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Zeta's mid-life crisis

8 April 2007

NEW YORK'S Waverly Inn is very cosy. Owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, it has quickly become the restaurant in which to be seen. So exclusive is it, the clientele have to ring a secret phone number - available only to those in the know - to book a table.

zetaAnd a few weeks ago, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones stopped by the Greenwich Village bistro to sample the chicken pot pie and tuna tartare. Fittingly - the place has a romantic ambience complete with four fireplaces - the couple seemed to be having a perfect night out.

Catherine, who is starting to look more like a Park Avenue matron than a glamorous movie starlet, hung attentively on her 62-year-old's husband's utterances. They looked like what they are: a very successful, wealthy couple; an 'old Hollywood' fixture.

Douglas talked a great deal about his work for the UN, where he has a role as a 'Messenger of Peace' while his wife, wearing spectacular diamond earrings, seemed happy to listen.

How curious then that only a few days later, Catherine was holding hands with a handsome blond actor at an event in Miami and was indulging in a spot of public flirtation to boot.

The 37-year-old actress looked on the cosiest of terms with Aaron Eckhart, who is her co-star in the forthcoming comedy No Reservations, in which they play a pair of chefs who fall in love.

They held hands on the red carpet, and joked during an awards show. Catherine, showing off her spectacular cleavage, seemed to positively glow in his company. It was observed that they made a handsome couple.

Now gossip is starting to rumble around Hollywood that Douglas has been made jealous by Eckhart, 39.

He was apparently 'furious' about the pictures of his wife holding hands with another man - but Catherine is said to be exasperated by the suggestion there is anything between her and Eckhart, other than a spot of luvvie bonding.

There is, however, talk of rows within the couple's seven-year-old marriage, with one publication reporting - perhaps in rather exaggerated terms: 'They can barely stand being together. Whenever they're in the same room, it usually turns into a blazing row. It's a very combustible situation.'

Douglas and Catherine allegedly had a robust exchange of views after a UN event in New York recently, which left her in tears. The actor added fuel to the suggested discord by joking in an interview that he planned to cast his wife in a movie and play the villain, killing either her or her 'young leading man'.

A joke, of course, but what exactly is going on in one of Hollywood's most glitzy marriages?

Douglas's spokesman, Allen Burry, is evidently made weary by claims that the union is in trouble. 'No comment,' he drawls. 'We will not be dignifying this by saying anything.' And Catherine's publicist, Cece York, says crisply: 'The story is laughable and not true.'

zeta1YET IT is curious, though, that Catherine has been so keen to spend time with Eckhart. For it emerges that less than a month before the awards show for the Food Network - an American cable TV channel - Catherine insisted the whole event was rescheduled so she and Eckhart they could appear together.

Of course, Hollywood runs on jealousy and the Douglas/Zeta Jones marriage is a repeated target of rumour. The 25-year age gap has always made this a particularly interesting romance. Both of them, however, have spoken of an overpowering physical attraction which has swept such considerations aside. Catherine says: 'I do think I'm lucky I met Michael. Not just Michael Douglas the actor with two Oscars, but Michael Douglas the love of my life. I really do think it was meant to happen.'

'I lucked out,' Douglas said recently. 'As soon as I met Catherine, I told her I wanted to have babies with her.'

THOSE 'babies' have wrought quite a change in the man she married, and it is not too much of an exaggeration to say the balance of power in the relationship has shifted completely.

Douglas is now a self-confessed house-husband and she is arguably the bigger star. Their son, Dylan, was born in August 2000, and - by his previous standards - Douglas has barely worked since.

He said: 'I've spent a good part of my life working hard and my priorities were "career first, family second". Things worked out well work-wise, but not so well marriage-wise first time around.

'So once I decided to start a family at my age, it's something to cherish and enjoy. At the same time, Catherine is in the prime of her career, so I knew something had to give.'

He finds his new life as a house-husband producer and UN messenger satisfying. 'I run a tight house - I enjoy it,' he says. 'It's more difficult for Catherine, because she's away a lot, but we try to juggle. We have a nanny and Catherine's mother and father help a lot.'

Catherine, meanwhile, saw her career fortunes prosper after the marriage. She won an Oscar for Chicago, which she collected when heavily pregnant with their daughter Carys, who will be four later this month.

But since then her career has rather lost its way. Her role in Ocean's Twelve did not set the screen alight, and although comedies such as Intolerable Cruelty and America's Sweethearts have been successful, she has not quite graduated to bona fide A-list status.

A Hollywood insider says: 'You could say she's getting a bit old to be the lead and too young to move into the character roles, but the fact is that she is not as in demand as people like Nicole Kidman or Cate Blanchett.

'She is not perceived as being in their league. If they can't do a film, then people will wait until they are free, but that's not the case with Catherine.'

Indeed, her Zorro sequel performed disappointingly at the box office (it took $45 million in America, having cost $80 million to make). And the last film she made, Death Defying Acts, which will come out later this year, is a small affair, costing only $20 million.

zeta2In between movies she is chiefly to be found in Bermuda, where Douglas bought a home just after they married. It is there, in the grand but suburban district of Warwick, that the family have settled.

The Douglases are regarded as virtual royalty on the island, and are often called upon to open local attractions. They enjoy a lavish lifestyle with a personal assistant each, a cook (Catherine can't even boil an egg, says Douglas), a couple of housekeepers and a permanent security retinue.

Douglas plays golf several times a week. He also part-owns a hotel on the island, which takes up some of his time, and they eat out often.

Catherine remains extremely ambitious - she recently changed agents - even though there is no financial pressure on her. Perhaps she is galled, then, by the new breed of successful and stylish starlets - led by Keira Knightley - who make Catherine, with her taste for diamonds and sedate Versace gowns, seem a tad old and conventional.

Is she, one wonders, immune to these very real pressures? There was gossip she had her breasts enlarged in order to look more spectacular in the Zorro sequel, and last year appeared suddenly to lose a lot of weight, going from a shapely size 12 to a size 10.

Perhaps this latest association with Aaron Eckhart should be merely seen in the context of Catherine wanting to look her age for a change. Maybe the whispers will help to perk up her staid public persona.

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