Catherine Zeta-Jones Talks About 'No Reservations'

Maui Time | July 21, 2007
Catherine Zeta-Jones is a renaissance actress whose seemingly effortless ability to embody characters comes with a highly skilled singing voice and stunning beauty that keeps audiences riveted. When the Welsh actress worked opposite Sean Connery in the often-overlooked 1999 film Entrapment, the onscreen chemistry was endearing for the obvious mutual respect the actors shared. She is an actress without pretension. Her gravitas can intimidate as much as it excites. I've heard some American women talk about their contempt for her in ways that indicated more about their own insecurities than anything about Catherine Zeta-Jones unmistakable talent.

Born in Swansea, West Glamorgan, Wales, Catherine lead a British revival of "42nd Street" at the age of 15 before becoming a constant on UK television with The Darling Buds of May in the early '90s. But it was her performance in The Mask of Zorro (1998) that brought her to global fame opposite Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.

Now married to Michael Douglas, with whom she has two children, Catherine Zeta-Jones is entering a busy period with four new films in various stages of production. Her latest movie No Reservations is an Americanized calibration of writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck's winning 2002 German romance dramedy Mostly Martha. Director Scott Hicks' (Shine) follows the budding romance between master chef Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Nick (Aaron Eckhart), the new sous chef in her busy kitchen at a West Village, Manhattan eatery. Eckhart and Zeta-Jones enjoy an authentic chemistry that only gets brightened by the ineffable charms of Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) as Zoe, Kate's nine-year-old niece.

We spoke at Manhattan's Regency Hotel on Park Avenue where Ms. Zeta Jones lit up the room with her enthusiasm and confident charm.

CS: These days it seems like everyone is a foodie. Were you excited at the prospect of playing a chef?

CZJ: The idea of being a chef, for me, was pretty terrifying. But after we had this intense training together for a few weeks, we were up and running and I felt very comfortable in the kitchen, and still do actually.

I have a new appreciation of being in a kitchen. I have a new appreciation when a plate of food gets put on my table, how much goes into it, as opposed to going, "Is this cooked right?"

CS: How was the kitchen training process for creating your role?

CZJ: It was intimidating because we started off with just the chef gradually taking us through the kitchen. It's like, in a way, an organized chaos. You'd think every one would be slashing into each other, burning each other, but it actually moves really gracefully. It's like a ballet. And Aaron and I wanted to fit into that environment, to look like this was our job, that this is for real. What was terrifying for me was when the other chefs started coming in, you want to be helpful and not do anything really ridiculous. And then I went out on the floor, which was pretty terrifying because I'd never been a waitress before. Other actresses have, but I've never been out there before. And I started screwing up my lines -- forgetting what sauce it was, and then there was one desert that was this big concoction of chocolate, and I said, "Just have it, it’s delicious."

CS: What kind of food would you cook if you had Aaron over to your house for dinner?

CZJ: I think I'd make some Welsh lamb, some good roasted potatoes and good solid stock food that I was brought up on, I think.

CS: Do you have a favorite restaurant anywhere in the world?

CZJ: There's a restaurant outside of Barcelona, El Bulli, which is like going into a chemistry lab. I went there and it was completely jam-packed. You have to book like two years in advance. I got to eat in the kitchen, and it looked like scientists, literally, concocting these amazing dishes with textures that you've never even seen before. You'd put your spoon in something and it would all dissolve. It was genius. That experience of going there was one of the best I've ever had.

CS: Is there a certain food that you can't resist?

CZJ: It sounds so ridiculous and so crazy, but I'm obsessed with smoked salmon sandwiches on brown bread with potato chips crushed up in the middle with a little salt and pepper. I actually had it two nights ago for dinner. It's one of those comfort foods.

CS: Some actors absolutely swear off working with animals and children. How do feel about this little scene-stealer called Abigail Breslin?

CZJ: Well, she's just adorable inside and out -- such a talented actress and such a real young lady. She's not pretentious in any way.

I've had a lucky run with working with children. Not so much with animals -- I always seem to get thrown off of a horse. But with children I've been really lucky to be working with great, talented children that you're going to watch for the rest of their careers and wish them the best. She (Abigail) was an absolute dream.

CS: How do you balance your career and family?

CZJ: I'd hate to say, "balance" with my children because at the end of the day that is my life and everything else is a bonus. What changed for me considerably since I've had my family is that the logistics have completely gone crazy. As opposed to being offered a role in Romania for four months and me packing my case and going, now I can't do that. I try to schedule my work in between times that my kids can come with me or when I know that Michael (Douglas) is definitely not working and he's with them. During shooting No Reservations here in New York, it was great because our home is in Bermuda, predominately, and so even though I was working everyday, we did get some time off and I'd go home to Bermuda even if was just for a day, or they'd come see me. That's the only thing that I think is more of a struggle than it ever was before in my life.

CS: There's a lot of operatic music in the movie. Didn't you sing opera early in your career?

CZJ: I actually did an opera many years ago at the English National Opera -- Kurt Weil "Street Scene" (1989). They did a season of "The Magic Flute," so you didn't have a run of doing it the whole week. It was like you were on for two days and then "The Magic Flute" for two days. So every night felt like a first night, and I'd see these great talented voices chatting off to the side of the stage about where they were going to go for dinner, where they're going to go for a drink and then, "Oh, one second." And they'd go on the stage, and I'd be shaking in my shoes going, "I'm on next." We toured Germany for a while, so it was really interesting to be part of that opera way of life.

CS: Were you as focused on your career as your character in No Reservations when you started out?

CZJ: I wouldn't say I was like Kate in the way that she was so blinkered in her career and in her work, and how she goes about it. But, I always said that I had a healthy ambition -- I call it -- where I did want to come from Wales and try different things. I had that inherently. But I wouldn't say that I was such a control freak the way that Kate is where there is nothing else in her life. I had my friends and I had my other life as well as my career.

CS: With your popularity, is it difficult to be a private everyday person?

CZJ: There's a real sense of privacy in Bermuda. I must say, it's been really great bringing up my children there. They've been to school without any hassle and there've never been any photographers hanging around so, for me it was the ideal choice to bring up my children, with it being easy to come to New York. We travel. We don't stay there the whole year round. It's been fantastic for me.

CS: Still, there must be a few drawbacks.

CZJ: Of course there's drawbacks. Socially, we have a lot of friends in LA and friends in New York. We have a lot of friends in Bermuda. It's a different life. Actually, I appreciate coming back to the city more than I ever did before it's the complete opposite of where I come from, and it's only an hour and forty-five minutes on a plane. I sound like a Bermuda tourist agency. (laughs) "Come to Bermuda." Don't come to Bermuda! I love you, but please don't come to Bermuda.

CS: What do you think is the recipe for a healthy relationship?

CZJ: I think just to be kind to each other. I've said it before, you meet so many different people in life and sometimes you spend more time being nice and friendly to complete strangers than you do to the person you love more than anything else in the world. So, just to have that in the back of your mind -- to be respectful, kind and nice.

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