York.

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