Catherine Zeta-Jones

Occupation: Actress, Singer
Date of Birth: September 25, 1969
Place of Birth: Swansea, West Glamorgan, Wales
Sign: Sun in Libra, Moon in Pisces
Relations: FiancéMichael Douglas(actor); son (with Douglas): Dylan Michael; former companion: Jon Peters (producer); father: Dai; mother: Pat; brothers: Lyndon, David


CERTAIN actors and actresses  think Brad Pitt or Michelle Pfeiffer  rise rapidly in Hollywood largely as a result of the undeniable fact that they are stunningly attractive, and such good looks were certainly a boon to the meteoric ascent of Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. Her bracing breakout performance in 1998's The Mask of Zorro left many a critic anxiously rooting through his thesaurus to ferret out synonyms for "striking" and "gorgeous." More to the point, perhaps, her sizzling chemistry with Antonio Banderas proved the captivating newcomer was much more than just another pretty face. Of course, most cinematic success stories don't truly happen overnight, and Zeta-Jones had been acting professionally for well over a decade, becoming equally reputed for her work in theater, television, and film, before Zorro made her an international sensation.

Giving the lie to the darkly exotic cast of her features, Zeta-Jones was born and raised in Swansea, Wales, a distinction she shares with famed Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. The only daughter of working-class parents  her Irish mother was a seamstress and her Welsh father managed a candy factory  she became an accomplished singer and dancer at a young age, largely as a result of her involvement with the local Catholic congregation's amateur performing troupe. Her first acting assignment was playing everyone's favorite li'l orphan in a local production of Annie, and by the time she was 11, the talented youngster had also essayed the role of Talullah in Bugsy Malone. Just three years later, a touring musical featuring onetime Monkee Mickey Dolenz stopped in Swansea, and 14-year-old Catherine auditioned for a spot in the chorus. The show's producers took a shine to her poise and presence and recruited her for a touring production of The Pajama Game.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her extensive experience, the talented teen acquired her first actor's guild card at the age of 15, and subsequently relocated to London to pursue acting full-time. It took her just two years to wind up in the lead role of a West End production of the musical 42nd Street. Originally she was merely the second understudy to the show's star, but one fateful evening both the star and the first understudy bowed out and Zeta-Jones stepped up to deliver a showstopping turn as chorus girl Peggy Sawyer. Coincidentally, that happened to be the first performance attended by the show's producer, who immediately insisted that she be made the star. For the rest of the musical's run, Zeta-Jones did eight shows a week; after it closed, she took a much-needed sabbatical and traveled to France. During the year that followed, she appeared in her debut feature film as the title character of French director Philippe De Broca's Scheherazade.

Returning to England in 1991, the budding starlet signed to appear as the eldest daughter of a rowdy farm family in the Yorkshire TV series The Darling Buds of May, adapted from the novel by H.E. Bates. The series was a smash, and Zeta-Jones became a U.K. superstar and a favorite subject of the infamous British tabloids. During the series' enormously successful three-year run, its star made her first inroads into Hollywood with a prominent role in an episode of ABC's The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and a (thankfully) brief appearance in the little-lamented box-office bust Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. She also carried on an extended relationship with American producer Jon Peters, who eventually proposed marriage; daunted by the prospect of finding her career identity subsumed in the label "Hollywood wife," she turned him down. After Darling Buds of May wound down, the ever-industrious Zeta-Jones made a heralded return to the stage in an English National Opera production of Street Scenes.

When the intense pressure of having the tabloids dog her every move wore down the realm's most eligible sex symbol, she decided it was time for a change of scenery, post haste. As she later confided to one interviewer, "The intrusion into my life got so bad I actually drove my car into a lamppost trying to get away from paparazzi one day. It was at that moment that I decided to flee Britain and live in America." Though crossing the pond proved a simple adjustment, Zeta-Jones quickly discovered that her U.K. superstardom was not directly translatable into Hollywood fame and fortune.

Television proved more open to her gifts at first, and in 1994 she made a strong impression in the lead role of CBS's Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Return of the Native; the following year she shone in the title role of the miniseries Catherine the Great. Somewhat fittingly, however, it was not until she undertook what can perhaps best be described as the "Kate Winslet role" in the 1996 miniseries Titanic that her ship truly came in. A certain viewer by the name of Steven Spielberg thought her performance was nothing short of dynamite, and he immediately phoned up director Martin Campbell to recommend the fiery Welsh beauty for the female lead in The Mask of Zorro, to which Spielberg was attached as producer. Suffice it to say that when Steven Spielberg speaks, Hollywood listens  Zeta-Jones took the role and ran with it, and Zorro was a hit with critics and audiences alike.

In 1999, the sultry actress co-starred in Entrapment, a romantic thriller in which she and Sean Connery played art thieves attempting to pull off the ultimate heist; and tackled a role opposite Liam Neeson and Lili Taylor in The Haunting, director Jan de Bont's remake of the horror classic The Haunting of Hill House. She wrapped filming on High Fidelity, Steven Frears' romantic comedy based on the novel by Nick Hornby; and she has also signed to star in the sci-fi thriller The Tenth Victim for director Lee Tamahori.

For the present among the ranks of the unwed, Zeta-Jones is engaged to marry actor Michael Douglas. The couple welcomed their first child, a son named Dylan Michael, in August 2000.

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