Catherine Zeta-Jones Is Calling the Shots

The Oscar-winning actress talks Wednesday, National Treasure, and the liberating new era of her life.

Catherine Zeta Jones

Neilson Barnard/BAFTA LA/Getty Images

There are actors, and then there are movie stars. While most of us think of Catherine Zeta-Jones as sitting firmly within the latter bracket, she’s always been resistant to being pigeonholed into any category. 

Zeta-Jones began her show business career as a dancer, traveling from her hometown of Swansea, Wales, to London’s West End, where she started performing at the age of 9. And by the time she worked her way up to being the lead in a show (David Merrick’s 42nd Street), she knew she was ready to focus on acting instead of singing and dancing. However, industry gatekeepers were less charmed by the idea of a triple threat and more dismissive of someone she says they felt was a jack of all trades, but a master of none. 

“It’s a pigeonhole, which is something that I can't bear for anybody, especially women, it drives me nuts,” she says over Zoom. “They’re like, ‘Oh, women — they’re really good at that, but she’s probably a terrible mother, and is she ever home?’ It's like, no, we are multifaceted.”

It’s fitting that she’s made multifaceted women her business, from playing the headstrong Elena Montero in her breakout role in 1998’s The Mask of Zorro to the riveting Velma Kelly in Chicago, the part that won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2003. And come the end of the year, Zeta-Jones will take over the streaming world with a new take on Morticia Addams in Netflix’s Wednesday, which premiered on Nov. 23, as well as a new role in the Disney+’s National Treasure spin-off, National Treasure: Edge of History, out Dec. 14. 

The back-to-back roles weren’t purposeful on Zeta-Jones’s part (“People would be sick of me,” she insists.), but instead came together through personal calls from none other than Tim Burton, who helmed Wednesday, and mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who is an executive producer on National Treasure

“I had a wonderful phone call from my agent who said that Tim Burton wants to chat with me. And I was like, ‘Whatever he wants me to do, I'm doing it,’” she says. “And I've known Jerry for years and years — I've never done anything for him work-wise, I just know him socially — he wanted to give me a call about this reboot of National Treasure, and I love that movie, so that’s how it all came about.”

It’s hard to understand the true meaning of the word “charisma” until you’re face to (virtual) face with someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones. She laughs easily and shares just as comfortably — whether discussing her recent birthday celebrations in Morocco or her love of collecting vintage and antiques — and makes you feel so at ease in her presence that you almost forget she’s a Hollywood A-lister with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) honor. Almost. Even through a Zoom screen, sitting in the living room of the New York home she shares with husband Michael Douglas, she exudes the kind of charm that makes you finally understand what people mean when they use words like “star power” or “icon,” though Zeta-Jones is too humble to let you describe her as such. She will, however, indulge in her relishment in stepping into the iconic floor-length gowns of Morticia Addams, a classic look she was thrilled to don. 

“My grandmother, my guardian angel, she sits right here,” she gestures towards her right shoulder, “knew the Addams family. And my niece, who's 7 years old, knows the Addams family.” 

As an actor who began on stage, Zeta-Jones is familiar with the ins and outs of making a classic role your own. As such, she made an effort to not contemplate the image everyone may have with Anjelica Huston’s portrayal in the Addams Family films, or Carolyn James’s take in the television series. Instead, she focused on crafting her own vision of a modern mother, a pursuit aided by the Netflix series’ fresh retelling, centering on Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday Addams.

“It’s really Wednesday’s story. I’m hoping that they continue with Wednesday's story forever, so I can grow old playing Morticia,” she says. “I mean, nothing would make me more happy than to be 80 years old and still playing Morticia.”

The cast of Netflix's Wednesday


Perhaps one of the most quintessential elements of Morticia is her relationship with husband Gomez Addams (this time played by Luis Guzman), a marriage crystallized in pop culture as the romantic ideal, a long-lasting devotion that’s spawned countless “relationship goals” articles and memes. One has to assume that Zeta-Jones, who has been married to Douglas for 22 years with two children together (a son named Dylan and a daughter named Carys), knows a thing or two about a lasting marriage. 

“I think it's more about not thinking, for one, that we are on a pedestal in which people go, ‘Oh, that's perfect,’ because nothing is perfect — ever, ever, ever, ever,” she says. “But what we do have is a very respectful relationship, in that first of all, we're not consumed by each other's careers, and we have interests and friends that are not solely in our business.”

She and Douglas were born on the same day, 25 years apart. (“As I'm getting older, I'm much more specific about letting people remember that,” she jokes.) Thanks to the similarities they share despite their vastly different backgrounds, Zeta-Jones does believe the stars have aligned when it comes to the two of them.

“I was brought up in a working-class family in Wales; he was the son of Spartacus,” she notes, referring to Douglas’s father, Kirk Douglas, who immortalized the Tracian gladiator in the 1960 film. 

Catherine Zeta Jones National Treasure Edge of History


“We both are predominantly quite quiet and very private people, but we have the ability to be able to go out and go to dinner. This is Catherine on the red carpet,” she says, striking a pose while seated on her couch. “This is my lovely husband Michael on the red carpet. And then we go home and close our doors. And we have a very simple existence where we just hang a lot, and we have a lot of interests.”

And when it comes to the daily nuts and bolts of marriage?

“‘Let it out when it needs to come out, and shut up when you need to shut up,’ is what I say,” she says cheerfully. “It's a long journey. Pick your battles.”

Zeta-Jones also points to the fact that she and Douglas have never actually lived in Hollywood, something she thinks has grounded their family in a different way. They made it a point to take turns working so that their kids would have as much stability as possible growing up, and raised them in Bermuda for 11 years, a time of “irreplaceable life moments” away from the limelight.

There was a pivot in Zeta-Jones’s life after Chicago — and not only because she won an Oscar. 

“Forget about the Oscar of it all, but just personally, as an actor, I felt so complete within the role,” she says. “I would've done [the film] for nothing, and I'd do it all over again. I felt maybe the most secure I've ever felt.” 

She pauses. “For about a week,” she deadpans, breaking into laughter.

Just over a week after she humbly and graciously accepted her Oscar (after performing a number from Chicago alongside Queen Latifah), Carys was born, marking a different era in Zeta-Jones’s personal and professional life. If you compartmentalize her career in terms of pre- and post-Chicago, it looks something like this: In the pre-Chicago era, her agent could call her to tell her that a production wanted her to be in Morocco for nine months, and she’d say, “Great. What time is my flight?” In the post-Chicago era, she made a conscious decision to be discerning about the work that would take her away from home for months on end.

“I just felt it was right for me to go, ‘OK, I can take a breath now. I don't have to be on all the time now,’” she recalls. “By this point, I had two little creatures to look after. I wouldn't change a thing, but I think after the body of work that I've done before, I feel like I can be — not selective — but [take on] whatever tickles my fancy. And it's a wonderful position to be in as an actor.”

These days, there are plenty of things sparking her fancy even beyond acting, including Casa Zeta-Jones, the lifestyle brand she launched last year. The idea, she says, came into being because she was always looking for ways to be creative outside of being on a film set. Her mother is a seamstress, and instilled in Zeta-Jones a love of fabrics and interior design (she turns her laptop around at one point to show her thoughtfully decorated living room and the throw pillow she sewed herself). Whatever catches her fancy, you can be sure she’ll commit.

“Something about getting older was that I don't take a lot of shit from people,” she says with a smile. “Not that I'm snappy, or that I’m looking for shit from people. I just don't take it, and I don't take it in a very gracious way. And it's only something that comes from experience and it's only something that comes from being 53. But I really feel now that there's a different chapter ahead of me, and it's exciting to see what happens next. My dreams have come true, and everything else now is a bonus for me.”

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