There aren't many stars who'll talk singing, dancing, politics and depression. But then Catherine Zeta-Jones isn’t your average A-lister.
Words: Debbie McQuoid Photography: Larsen & Talbert
This is a big deal. Catherine Zeta-Jones just doesn’t give interviews, especially in the last few years. But here she is, in New York, talking to me. And she’s being ridiculously charming – what I can only describe as turbo Welsh. I married a Welshman, so we’re practically sisters, well, that’s how she’s making me feel anyway. She shortens my name to Deb, constantly confirms, “I’m with you on that”, and says how happy she is about Swansea City’s Premier League debut. She even does an ‘oggy, oggy, oggy!’ The same one she did in 2003 when, pregnant with Carys, her second child to Michael Douglas [they also have a son, Dylan, now 11], she won an Oscar for her role in Chicago and called out to her family in the seaside town of Mumbles in Wales.
Now she’s back in another all-singing, all-dancing role in Rock Of Ages, the film version of the hit musical. I’m not particularly a fan of the genre and I’ll admit I spent the first 10 minutes cringing. But then it happened: Catherine, playing a right-wing campaigner with a past, absolutely stole the show. Also starring Tom Cruise and Russell Brand, you need to see this film whether you’re a fan of Eighties rock or not. Cruise in particular is great as permanently stoned rock star Stacee Jaxx and, if I have one criticism, it’s that Zeta-Jones should have had way more screen time. Catherine’s career trajectory has been a fairly unusual one. A child star working in the West End, she won the part of Mariette on The Darling Buds Of May (perfick) in 1991, enjoyed a brief singing career and was even engaged to ex-Blue Peter presenter John Leslie. But then she went to Hollywood and won the part of Elena in The Mask Of Zorro (1998) and life began to take a different path altogether.
A year later she began dating Douglas who, as son of Kirk and star of classics such as Romancing The Stone and Fatal Attraction, was a bona fide Hollywood A-lister. More roles as the ‘feisty thief’ in Entrapment (1999) and ‘glamorous detective’ in 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve led people to believe she was like the characters she played and she was labelled the laziest of all female insults, ‘a diva’. And undeniably, she does lead a fairly charmed life. Catherine is said to own six properties around the world including two in New York, a base in the Bahamas, Majorca and, of course, her beloved Mumbles. Oh, and she and Michael are reportedly worth an estimated £177million. But, as with most things, life is never that simple, and two years ago, Michael was diagnosed with throat cancer. Then, he revealed their son Dylan had ‘some special needs’. A year later, Catherine sought treatment for bipolar disorder, which she had until then managed to keep private. However, the Douglases pulled through and the past few years have more than proved that the family has survived any turmoil thanks to the couple’s solid foundations.
Slowly but surely Catherine is getting back to work. As well as the highly anticipated Rock Of Ages, she stars in the upcoming Lay The Favourite with Bruce Willis and Rebecca Hall. She’s currently filming with Steven Soderbergh, fellow Brit Jude Law and Rooney Mara and has another three projects in the pipeline. So, before she rushes off to make her children’s supper, we get a very revealing insight into her world.
Was Rock Of Ages as much fun to make as it looks?
It was. It’s just a movie that lends itself to having a blast. It’s larger than life and we got to sing all these Eighties songs. I had a lot of fun with my character because she’s like the odd one out in a way and I got to play the baddie. She’s a nightmare of a woman; absolutely horrible.
Which incarnation of your character Patricia, the good girl or the bad, do you feel most like in your own life?
[Laughs] The bad. Definitely the bad! I’m not like the Conservative, right-wing, Michele Bachmann [US Republican candidate] person she is. No, no, no, no, no. I’ve completely based it on Michele Bachmann; I even put my hair like hers. She was trying to run for president when I was shooting and I used to watch her on TV and go, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me”.
You’ve lived in America for some time. Are you acclimatised or does it still feel a little bit alien to you?
I’m not an American… I’m not. I’m a Brit. Obviously, I can’t vote [in America] but you’d be surprised how many people want my point of view. I say, "Excuse me, I vote in my own country." There really is a ridiculous amount of money wasted on campaigning over here. You know, we [Brits] just get down to business, don’t we? You vote and then it’s done. This goes on for two years, it’s ridiculous… I can’t wait until November when it’s all over and Obama is back in.
It’s like a soap opera…
Well, yeah, it really is. It’s a cultural thing which I just don’t understand. I’m with you, I don’t get it. I don’t care who’s sleeping with who, just get a good president.
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Do you actually come back to the UK to vote?
I am an overseas voter. I don’t always come back because I can’t, I’m working. But I’m married to an American and I’ve got two beautiful American children; America has been really good to me – really, really good to me – but I like to hold on to my British status.
Is there anything in particular that you miss about home?
It’s really hard for me because, you know, I’ve been out of Wales longer than I ever lived there. I left when I was 15 to go to London to work. But my family is so close. I really miss just being able to say to my mam or my friends, “Just come on over for a cup of tea and we’ll talk through stuff.” And I miss my friends from my dancing school that I’m still in touch with. I miss the immediacy. Because sometimes, you know, it can be when you want to speak to your mother or your friends and [because of the time difference] you just go, "Aw shit, they’re sleeping". But the next day I’m like, "Oh I’m alright now, I’ll call them in a few days". And obviously having children, I miss them not being close to my family. But saying that, Wales comes to me now. They much prefer to get away from the weather. They liked to come visit me when I lived in Bermuda; they love to come to New York. My children adore their grandparents and their uncles.
Are there any British qualities you hope you’ve taught your children?
Well, when they lived in Bermuda, they had more of a British accent than I did. They talked so properly; they were so posh. But then in two months of coming back to school in the US, in New York, they sounded as if they come from the Bronx. I’m like, “What happened to mummy?” It’s now, [in New York accent], “MOM!” They don’t like Branston Pickle – to my horror. They don’t like Yorkshire puddings – to my horror. They love a good shepherd’s pie because they’ve been brought up with it, because it’s pretty much all I can make fantastically well. And they love going to Butlins with my parents for long weekends [laughs].
Oh yeah, they’ve been on the beach when it’s been horizontal rain in Swansea, you know? They can’t believe it; they’re on the beach and it’s raining.
You have two films out this month and are in the middle of filming another; is it fair to say you like to keep busy professionally?
The roles I’ve been playing are smaller and so my time commitment has been a lot less than me sort of carrying the movie – for want of a better word. And I work it with my kids’ schedules, and Michael’s not working if I’m working. After I did Broadway, I took a year off and then Michael got sick, so kind of everything was put on hold. And when things got semi back to normal, I was offered these movies and it was a great way for me to get back to work in nice, relaxed, interesting little roles. It does seem like I’ve been working nonstop, but it’s been pretty scheduled around my life. But I do enjoy working. I love the camaraderie; being on a set. I love being in the theatre; I just love what I do. I feel at this time in my career… I’m 42; I’m not going to be the ingénue for the rest of my life. So, I’m really happy with the type of roles that are coming my way.
I’m 42; I’m not going to be the ingénue for the rest of my life
Are there any specific things you still want from your career?
I know everyone wants that part, but I really want to do an original piece on Broadway or the West End, wherever, in theatre. But seriously, my priorities have changed considerably from when I was younger and I was much more eager. All I had in my life was my career. My waking, breathing hours were consumed by it. Now, that’s not the case.
The past couple of years have seen a lot going on in your personal life; has that affected the way you look at your career?
Absolutely. As hard as it is, it puts everything into perspective on a personal and professional level. I’m not so consumed about what people think or say like I used to be. It’s made me much more centred and I’m not afraid to say, “No,” and if people don’t like that, well, tough. I’m looking out for myself more. We spend a lot of time in our business being nice and giving a lot out to complete strangers. And then you turn around and go, "Wait a minute, I’m exhausted by this. It’s our time now and we should be enjoying every minute". It’s not about being a hamster on a wheel. This is life; this is it. And we feel very blessed with our health and everything. And we just enjoy it. Michael’s the same.
Do you feel stronger as a person?
Oh no, not really. I just feel that I look out for myself and I nurture my strength. I’m not inherently a ball-busting, strong woman. I think there’s a perception of me because some of the characters I’ve played are like that. When I go on the red carpet, I kind of have this air of confidence but it’s not me, you know? I don’t do that on a regular basis. But these things are sent to try us, and we do sit back and go, “Wow, we got through that,” and, “Oof, we dodged that huge bullet.” I guess it does make you stronger because you have some ammunition to be prepared for something else that’s going to side swipe you, because it really did side swipe us.
When you married Michael, did you ever feel remotely intimidated by his ‘Hollywood royalty’ family?
It was just Michael and his family. When you step out of the bubble and look in you go, "Wow". But it’s nothing more than just a regular family who happen to be in the same business. There’s a whole bunch of plumbers who are generation after generation. We just happen to be in the acting field. We have the same troubles that everyone else has in their life. It’s just other people’s lives aren’t documented as much.
How do you cope with that? Are you used to people talking about your private life?
No. I don’t think you ever get used to that. Ever. I don’t read it so that helps. I respect what you do for a living but I don’t read anything [in the media]. It all happened after one hour of television of The Darling Buds Of May. It was literally one hour of television and my life changed completely. Even when I first met Michael, I’d kind of been prepared for the onslaught of attention. But I still find it really strange that I can go anywhere in the world and people recognise me. It’s bizarre to walk down the street in Tokyo or be in the Galapagos Islands and be recognised.
I’m not inherently a ball-busting, strong woman
Your career has had a few reincarnations. Do you think you have a skill at reinvention or is it tenacity?
I think it’s just knocking on doors as much as I did and getting let in eventually. I started off in theatre, singing and dancing and they told me I could never be a serious actress because, you know, I’m a showgirl basically. So I hung up my tap shoes and didn’t go to any musical auditions for a while. After Darling Buds, I decided to give America a shot and see if I could get into movies. I gave myself six months. And well, here I am. People say, “Oh my god, you’re so lucky,” but I think you make your own luck. It’s a lot of hard work – I mean I was in the business since I was nine years old doing Annie and Bugsy Malone in the West End. I left school at 15, so I’ve never had another job.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m much more down to earth than people think. Especially with the whole ‘Hollywood royalty’ name tag and the lifestyle I lead. And it’s a very nice lifestyle, thanks. You know, I’ve worked very hard for it and I appreciate it but I’m just regular old Cath… I’m certainly not a snob and I don’t take anything for granted. I just thank my blessings and pray to my god every day.
The last couple of years have been tough; are you happy now?
Oh my, yes. I mean I’ve suffered from depression for years and yes I’m always in… I’m in a much better place now. Things are going great and long may they continue because it’s been a tough road. But it’s a road that millions of people go down every day. Just because it’s us, doesn’t make it any worse. It doesn’t make it any better, but it certainly doesn’t make it any worse than anybody else’s issues. So that’s kind of humbling. I’ve had so many letters about Michael, and it’s just incredible. We all really appreciate that and all those prayers for him. It’s now onwards and upwards. We’re onto the next chapter of our lives. As long as we have health and happiness, nothing else matters.