Originally created 05/18/99

'Entrapment' star escapes mediocrity

Men's knees buckle at the mere mention of her name. Their eyes get that wistful, faraway look. They lose the ability to speak words, let alone sentences. And in the end, they're reduced to quivering masses of lovesick Jell-O. They're jonesin'. They're Zeta-Jonesin'. Bad!

Catherine Zeta-Jones, who had the clothes whipped off her body in a sword fight with Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro, has emerged as the screen fantasy goddess of the turn of the century.

Her latest movie, Entrapment, shows off her intense beauty as well as her athleticism. She swims in tight wet suits, writhes, wriggles and high-steps her way through a latticework of security lasers and does a back flip off a beam that would make Nadia Comaneci proud.

But Ms. Zeta-Jones hopes her appeal also comes from the humor and spunk she tries to put into all her roles.

"There're too many pretty girls around," she says. "I hope that the image that comes across is one which is much more of a fun, kind of approachable woman."

That approachability steps down from the screen, reaching women as well as men.

Her smoldering sexuality, flowing chestnut hair and piercing brown eyes captured the attention of critics and moviegoers alike last year in The Mask of Zorro. But like so many seemingly overnight successes, the 29-year-old actress's breakthrough was years in the making.

Born in Wales to a seamstress-mother and a father who bought into a candy factory, she was singing and dancing by age 4, performing in local theater productions. She had her first actor's guild card by age 15 and moved to London, where, at 17, she landed the lead in a revival of 42nd Street.

Barely 21, she took a role as the buxom, eldest daughter of a wild family in a series titled The Darling Buds of May. It became a hit. And her stardom on television meant that she could never again ride the tube (British for subway).

One of the reasons she came to the United States was "to go back to acting as opposed to being a celebrity," she says.

She appeared in the 1992 movie Christopher Columbus: The Discovery and the short-lived ABC series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. But then she gained notice in the lead of CBS's Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Return of the Native in 1994 and in the title role in the miniseries Catherine the Great the next year. In 1996, she appeared in the miniseries Titanic.And because Steven Spielberg saw her on that sinking ship, her career is sailing now.

Mr. Spielberg, a producer of Zorro, met Ms. Zeta-Jones and said, "I really think you would be great in this."

"And he said, `I'm producing, I'm not directing. And as a director I know it's the director's final choice.' So he put me in touch with (Zorro director) Martin Campbell, and then I screen-tested."

Of course, like the old E.F. Hutton commercials, when Spielberg talks.

As Jan de Bont, the director of her upcoming film, The Haunting, has put it: "You can't stop looking at her while she's on screen. She's one of the few screen wonders who can do that."


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