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The Woman from Wales

Movie star. Oscar winner. Wife of Michael Douglas. Catherine Zeta-Jones is all those things as she nears 40 but at heart, she is still a small-town girl.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Catherine Zeta-Jones, September/October 2009

(continued from page 1)

The Mask of Zorro led to her romance with (and eventual marriage to) Michael Douglas, who had followed in the footsteps of his father, Kirk Douglas, as both an actor and a producer. At the point they met in 1998, Douglas was a dual Oscar winner (as best actor in Wall Street and as producer of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) who had struck it rich producing Cuckoo's Nest, The China Syndrome and Romancing the Stone.

Douglas had seen a screening of The Mask of Zorro prior to its release. When he found that both Zorro and his own film, A Perfect Murder, would be screened at the Deauville American Film Festival, he made inquiries about Zeta-Jones.

"When I saw her on a screen, well, nobody since Julie Christie had made such a lasting screen impression," he remembers. "For me, it was totally visceral. I asked whether she was coming to the festival and whether she was alone."

Foster witnessed their first meeting, in a Deauville hotel lobby, where he was standing with Zeta-Jones, who had just flown in from shooting Entrapment in Scotland.

"In walks Michael Douglas, with his golf bag on one shoulder and his eyes go to this gorgeous chick," Foster says. "He was talking to me but he was looking at her. So we invited him to dinner and he not only came but he got himself seated next to her."

By the end of an evening of food and wine, Douglas was giving her the full-court press of charm and star power, at one point telling her with a smile, "I want to father your children."

To which she replied, "I've heard quite a bit about you—and I'm glad to see it's all true," and called it a night.

Says Foster, "He was known as Hollywood's great bachelor swinger. He was known as a guy with many women in his life. And Catherine was very conservative about that sort of thing."

A day or so later, Zeta-Jones went back on location to finish Entrapment. When the actress got to her hotel ("This little family-run hotel on the west coast of Scotland"), a massive bouquet of flowers awaited her from Douglas.

"I have no idea how he got them there—and that quickly," she says. Thus began a courtship that lasted the better part of a year, as Douglas filmed Wonder Boys on the East Coast, while Zeta-Jones starred in a remake of The Haunting.

"I really didn't want to start a relationship that was long distance," she says. "So there were nine months of courting. He thought it was going nowhere—until I called him on his birthday. He'd been married for 20 years before his divorce and had a few relationships since.

"I finally told him, 'I don't want to be one of the girlfriends. I want to be the girlfriend.' He said, 'OK, give me a minute and I'll go make some phone calls so it's just you and me.' Then he went up to the bedroom—and was on the phone for two hours! The ladies were all very gracious about it; I think they were glad he had the decency and courage to call them directly, so they wouldn't read about it in a magazine."

As predicted, Douglas did become the father of Zeta-Jones's children, sooner than expected: Son Dylan, now 9, was born in August 2000, a few months before their wedding. (Daughter Carys was born in 2003.)

"We went to Wales so Michael could ask for my hand in marriage," Zeta-Jones recalls. "My parents were toasting us with teacups and I said, 'Say something, Dad.' Dad said, 'Well, I'm really happy.' And Michael said, 'Good—because we're having a baby!' Which was the first we'd told them. Actually, my dad's a year younger than Michael—it drives him mad when Michael calls him 'Pops.'"

Then there was the matter of Douglas' parents—particularly his father, screen legend Kirk Douglas, now 93. Douglas brought it up casually during a trip to L.A.

"He said, 'Let's swing by the house. I want you to meet Dad,'" she recalls. "Before I knew it, we were swinging into the driveway. And Kirk was so charming. He started flirting with me and ignoring Michael. Finally, Michael said, 'Dad, what am I, chopped liver?' Kirk is an amazing guy: He's had a stroke, a pacemaker, a helicopter crash, both knees replaced—and he's writing his 10th book and doing a one-man show where he talks onstage for an hour and a half. He hasn't lost his love of life."

The pair were married at the Plaza Hotel in New York on Nov. 18, 2000, a wedding attended by an all-star guest list, prompting a media frenzy. And no, Zeta-Jones says, never in her wildest girlish dreams did she imagine having a wedding that would require security guards to keep reporters, photographers and the public at bay.

Indeed, she says, she remembers, years earlier, taking her mother to see Basic Instinct at a local cinema, and the nudges from her mother during the movie's sexier moments, neither of them dreaming that the actor on the screen would one day be part of the family.

Shortly before the wedding, while Zeta-Jones was pregnant with Dylan, she and Douglas appeared in a film together for the only time so far: Traffic, in which they never shared a scene and only shared a trailer on set for a half-day. They hope to finally make a picture together in the near future: a comic action-adventure with a Romancing the Stone vibe, called Racing the Monsoon. But they won't play romantic leads opposite each other.

"The history of married couples playing romantic roles is not great," says Douglas, who will produce the film. "The audience misses the mystery. I'm comfortable playing the villain. I think the audience will enjoy me lurking over her and her male lead."

Adds Zeta-Jones, "He wants me to have a young hunky guy to seduce."

Since the birth of their children (she was hugely pregnant with Carys when she accepted her Oscar for Chicago), she's gotten pickier about roles, averaging one film a year since the turn of the millennium. Like The Rebound, most have been comedies: America's Sweethearts, Intolerable Cruelty, No Reservations. But there was also Chicago, the film of Bob Fosse's Broadway musical that earned her an Academy Award for playing headline-hunting murderess Velma Kelly.

"Despite my roots, I never thought I'd get to do a musical on film—I thought musicals were dead and buried," she says. "Winning the award was like a blur. I had to go back and watch a rerun to see what I said. I remember that I sang a song with Queen Latifah, then had to change before going back to my seat—and getting changed was not easy to do when you're eight months pregnant.

"I was dumbstruck when I won. Afterward, I called up my mother and said, 'I won!' She said, 'I know.' It was 3 a.m. in Wales but they were watching—and drinking. The Welsh can drink!"

After Chicago, she says, "every musical that was going to be revived came across my desk." While Zeta-Jones would welcome the chance to get back on stage for the first time in 20 years, she's not interested in a show that's already part of the musical-comedy canon.

"I don't want to do another revival," she says. "I want something new, fresh, original, something I can put my stamp on. I'm talking to Bartlett Sher (Tony Award—winning director of South Pacific) about a musical based on Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

"I do get a rush when I perform live. When I hosted Saturday Night Live with a live audience, I was terrified. But when it was finished, it was such a rush that I said, 'I want to do it again.' Performing live is such a great adrenaline buzz. I'd like to do a Vegas show and work with dancers again."

Because she's being interviewed for a magazine that celebrates the joy of a good cigar, the subject is raised: "For me, cigars always conjure the image of sophisticated gentlemen, who pride themselves on enjoying a good cigar," she says.

Then she admits, "I've never smoked a cigar. Michael used to smoke them. I remember spending time with him in cigar bars, with dark lighting—those were some of our dates. I didn't realize how expensive they could be. I have a friend who smokes them and you could be smoking something that's the price of a diamond ring! Believe me, he savored them to the last ash."

She also encounters cigars on the golf course: She's an avid golfer who misses no opportunity to get in a round.

"When she's in L.A., she'll call me sometimes and say, 'Let's go play nine holes,' " Foster says. "I remember one time, she parred a hole and she danced around the green like a little kid. She takes it very seriously."

Says Douglas, "I'm the better golfer but she looks better playing. We both have a healthy competitive streak. And she's got a fine cursing vocabulary. She swears well."

As the lunch winds down, the talk returns to The Rebound and to the notion of age. She'll be 40 on Sept. 25, a birthday she shares with Douglas (who will be 65 the same day). A realist, Zeta-Jones recognizes that meaty parts become scarce for women of a certain age.

"I feel much younger than I am," she says. "When you're 10 or 20, 40 looks really old. When I was nearing 30, I thought, 'Wow, I'm going to be 30 in the millennium.' That seemed like a huge milestone.

"Career-wise, I think it will be a huge change; I'm going into a different chapter as an actor. You change; I have two kids so I'm not going to be playing the young ingenues. But I'm not going to play the mother of teenagers either. It's about finding those other roles."


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