In this essay, she recalls how the film didn't just change her career, it changed her life.

By Catherine Zeta-Jones, as told to Jennifer Ferrise
May 20, 2021 @ 10:00 am
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Catherine Zeta-Jones
Credit: Gregg DeGuire/Stringer

I've collected a lot of good-luck charms over the years. My husband [Michael Douglas] calls it my bric-a-brac. But out of everything I've saved, my sword and spurs from the Zorro films are my favorites because they represent such a pivotal moment in my life. Before Zorro, I had worked in Britain, but I was relatively unknown in the United States. I came here to film a TV version of Titanic, and when it aired [in 1996] on CBS, [executive producer] Steven Spielberg happened to see it and invited me to fly to Mexico to audition for The Mask of Zorro. The next thing you know, I got my big break working not only with the wonderful Antonio Banderas but also with one of my idols, Anthony Hopkins, who is from my home country [of Wales].

Catherine Zeta-Jones
Credit: Courtesy Catherine Zeta-Jones

Playing Elena was so much fun because she was a woman ahead of her time, but preparing for the role was like boot camp. It was 99 degrees, and every day we'd rehearse choreography, dancing, dialect, horseback riding, and sword fighting, and that's all while I was wearing a corset, three petticoats, a skirt, a top, and a mic pack. For the fighting scenes, I trained with an Olympian sword master for six weeks. I was never a great horseback rider, but I still put on those spurs every day and overcame my fears by galloping around the Mexican hacienda.

Ironically, after we wrapped, Michael went to a private screening of Zorro in Hollywood. He saw me onscreen, and it's how we eventually got to meet and fall in love. So that film did not just change my career, it changed my life entirely. By the time we filmed the sequel, The Legend of Zorro, we had our two beautiful children. I remember Michael even brought them to the set on my birthday, and my son got all dressed up for it [below].

Catherine Zeta-Jones
On the set of The Legend of Zorro in 2004 with husband Michael Douglas and children Carys and Dylan.
| Credit: Courtesy Catherine Zeta-Jones

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As a wrap gift, the crew had my spurs engraved. They let me keep my sword too, and all of these years later, I still know how to use it. When my son took fencing in school, we practiced together, and he was like, "Mom, you really know the positions!" I keep the sword at our home in New York, leaning against the fireplace, and the spurs sit on the hearth. Whenever I see them, I think of that special time, and then I look at my kids and think of all of the amazing things that have happened since then. That film taught me that when an opportunity arises, throw yourself into it, because it might just change your life forever.

As told to Jennifer Ferrise.

Zeta-Jones stars in Prodigal Son on Fox. Her collection of apparel, footwear, coffee, and beauty products is available now at casazetajones.com.

For more stories like this, pick up the June 2021 of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 21st.