Monday 19 November 2018

The rise and rise of the irrepressible Ms Jones

John Costello on why we'll always love Catherine the great...

Catherine collects her
Tony award
Catherine collects her Tony award

John Costello

Catherine Zeta-Jones shimmered on stage in her strapless, glacier-blue Versace gown. She had already been recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours at the weekend and now she was about to scoop a Tony Award, the theatrical equivalent of an Oscar, for her role in the Broadway musical A Little Night Music.

The Darling Bud Of May was blossoming, but then the working-class girl from the Welsh valleys opened her mouth.

"See that man there?" she said excitedly, pointing towards husband Michael Douglas. "He's a movie star and I get to sleep with him every night."

While the 3,000-plus crowd at Radio City Music Hall roared at the adrenaline-soaked spontaneity of it all, it didn't take long for Zeta-Jones to regain her composure.

"It wasn't the most elegant thing to say, was it?" she said after the event. "I was so caught up in the moment I don't think I knew what I was saying. I had no control over what was coming out of my mouth. Standing up there I felt speechless but obviously I said something but it was such a surprise that my brain didn't really connect to my mouth. What I said about Michael was heartfelt. Although thinking about it now I can't believe I said something as crass as that."

Indeed, it is often easy to forget that Catherine Zeta-Jones isn't the highly polished movie star Hollywood presents to us.

"I drink, I swear, I like sex," she declared to the Daily Mirror back in 1995, revealing a little more of her personality than is apparent today in her carefully crafted persona. But a little bit of spice was an essential ingredient in the making of Miss Zeta-Jones.

Born in Swansea in 1969 plain old Catherine Jones, she added the hyphen and middle name Zeta from her paternal grandmother to add a touch of allure.

Her Hollywood odyssey began at the tender age of 10 when she won a national talent contest singing a Shirley Bassey song. A year later she added to her showbiz credentials by becoming a British tap-dancing champion. After appearing in a plethora of local productions, she eventually waved goodbye to her parents, a Welsh sweet factory owner and an Irish seamstress, and travelled to the bright lights and big city of London to study drama.

While she landed several low-key roles in the West End, her big break came when the leading actress and understudy fell ill, promoting Zeta-Jones from the chorus line to star in the West End revival of 42nd Street.

But it was her first major TV role in the 1991 comedy drama The Darling Buds of May that made Zeta-Jones a household name. She starred alongside David Jason, playing his beautiful, fresh-faced daughter Mariette, and was catapulted into the media spotlight.

But while the tabloids were spinning grubby tales about her love interests, which have included David Essex, Mick Hucknall, Blue Peter presenter John Leslie and Soldier, Soldier star Angus MacFadyen, the ambitious Zeta-Jones was already plotting a career beyond Britain.

Eager to make the jump from TV to the glamour of the silver screen, she appeared in a series of film flops throughout the 90s, including the appalling Eric Idol comedy, Splitting Heirs, and the nonsensical oriental fantasy flick filmed in France, Les Mille et Une Nuits.

She hadn't even reached 30 when she was considered a has-been, but Zeta-Jones is famed for her single-minded determination, and decided America was the perfect place for reinvention.

Just two years after receiving abysmal reviews for her role in the Indiana Jones knock-off The Phantom, she made her big breakthrough starring alongside Antonio Banderas in The Mask Of Zorro.

She had managed the unthinkable -- going from British Z-list to Hollywood A-list in a swish of a sword. The plaudits rolled in and she quickly landed several big roles, one of which was alongside Sean Connery in Entrapment. During the filming of this romantic thriller in 1999 she met Michael Douglas.

The 25-year age gap and the fact Douglas was still married to his wife of 23 years, Diandra Luker, sent the gossip columnists into overdrive. However, despite media speculation, the couple stayed together and married in New York in 2000, shortly after the birth of their first child Dylan.

"The thing that really upset me was the idea that I was this gold digger," Zeta-Jones later revealed to Vanity Fair. "Money can create such animosity. But I'm very lucky; I have my own money. I'm self-sufficient. I've never had a cent from any guy and I'm very proud of that."

She was now part of Hollywood royalty, which didn't harm her career as she exploded onto the big screen with starring roles in blockbusters like Ocean's Twelve, the Coen brothers' Intolerable Cruelty, co-starring George Clooney, and Steven Spielberg's The Terminal.

But it was her role as the ruthless nightclub singer and princess of the paparazzi Velma Kelly in Chicago that achieved Zeta-Jones' highest accolade -- an Oscar.

Nine days after receiving the much sought-after statuette, she gave birth to her daughter Carys and returned to her quiet life with her husband on their estate in Bermuda.

But while Douglas enjoys the smooth ride into the final years of his career, she is now the one that adds the sparkle of Tinseltown to their relationship.

But Hollywood royalty or not, every now and again you'll get a glimpse behind the glamorous and polished exterior of the big-screen star and see the working-class girl from Wales, who sometimes has to pinch herself to remember she's not dreaming. For that, we will always love you, Ms Zeta-Jones.

Irish Independent

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