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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 2)

Says Douglas, "It was tough for her after she left England. But when things started rolling for her, she never looked back."

When she hit Hollywood, there were questions and more questions, always beginning with the same one: Could she do an American accent? Which she quickly showed that she could.

"She makes everything look easy," Douglas says. "She can handle dialects and accents to the point that people are surprised to hear her in her real Welsh voice."

(Zeta-Jones laughs when the topic of Douglas and her accent comes up: "My accent is pretty mellow, unless I'm with my family," she says. "When Michael and I were dating, I was talking to my mother one time and Michael said afterward, 'That Welsh language is so beautiful.' And I said, 'We were speaking English!'")

But her talent was obvious enough that she began winning parts. She played a villain in 1996's The Phantom, then grabbed a lead role in a TV miniseries about the sinking of the Titanic, a year before James Cameron's feature film. That performance led directly to her role in The Mask of Zorro (1998), the film that made her a Hollywood star.

David Foster, who produced Zorro, recalls that, as he and director Martin Campbell were going through the casting process for the film, they struggled to find an actress who could hold the screen with co-stars Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.

"One day we got a call from Steven Spielberg (the film's executive producer), who said, 'Were you watching TV last night?' " Foster says. "He said, 'I was watching this miniseries about the Titanic and there was this actress who was really terrific.' A day later, he sent over tapes of 'Titanic' and she was terrific so we set up a meeting."

She was only one of the actresses in the running for the female lead (Famke Janssen was another). When the contenders were flown to Mexico City to test with Banderas, Foster, who was championing Zeta-Jones for the role, took her to dinner and began coaching her for the screen test.

"I was like a nervous father," Foster recalls, "and she was so cool: 'Honey, relax, I'll be fine.' And then she wiped everybody out with her screen test." The film was a hit, launching Zeta-Jones in ways she'd only dreamed of.

"She played a wealthy Spanish gal and she came off so regal," Foster says. "She was drop-dead gorgeous. And she's a dancer so she moves so smoothly, the way she walks across a set."

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