Style of the city talks exclusively with Wales’s most celebrated actress – Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is quite frankly the epitome of a ‘superstar’. The girl from Swansea, whose passion for stage and stardom began from a very early age. Catherine somehow knew that her path would be very different from anyone else’s. Enthralled by stage and theatre, believing as a child that Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins were, as she put it, part of her ‘tribe’, an instinct which led to her devout love of acting. The courage she possessed at such a young age to be able to take on the world and make a name for herself is truly remarkable.
Catherine’s raw nerve and sheer talent has landed her an Oscar, a Tony and a Bafta, as well as a CBE for her inspirational charitable work. Her strong sense of self has never dwindled, which is why she has succeeded in show business for such a long time. She knows where she came from and is very proud of her deep Welsh roots; roots that have been instrumental when raising her family in the public eye. A once in a generation star that oozes old Hollywood glamour, Catherine is someone who many women look up to. What is most extraordinary about Catherine, which became obvious when speaking to her, is that she is so relatable and down to earth, untarnished by fame and fortune. At the core of it, she is a simple girl from Wales with tremendous talent, who loves her family dearly. Here she talks to Style of the city about fame, the future and why she’ll always be a ‘Swansea Jack’.
What are some of your favourite memories of growing up in Wales?
Whenever I fly into Britain, especially when I go over the Severn Bridge, I always feel like I’m going home. I had a wonderful childhood. Looking at my life, some people might assume that I came from a theatrical family. Why would a girl from Swansea be performing in the West End at nine years old? I started at the Hazel Johnson School of Dance very young, and immediately I was immersed into a creative, artistic environment. My mother put me there because I was dancing and cavorting around. This was one of the best things that my mother ever did for me because it exposed me to a world of creative people in my home town that I never would have discovered. Those are the fondest, earliest memories, apart from the love of my mum, dad and brothers. People in Hollywood always ask me, ‘What is it about Wales? All you people come from there’. When you think about it, it’s a very small radius. We have Shirley Bassey, Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins. There’s a creative microcosm in Wales, which has really shaped my career and my life.
You always look so impeccably dressed, where does you sense of style come from?
It certainly came from my mother, who is a wonderful seamstress. She always made Saturday night date clothes, when she would go out with my father for dinner and a dance. If I had seen something I liked, my mother would say ‘I can make that’. Then I’d come home from school and it would be hanging in my cupboard. She is my muse in so many ways, through her sense of style and home décor too, which has influenced my own company. She really has a beautiful sense of style.
What do you miss about living in Wales, now that you live in New York?
I miss the immediacy of seeing my family. All the things you take for granted when your family live up the street. Saying that, the distance has made the bond between my children and my family stronger. With my American husband and American kids, we celebrate Thanksgiving, and I just hosted my entire family at our house in Bermuda. We sat around at night and sang songs and played games. It was wonderful. We don’t take the time we spend together for granted.
You are one of the biggest stars to come out of Wales, do you feel that comes with a sense of responsibility?
I’m very patriotic. I’m still a British citizen, I never became an American. Generally, I go out as an ambassador for Wales, and I’m very proud to do that. Do I want to be held responsible for getting things wrong? Of course not. I can go all over the world and people know that I’m from Wales. I follow the tourist board of Wales on my social media and I always like beautiful scenic shots. I’m proud to have a real heritage. I just had my DNA done and I was convinced that I had some Spanish in me or some exotic links, but no, I am 99% Welsh-Irish-British. You don’t get more Welsh than me!
Do you think your Welsh roots have been instrumental in grounding both yourself and your family?
Yes, very much so – especially my children. They have a real sense of where I came from, the work it took to get here, the work ethic my parents instilled in me and the close-knit of my family. I know they’re mine, but I get so many compliments about how grounded my children are. I’ve kept them away from the craziness of Hollywood. They were brought up in Bermuda for the first 10 years of their lives. I never whipped them out of school to do a movie. In fact, I’ve turned roles down for my kids to stay in school. I’m so proud of them because they are genuinely good citizens of the planet, which isn’t just my influence, but also my husband’s too. Everyone thinks Michael came from this big Hollywood royalty family, which he kind of did, but they were also a very close family. We love having this house in New York that’s filled with people, even lots of Welsh people that need a place to stay. I have a Welsh commune in New York. You must be creative though, that’s the deal!
Out of all your achievements throughout your career, which has meant the most to you?
That’s a hard one. First of all, to be acknowledged in this business is a profound honour. I’ve been very lucky with a Tony, an Oscar and a Bafta. The CBE, I’m most proud of I think. I’m a big royalist. I’m so happy about the royal wedding next year, I can’t see straight! It means a lot to me to be acknowledged for my charity work.
You were awarded a CBE in 2011 for your services to charity and the film industry, did you realise the impact your charitable work would have?
I believe that you do don’t do it for recognition. It was always taught to me that you don’t give to receive, but to be given a CBE was extremely humbling. What I do know is that ‘celebrity’ can help raise a bucketful of money and provide awareness. If my voice lends to that, then I’m all for it. That’s the least I can do to pay back for some of the wonderful moments I’ve had in my life.
Do you think there needs to be greater female empowerment in Hollywood, to bridge the equality gap between women and men?
Yes. I think the events that have happened recently, the so-called ‘culling’ of the bad guys, is well overdue. However, I want to make sure everyone knows that this is not just a movie industry problem, ‘celebrity’ just makes it bigger and more salacious. This happens everywhere. When we’re talking about the real abuse of power in these industries, one hopes that this is a real turning point. There’s nobody too big to fail. There’s nobody too powerful to get away with this. There has to be equality, be it sexual, political or in the workplace. It’s hard to believe that it’s 2017 and these things still go on. It blows my mind. I hope this helps women to breach the fear factor of holding onto secrets. It’s the secrets that make us sick.
Is there any actor or actress, dead or alive, that you would like to work with?
Richard Burton, on stage and in film. When I was growing up, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were my Hollywood royalty fantasy. Even though I never met Richard, and I know Kate Burton now, I felt like he was part of my family and that I was part of his tribe. I really believe that I came from where both Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins came from.
I would have loved to have worked with Richard Burton, who I consider one of the best actors to come out of not just Wales, but out of the world. I would just like to be in a room, on a set, on a stage in a theatre in front of an audience with him.
You recently launched your first home collection, ‘Casa Zeta-Jones’ on QVC, where does your passion for interior design come from?
Well again, my mother. She was a genius on a sewing machine. I was never allowed to touch the machine though! It was like an archival piece that she had had for years. Although, my true influence comes from me being a theatrical gypsy from a very early age and moving around a lot. I’m a true homemaker, I could spend hours rearranging a bookshelf. It brings me so much pleasure. When I launched my brand, it was years in the making. I’ve done many campaigns, but my passion is home design. I want my customers to feel that they’re getting more than they’re paying for.
What does 2018 hold for Catherine Zeta-Jones?
The last few years I’ve been sowing the seeds of what to do next in my life. I’ve been filming ‘Cocaine Godmother’. I’ve waited a few years to do it. It’s a character that I’ve never played before and it reminded me of my real love of acting as a craft. Next year I’ll be a little sad, as my son is off to college. Actually, I’m secretly kind of jealous and wish I was going with him, I’ll be living vicariously through him! It’s a big milestone for a parent. Then hopefully lots of love, hope and happiness to take us into 2018.
If you could speak to a young Catherine just starting out, what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself a lot of things, but the one thing that comes straight to my mind is that you should never lose that youthful fearlessness. The older I’ve got, I’ve realised that the more I did, the more accolades I got, the more scared I was. I didn’t do things that maybe I should have because I was scared of doing them. I learnt about rejection very early and it never gets any easier. I never had fear when I started, if they didn’t like me I’d stand in line and hold my chin up and do it all over again. I lost that fearlessness. If I could go back, I’d make sure I never lost that.
If you could define your legacy, what would it be?
Gosh, that’s a tough one. She did OK for a ‘Swansea Jack’! Sometimes when you move away from your small home town and do well, people get a little bothered. I never wanted or asked to be put on a pedestal, but it seems there is an inherent love of knocking people off the pedestal that they put you on. What I find in Wales is that there is a real true sense of joy for me.
Winter of the World by Ken Follet.
Bruno Mars and Jessie J. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Jazz. People like Nina Simone and Anita O’Day.
The last thing you ate?
Yogurt and Granola.
My House in New York. It’s my biggest extravagance ever, because I love it.
Biggest fashion faux-pas?
Anything I wore or did to my hair in the 80s. From the neon nail polish to the permed hair.
Philosophy to live by?
Do unto others as you would have done to you. Even if people are mean to me, I kill them with kindness. It’s so disconcerting if you’re kind to somebody who is being rude to you.