Hollywood’s leading lady has it all

BY GINGER STREJCEK

Swashbuckling swordplay with Antonio Banderas. Jet-setting jaunts with Michael Douglas. A crowning Oscar in the trophy case. Could Catherine Zeta-Jones really have a care in the world? Actually, she has two of them: 5-year-old son Dylan and 2-year-old daughter Carys.

RIGHT: Don’t be deceived by her dazzling looks. Catherine Zeta-Jones knows how to act. The 36-year-old superstar has been performing since the age of 11. She’s a trained singer and dancer, too, earning an Oscar for her smooth moves in “Chicago” in 2002. JAMES DEVANEY/WIREIMAGE.COM

“The second that baby was in my arms, my personality changed. I became a nervous Nellie – will be for the rest of my life,” the actress said in a recent interview with Bazaar. “Michael throws the kids all around, but me...well, just the other day Dylan was walking the balance beam on his jungle gym, and Michael shouted, ‘Are you having a heart attack yet, honey?’ ”

Since becoming a mom, with all its joys and jitters, family has come first for the 36-year-old superstar. She stepped back into the spotlight this fall, after a six-month hiatus of staying home with the kids full-time, to reprise her role as the ravishing Elena in “The Legend of Zorro.” She said she got tears in her eyes when she saw Antonio back in costume for the sequel to the blockbuster.

It was the first “Zorro,” of course, that started it all, catapulting the corseted Catherine straight to the top of Hollywood’s hit list in 1998. The beguiling beauty – initially mistaken to be Spanish with her raven hair and brown eyes – seemed to have materialized out of thin air, but her fame and fortune actually came years earlier on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Welsh actress had reached celebrity status in England in the early ’90s, thanks to a co-starring role in the smash TV series “The Darling Buds of May.” Playing a voluptuous country girl (certainly no stretch with her physical attributes), she became a staple of the British tabloids, relentlessly hounded by the paparazzi.

“Literally, with one hour of television my life completely changed,” Catherine said in an interview with USA Weekend. “I couldn’t go anywhere.”

She did eventually go to L.A., giving herself six months to make it in Tinsel Town. “It was really humbling,” she said. “I went from being one of the most photographed people in Britain to walking into Warner Bros. and them saying, ‘Well, what have you done?’ “

One thing did lead to another, including a prominent part in the CBS miniseries “Titanic” in 1996. As fate would have it, Steven Spielberg saw her in the docudrama and thought she’d be perfect as the female lead in his next production, “The Mask of Zorro.” He was right.

Catherine sizzled on-screen with Antonio, and then moved on to Sean Connery in the romantic thriller “Entrapment” in the summer of 1999, further fueling the fan frenzy as she joined the ranks of Hollywood’s leading ladies. She followed up with “The Haunting,” “High Fidelity” and “Traffic,” with her salary soaring to $3 million for the latter.

Off the screen, her private life was turning heads as well. She’d hooked up with Hollywood heavyweight Michael Douglas, 25 years her senior to the day (both celebrate birthdays on Sept. 25). Seems Michael had been smitten with the seductress ever since seeing her fancy footwork in “Zorro.”

“He followed me around the world until he found me,” quipped Catherine, a regular on People magazine’s annual list of Most Beautiful People. The two met in August of 1998 at the Deauville Film Festival in France and became engaged in December 1999 in Aspen’s winter wonderland. Three months after the birth of their baby boy, Dylan Michael, they tied the knot in a high-profile wedding at New York’s Plaza Hotel in November of 2000. (Catherine supposedly showed up 10 minutes late, delayed by her troop of security guards).

LEFT:Catherine Zeta-Jones and husband Michael Douglas are picture perfect at The Eighth Red Ball, held at Pierre Hotel in New York City. Happily married for five years, the celebrity couple lives on the scenic shores of Bermuda, where they’re raising their two children. JAMES DEVANEY/WIREIMAGE.COM

Little did the celebrity couple care that their ceremony was regarded as slightly gauche, nor did they have a problem pocketing a reported $800,000 from Britain’s OK! magazine for pictures of their newborn son. Catherine then proceeded to do something else generally frowned upon by A-list actors. She became an advertising spokeswoman for T-Mobile, replacing Jamie Lee Curtis in 2002.

Much more was in store. That same year, Catherine strutted her stuff in the long-awaited film version of Broadway’s “Chicago,” wowing audiences and critics alike in her role as vixen Velma Kelly – a part she was offered after producer Marty Richards heard her sing at a Christmas party. A trained singer and dancer, she even requested a 1920s-style short bob haircut for the movie, so viewers could clearly see that it was Catherine herself doing all of her own dancing. The dazzling performance earned a slew of accolades, most notably an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical.

A second pregnancy didn’t slow her down. She belted out “I Move On” from “Chicago” on the Academy Awards telecast in March of 2003, just weeks before giving birth to her daughter Carys Zeta on April 20.

No stranger to the stage, Catherine was bitten by the acting bug as a girl. Hailing from Mumbles, Wales, a tiny fishing village just outside Swansea, she was one of three children born to Dai Jones, a Welsh candy factory worker, and Patricia Jones, who was of Irish Catholic descent. She began dancing lessons at 4 and soon graduated to a Catholic congregation’s performing troupe. In 1981, she launched her stage career as “Annie,” followed by the part of Tallulah in “Bugsy Malone.”

“I’ve been performing since I was 11 years old,” said Catherine, named for her maternal grandmother Catherine Fair and her paternal grandmother Zeta Jones (Zeta was the name of a ship that her great-grandfather had sailed on).

After years of 3 1/2-hour bus rides to London for auditions, she quit school at 15 – with her parents’ blessing – and relocated to the capital city. She got her first big break headlining the West End production of “42nd Street,” portraying chorus girl-turned-star Peggy Sawyer. Two years later (with eight shows staged a week), she hung up her shoes and headed to France, making her feature film debut in Philippe de Broca’s “Sheherazade” (1001 Nights) in 1990.

She’s since kept the camera rolling, more recently sharing the screen with Julia Roberts and John Cusack in “America’s Sweethearts” (2001), George Clooney in “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003), Brad Pitt in “Ocean’s Twelve” (2004) and Tom Hanks in “The Terminal” (2004).

For all of her accolades and achievements, this mega-moviestar still gets the butterflies. “I was really nervous going into it,” she said about the first day of filming for “The Terminal,” another Spielberg movie. “I get starstruck like anyone else.”

Officially back in “the rat race,” she’s set to begin production on her next movie, “Mostly Martha,” in January. She plays a top chef whose life changes when she becomes the guardian of her young niece. While the maternal instinct might come naturally, the cooking part doesn’t. Catherine said she’s been banished from the kitchen, after nearly burning the family’s apartment in New York. “I’m not allowed to practice at the house. I have to go to a restaurant.”

RIGHT: After sizzling on the screen in “The Mask of Zorro” in 1998, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas reunited for a sequel this year. The two are pictured at Columbia Pictures’ premiere of “The Legend of Zorro” at Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. JEFFREY MAYER//WIREIMAGE.COM

Though Catherine’s luxurious lifestyle is surely a far cry from most people’s reality, this working mother-of-two still plays the juggling game. “Having it all is a struggle,” she told Bazaar. “You’re pulled in so many directions: work versus family versus yourself.”

The strength of her partnership with Michael and the bonding of their family is paramount. “If I’m working, Michael is with the kids and me. If he’s working, I’m with him and the kids,” Catherine said in an interview with In Touch Weekly. She also said the couple’s age gap works to their advantage. “We’re in different places in our lives career-wise, so we’re not vying for attention – there’s no tug of war.”

Having a happy home on the sunny shores of Bermuda, their principle residence, certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s an idyllic life of golfing, sailing and just walking on the beach – and a fairly anonymous one for the island’s most famous residents.
“That’s one of the great things about living in Bermuda, where we spend most of our time. It’s just easy and removed,” she told In Touch. “And it’s a great place to bring up kids. You should see me taking them to school with my baseball cap on – but why am I hiding? Nobody’s going to recognize me, anyway!”

As for all of her fretting, Catherine is trying to come to terms with her overprotective tendencies. “I’m always terrified that my daughter is going to cut her chin, or that my son is going to knock his teeth out,” said Catherine, who’s perfectly fine with two children for right now. “But kids are kids, and they’re not made of glass and they’re going to get cuts and bruises and things like that.”
Her family, she says, is the joy of her life.

From the Winter 2005 issue.

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