When Catherine Zeta-Jones was a younger lady, rising up because the daughter of a candy-factory proprietor and a seamstress within the seaside city of Swansea, Wales, she would stare at photos of Elizabeth Taylor. She was initially entranced by Taylor’s tenuous connection to Wales, by way of her notorious and tumultuous relationship with the Welsh actor Richard Burton, however Zeta-Jones appears to have absorbed rather more from watching Taylor than how one can put on diamonds or enter into an influence couple (although Zeta-Jones has performed each, to spectacular impact). What Zeta-Jones shares with the late Taylor, as I came upon whereas interviewing her one current sunny afternoon over Zoom, whereas she lounged in her upstate New York house, is the regal bearing and honeyed, gravelly timbre of a basic film star. At fifty-one, she has a theatrically languid manner of shifting and talking, as if she is continually about to stretch out on a chaise for a cocktail or a catnap. She doesn’t actually appear to stay in the identical world, or the identical period, as the remainder of us.

Zeta-Jones’s story is a show-biz story as outdated as time: lady from nowhere research faucet dancing, vaults to the stage (in her case, it was to London’s West End, the place she began performing in musicals on the age of 9), will get a component in an enormous present as a second understudy, fills in for the lead on a fortunate day, and, growth, a star is born. By the time she was eighteen, Zeta-Jones was starring in David Merrick’s dance spectacular “42nd Street” in London. But, as she instructed me, she was not content material simply to high-kick her technique to a paycheck. She had desires of being on movie. She began out in tv, in 1991, within the British comedy “The Darling Buds of May,” starring because the eldest daughter of a rural farming household. The present turned the younger Zeta-Jones, a placing brunette, right into a tabloid sensation, and whereas her movie profession had begun to take off in Europe, she left for Los Angeles to flee a media that she felt was extra enthusiastic about her private life than her appearing chops. After a number of rocky years of fruitless meet-and-greets, Zeta-Jones landed her first massive American position, in Martin Campbell’s “The Mask of Zorro,” wherein she performed a feisty, fencing vigilante’s daughter in a muslin corset. In the years to return, Zeta-Jones excelled at taking part in beguiling and resourceful ladies—a nimble, undercover thief in “Entrapment,” a stiletto-wearing cartel boss in “Traffic,” a double-crossing screwball heroine in “Intolerable Cruelty,” a glamorous and petty bitch in “High Fidelity.”

Still, it was her return to her past love—musicals—that grew to become the spotlight of her profession. As Velma Kelly in Rob Marshall’s “Chicago” (2002), a job for which she gained an Oscar, Zeta-Jones was brilliantly exact; a vaudevillian vamp with a snarled lip and a aptitude for melodrama. “Chicago” confirmed one other facet of Zeta-Jones, the one which loves a shuffle-ball change as a lot as a ball robe, and he or she remains to be chasing that top. She gained a Tony, in 2010, for the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” however Zeta-Jones instructed me that her greatest dream is to originate a job on the stage. That manner, she instructed me, no one can ever examine her to what got here earlier than. (“When I’m dead, they can say, ‘Oh, I saw Catherine Zeta-Jones in the original,’ ” she instructed me. “ And I’ll be in my coffin going, ‘Yeah!’ ”) In April, Zeta-Jones will play a recurring position in a number of episodes of the Fox medical drama “Prodigal Son,” alongside her fellow Welsh actor Michael Sheen. When I instructed her {that a} promo still of her look, wherein she is drilling right into a affected person’s mind, had turn into one thing of a meme of late, she laughed, saying, “If Catherine Zeta-Jones can do it, you, too, can give a lobotomy!” Our dialog has been edited and condensed.

You began out on TV, however earlier than “Prodigal Son” you hadn’t performed a present shortly.

Well, I performed Olivia de Havilland in “Feud.”

Right. How did you put together to try this?

I learn quite a bit about her. Not that I wanted to know quite a bit, as a result of my greatest supply was my father-in-law [Kirk Douglas], who knew her very properly. She has a really particular manner of talking, a really breathy, very slightly British manner.

Yeah, it’s a shock, since you performed her so lovingly, however she was so litigious afterward. She tried to take her defamation case all the way in which to the Supreme Court.

We should admire ladies like her, who actually modified Hollywood in how ladies stood, and stood for contracts, being beneath the entire doctrine of the studio system. She was monumentally ahead in her pondering, in her actions. And I really like the truth that, at 100 and one years outdated, she ain’t misplaced it. When I used to be employed to play that position, I assumed that the property and the corporate would have performed their due diligence in title and likeness and I.P., which is a really, essential commodity in our enterprise. Anyone who protects their title and likeness I wholeheartedly assist, as a result of, as actors, it’s all we now have.

Did you ever meet her?

Oh, I can’t say that I met her, however after I gained my Oscar, [in 2003,] it was the seventy-fifth yr, and so they had all of the previous dwelling winners onstage, and there she was in her glory.

Let’s return. I do know you began appearing at a really younger age.

“Annie” was my first present on the West End, after I was 9. Then I did “Bugsy Malone” onstage, with Micky Dolenz directing. I used to be in musicals. It was actually laborious for me again then to get into straight appearing. It’s like, “Oh, she’s a hoofer. She’s a dancer. She’s a singer.” I used to be like, like, O.Okay., put me in a field. I ultimately opened that field.

The similar factor occurred with entering into tv. They mentioned, “Well, she’s really a stage actress. She’s only done stage. She hasn’t done TV.” And then entering into movie, it was like, “Well, she’s really a TV actress.” So now I’m in movie. So O.Okay., am I allowed to do a little bit of all the pieces now, like I’ve at all times needed to do?

Were your dad and mom very supportive firstly? How did they know to place you in present enterprise?

I used to be very excitable and form of, I don’t know, performy, as a baby. I wasn’t shy. As I acquired older, I acquired shy. But after I was younger I used to be fearless. At the top of my backyard, there was a church and a cathedral. And within the again there was a corridor the place a dancing instructor referred to as Hazel Johnson used to show faucet dancing and trendy. At 4 years outdated, my mom purchased me faucet footwear. I put them on, she tied them up, and that was it. My mother took me right down to the top of the backyard, opened the fence, walked into the chair corridor and mentioned, “Can you take her?” And Hazel goes, “She’s too young. She needs to be at least six.” The subsequent yr, she took me, after which she was my dancing instructor all my life.

You have been from an artsy place, Swansea, in Wales.

Where I come from is that this little pimple on the world map, it’s the place Dylan Thomas was born.

The authorities put cash into the humanities. The theatre was pretty and restored, so there have been plenty of novice dramatics. And as Thomas mentioned, “We are a musical nation.” And when you concentrate on my house city, in a radius of 13 miles, you’ve acquired Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Rhys Ifans, me, Stanley Baker, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Michael Sheen. Tony Hopkins directed me after I was very younger, in a play. And then I did “Zorro” with him, and he was at my wedding ceremony.

I used to have cutouts of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. It all felt thus far faraway from my world and so aspirational. But Richard Burton was from Pontrhydyfen! He was up the road, so it might probably occur! My house city is actually the top of the station from London. From there it’s important to get a bus, if you wish to go any farther west, it’s important to go get a bus or get the ferry to Ireland.

So how does a woman from the top of the practice line get a job on the West End?

For “Annie,” once they have been casting, they did a stunt. Like, “We’re going all around the country!” It was publicity, I do know now, for the present itself, however they did discover regional children who weren’t from show-biz households or stage faculties in London. They’d maintain these cattle-market calls; each child on the earth would go. I used to be a kind of children. I went and I acquired forged as July. And then the identical factor with “Bugsy Malone.” I travelled as much as London and stood in line for 5 hours for an audition.

When you have been in “Annie,” at 9, did your dad and mom accompany you?

No, the present had chaperones and nannies. And we used to have faculty within the theatre and tutors. But I might solely work for 3 months, due to the kid legal guidelines. And then after I did “Bugsy Malone,” I used to be 13. So I might do six months, three reveals every week.

So you’re 13 and dwelling roughly with out your dad and mom in London?

Yeah, it was what I needed to do. As a lot as I really like my nation—and no one loves my nation as a lot as me, you know the way patriotic I’m—I knew I couldn’t do what I wanted to do there. And my dad and mom mentioned that to my headmaster after I left faculty, at fifteen, to go and do a touring manufacturing to get my Equity card. I saved saying, “I’ll come back to school, I promise. But if I can get my Equity card, it’s like the golden ticket in ‘Willy Wonka.’ ”

What was the manufacturing that acquired you your card?

“Pajama Game.” I used to be within the refrain. I did “42nd Street” after that. I used to be a refrain lady, and I used to be second understudy within the West End. And then I acquired on. The lady, I consider, was on vacation, and I used to be thrown on. David Merrick, the Broadway god, occurred to be watching that present—he used to go around the globe watching his reveals to see in the event that they have been as much as scratch. So I acquired forged within the lead position, and I performed it for 2 years.

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