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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 3)

Zeta-Jones was convincing enough in the film that, when the film premiered in Spanish-speaking countries, reporters stationed along the red carpet assumed that she was a Spaniard and would fire questions at her in Spanish.

"For all I know, they could have been saying, 'You're a piece of shit' — and I just smiled and said, 'Gracias, gracias'," she says with a husky chuckle. Almost as soon as Zorro finished filming, the buzz started growing about Zeta-Jones who was quickly cast opposite Sean Connery in the thriller Entrapment. When she headed back to Great Britain to start filming, however, she learned just how short the public's memory can be.

"I was back in London in a cab and the driver said, 'Weren't you the girl who used to be on TV?' and I said yes," she says. "It had been several years since the series, and Zorro hadn't come out yet. And he said, 'It didn't work out for you, did it?' I was quite indignant: 'Excuse me but I just finished a feature film with Anthony Hopkins and now I'm about to embark on a big motion picture with Sean Connery!' I didn't tip him, either."

Proving herself is a recurring theme for Zeta-Jones. When she emerged from the British musical theater to try straight acting, there were doubts that she could make the move. Once she'd established herself in Hollywood as both a comic and dramatic actress, there were skeptics who questioned her abilities as a musical performer when it was announced that she would play one of the female leads in the film version of the musical Chicago.

"In England, I'd done so many musical comedies that some snotty casting director made a remark to me about putting me in a straight drama: 'She's a musical-comedy actress,' " Zeta-Jones says. "To have that triple whammy—singing, dancing, acting—is hard. When I went in to that audition, I tried to make myself look as fuddy-duddy as I could so I didn't have that jazz-hands look to me. But it wasn't until I played Scheherazade (in the French film, Scheherazade) that people said, 'Oh, she doesn't just sing and dance—she can act, too.'"

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."

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