Catherine Zeta-Jones for “Traffic”

At 31, Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones is the toast of Hollywood. Still breathtakingly beautiful, dressed in a simple black pants suit to promote her new film, Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, Zeta-Jones is a model of unpretentious glamour. Bright, articulate and happy to talk about her recent wedding to 57-year old Michael Douglas, as well as recent motherhood, the actress is a luminous presence, both on and off the screen.

Zeta-Jones shot Traffic while 6 months pregnant, and in this exclusive interview with Paul Fischer, she discusses that experience, her famous wedding, the movie and her fairy tale life.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is no stranger to an avaricious media. Looking radiant as she meets the press for the first time since her highly publicised wedding, the beautiful 31-year old Welsh lass recalls that before finding Hollywood stardom, her TV career in Britain “kind of prepared me in a way, for what goes on, for this microscopic, insatiable appetite for any information, truth, lies, or any plain old gossip”. So even as new beau and recent husband Michael Douglas apologised to her for the US media’s fascination with the private lives of the stars, the actress insists that her experience with British tabloids certainly gave me a kind of water-off-a-duck’s-back attitude as to what goes on. I’m sure that will all change come 2 years time when I have to take my son to the park and I have to try and explain to him why there’s 20 people with cameras running after us. I hope that the frenzy will die down and HE will not have to sacrifice any of the good things in his early years, because these photographs are documented everywhere he goes or does everything”.

It all came to a massive frenzy, when the couple married in New York, but as crazy as it was, Zeta-Jones glows when recalling that memorable event, and the paparazzi be damned. “It was just amazing for me. I remember everything about it, which was one my big concerns, that I would wake up the next day and go: Did we get married? But our wedding was very beautiful, romantic and elegant. It was formal in one way then just a wild party the way we like to have fun with our best friends and family. So it was very homespun in THAT way, which is exactly what I wanted”. For Catherine, she remembers not knowing “whether to burst out laughing or burst out crying, and then I saw other people’s faces and they were smiling-so I burst out laughing”.

Before marrying Douglas, Zeta-Jones was already dealing with motherhood and the birth of her son Dylan. There can be no doubt that motherhood and marriage have changed Catherine’s perspective on life, she says. “Even when I was doing Traffic and carrying Dylan, a lot of the emotions and instincts that I used in my character, came from this instinct of the lioness wanting to protect and nurture my new little life. When he was born it just blew my mind away that a complete little stranger would fill me with this overwhelming desire to nurture and protect him, and I would go to such big lengths to do that. In turn with Michael and our relationship, there will be a point when everyone will have their knives out, and publicly looking to photograph or write something that is detrimental to our relationship, and us or how we feel about each other. And those are things I just have to deal with, because the spotlight is so focussed on it. But it’s changed my life completely”.

The actress first knew she was pregnant when Steven [Soderbergh] asked her to do his ensemble cast in the drug trafficking drama Traffic and so had to share that confidential stuff with him. “I really wanted to do it and work with him, so I suggested playing it pregnant, because it would give the character a vulnerability and would also up the stakes for her”. She says that doing the film pregnant grounded her. “It stripped away preconceptions that you start to have yourself, because to make money for the studio you play a certain kind of woman. So I was flattered that Steven wanted me in my 6 months pregnant glory, and wanted me as me. It liberated me as an actor and forced me to go places I’d never had the chance to go before”.

Traffic is a patchwork of stories that evokes the high-stakes, high-risk world of the drug trade, as seen through a series of inter-related stories, some are highly personal, and some are filled with intrigue and danger. A Mexican policeman finds himself caught in a web of corruption; A pair of undercover DEA agents work in the sordid and dangerous world of San Diego dealers; a wealthy drug baron living in upscale, suburban America is arrested and learns how quickly his unknowing and pampered wife (played by Catherine) takes over his business; and the U.S. President’s new anti-drug czar, an Ohio State Supreme Court Justice, (Michael Douglas) must deal with his increasingly drug-addicted teenage daughter.

Fans of the actress will be astonished as to the complexity of her work here, and the character she plays, a woman who goes through a subtle but astounding, transformation throughout her component of the film. “I loved going to all those emotional places. Looking at the movie now in its entirety, Steven did a great job for my arc and character. It’s so rare to be a part of a movie that is SO complex, not happy-go-lucky or simply a rollercoaster ride that you don’t have to have a brain to watch. Sometimes we get scared by what we want to tell an audience; sometimes we want to insult people’s intelligence, because we just want to make sure that everybody knows every plot, journey and arc, and so I thought initially: Oh God, I’ve lost some of my arc and the audience may not get my transition. Then quickly I realised you don’t insult people’s intelligence; I think that adds to her character, that the clock is ticking away and she has to do this, and this instinct comes from nowhere or survival, be it morally for her children, husband and her, but on the other hand, completely IMMORAL, the material things that make her life what it is, and that NOBODY is going to take that away from her”.

Asked about her own thoughts on the drug trade, Zeta-Jones says that, as in the film, “you have bad people, who sell ’em, have bad people take ’em and somewhere governments are turning a blind eye as to how it’s getting in. What this film has done for me and I hope for everyone who sees it, is puts it all on the table and doesn’t define it via a social status or ethnic group. I’d always assumed it happened way down town in that areas that I never go to after dark and it’s a nasty problem that doesn’t affect MY life. But now, as you can see from the movie and what Steven did in telling these different stories, is to show that it’s happening in palatial homes, it’s happening right next door to you, it’s happening to the A-students in the country. Yes, it’s happening on the streets of Mexico, yes there’s the corruption that gets involved when the politicians start to fight against the established drug culture that we now have”.

And working on the film has also given her an added perspective, now that she is a mother. “I’ll be showing this film to my son as soon as I can. Even the optimist in me looks at what can happen 15 years down the track and look at my son who I think is a BIG target for this. He is the son of a famous mum, dad and grandfather. His self-identity can be knocked constantly, because he may have to work harder to make a name for himself because a lot of people will have an attitude of: Oh, he’s from that family and it’s an easy ride for him. Just from MY history now and working on this film and finding things out, they’re at the most vulnerable when they’re like that. To the outside world, it’s like: That kid’s mixed up with that family. He’s got everything he wants and what is he, a junkie? It terrifies me that one of the lines in the movie is: Kids can get drugs easier than they can get a beer”.

Though the film’s cast includes Michael Douglas, Zeta-Jones in unphased by the possibility that fans will be disappointed that the couple has no scenes together. “With all the stuff that’s gone on, I think they will be really happy to see him on one end of the screen and me on the other. I mean, if they have any sense at all and are true fans, then enough already., she says laughingly.

Next up for Zeta-Jones is the ensemble comedy America’s Sweethearts, which, ironically, deals with the frenzied world of movie press junkets, a world she knows too well -not that she always did. “I just remember going to my FIRST press junket, when I had to BEG to be interviewed. The only reason I came to LA was to promote The Phantom and my agent had to beg, borrow and steal from Paramount to get me a ticket to go to that junket, but he wangled this somehow and I remember nobody had anything to say to me as if I was invisible. I’d sit there in this round table situation and NOT ONE QUESTION would come my way”. How times have changed, she adds smilingly. Robert Downey jnr was all set to be playing her .Latin lover’ in the film, but following his arrest again on drug charges, his role may be recast. “Obviously we’re all really devastated about Robert. A guy with such enormous talent”, she trails off.

Zeta-Jones may well be entrenched as part of Hollywood royalty, but her Welsh brogue reminds one of her ethnicity. The actress concedes that she is culturally divided. “I’m still a British citizen and there is a part of me that loves both cultures. I came here to be in the movie industry, joining a long line of girls from all over the world who come from similar places to do the same thing. I’m just thrilled that Hollywood opened its arms to me and accepted me, first to play someone who’s Spanish, then to play an American, and as a British actor that opened another world up for me. At the same time, I still have strong roots in my home country and I want my son to know those roots. I think there’s a European feel to THIS movie, and I would love nothing more than to do some European movies again”.

She also hopes to work on screen with her husband in the foreseeable future. “We’re trying to find a script right now, though I always find it weird when couples off screen are couples on screen. It seems voyeuristic, but if we can find a specific project, I think it would have to be comedic”.

Life has been like a dream come true from this young lady from Wales. She has a staunchly supportive family, though does recall that her “mother was like DYING when she had to walk down the aisle and there were all these film stars in the audience. She nearly had a nervous breakdown”. But at least, luminous star as she is, Catherine still has “the ability to talk intimately with my family and they haven’t become star struck by it all”. Unlike the rest of the world.