Inside Catherine Zeta-Jones' Life And Career Through The Years

Catherine Zeta-Jones has been one of Hollywood's biggest stars for over two decades, but she was perhaps more motivated to explore the world of show business because of a happy accident. As InStyle reported, Zeta-Jones was encouraged to be a smart investor from the time she was young. Her parents won £100,000 through a bingo game. Her father, a confectionary wholesaler, put that money toward his work. "He's the person who guided me, got me looking at myself as a business as opposed to just an actress," Zeta-Jones explained to InStyle. As a girl, the actor quickly launched into dance lessons.

As she told The New Yorker, Zeta-Jones didn't have any reservations about performing when she was a child, and her mother first put her in tap shoes at age four. "As I got older, I got shy. But when I was young I was fearless," she remembered. Her idol was Elizabeth Taylor, partly because of the movie star's relation to Wales through Richard Burton. The Daily Mail claimed that when Zeta-Jones was 12, she was able to present the diva with daffodils at a stage door in the West End.

Keep reading to find out more about the Welsh actor and how she won over Hollywood.

Catherine Zeta-Jones struck out on her own

Catherine Zeta-Jones had the chance to be a professional actor in a West End production of "Annie," along with a couple of fellow Welsh co-stars. "When they were casting, they did a stunt," she told The New Yorker, describing how the producers looked for young promising actors around the country. "They'd hold these cattle-market calls; every kid in the world would go," she added.

In pursuit of a life onstage, the star dropped out of school at 15. As Zeta-Jones told The Times in 2018, she still thinks about what missed. "I forfeited a huge chunk of my adolescence for a passion," the actor reflected, adding that she pays close attention to her son's education to make up for it. "I go to the school and smell it and breathe it," she noted. "I've always yearned for that world of learning."

But by leaving to join a touring production of "Pajama Game," she secured her Equity card and was now a working actor. When Zeta-Jones became an understudy in "42nd Street," she coincidentally had to step in for another actor on the night when top Broadway producer David Merrick was watching. "So I got cast in the lead role, and I played it for two years," she recalled to The New Yorker. The young star already had her eyes on bigger things, however, thinking, "I can't be a hoofer for the rest of my life" (as she told Larry King years later).

She came to America to be taken seriously

In the comedy-drama series "The Darling Buds of May," which aired from 1991 to 1993, Catherine Zeta-Jones played the eldest daughter in a family of farmers. Her first big TV role in the U.K. led to lots of attention, but the actor came to dislike that instant fame. "Yeah, it screened on a Sunday night at eight o'clock, and by Monday morning my life changed," she told The New Yorker. "Walking out of my house on the streets of London, I'd get barraged," Zeta-Jones added, describing her alarming encounters with the British press. "Be careful what you wish for."

The "Entrapment" star took a six-month trip to the United States to meet as many casting directors as she could before her visa ran out. "Leaving Britain for me wasn't like an 'F you' moment. It was more of a, 'I've worked really hard to be an actor and now I'm becoming a celeb,'" Zeta-Jones reflected in The New Yorker. "And everyone was missing out on the point of my hard work."

Zorro was her big break

After Catherine Zeta-Jones moved to the U.S., Steven Spielberg spotted her in a "Titanic" TV movie and gave her an audition spot on his next project. She quickly landed her first big film role in his adventure flick "The Mask of Zorro." As Zeta-Jones observed in an essay for InStyle, nothing would ever be the same for her.

"...I got my big break working not only with the wonderful Antonio Banderas but also with one of my idols, Anthony Hopkins, who is from my home country," she fondly recalled. While preparing for her role, Zeta-Jones studied Spanish, choreography, and sword fighting, learning from Bob Anderson, a former Olympian who fenced competitively. "I was never a great horseback rider, but I still put on those spurs every day and overcame my fears by galloping around the Mexican hacienda," she noted.

"Mask of Zorro" is also the film where her future husband Michael Douglas first saw her and arranged to meet with her. "So that film did not just change my career, it changed my life entirely," Zeta-Jones noted for InStyle.

She married Michael Douglas

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas are Hollywood royalty now, but the pair raised eyebrows at first with their 25-year age difference and extravagant wedding.

Although Douglas had already seen his future wife on-screen, they actually met because of an unexpected celebrity connection: as Zeta-Jones told Larry King, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith introduced them during a dinner at the Deauville Film Festival. In Douglas' version of the story, he had asked the younger star (through his assistant) to have a drink with him, and she agreed, taking Banderas and Griffith with her. Zeta-Jones and Douglas made plans to meet again. "I must have been battin' one thousand because after the movie, I'm sitting in the bar, and like 'Lawrence of Arabia,' this mirage comes through the lobby," the "Wall Street" actor recalled in an anniversary Instagram post.

He almost ruined their budding connection with a corny line, however. "I probably made a big mistake, but I looked at her and I said, 'I just wanted to tell you, I'm gonna be the father of your children,'" Douglas recounted. Zeta-Jones told The New Yorker that she answered, "All right. I've read a lot about you. I've seen a lot about you. I heard a lot about you. Good night." But he apologized with flowers, and the pair ended up speaking over the phone for months before they actually got together. While Douglas' proclamation initially frightened Zeta-Jones, she quipped, "Unfortunately he was right, again."

Catherine Zeta-Jones won an Oscar for Chicago

Catherine Zeta-Jones went back to her musical theatre roots in the film adaptation of "Chicago," for which she won an Academy Award in 2003. She fought hard for the role of Velma Kelly, per The New Yorker, because it was her dream to sing the song "All That Jazz." "When the film wrapped, I remember thinking, 'Well, if nobody ever sees this, it's been the best experience of my life," Zeta-Jones recalled, describing how much she enjoyed the sheer hard work and team spirit of the shoot. 

As she told Drew Barrymore, the character's period-appropriate bob hair was also the result of a back-and-forth between her and the filmmakers. "For me, when I saw Velma Kelly, I saw that blunt Louise Brooks look," Zeta-Jones explained, adding that she eventually won the argument. "Pick your battles. Sometimes you've got to let things go, other times you've got to stand by your guns... That kind of image was always part of my vision for the character."

The film was critically acclaimed and won best picture at the 2003 Oscars (coincidentally, Michael Douglas was the one who presented the top prize, alongside his father Kirk Douglas). A pregnant Zeta-Jones also collected the best supporting actress award for her role opposite Renée Zellweger. "My hormones are just too way out of control to me to be dealing with this," she joked during her acceptance speech, before giving an emotional thanks to her husband and children.

She had to take a stalker to court

The domestic bliss of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas was shattered when a stalker started to send them violent, threatening letters in 2003 and 2004. According to ABC News, Dawnette Knight had become obsessed with Douglas because of his movies and believed that Zeta-Jones had cheated on him. In her notes, she promised to cut up the "Chicago" actor and let the dogs eat her as vengeance for this imagined infidelity.

Through a letter read out loud by a prosecutor, Zeta-Jones addressed her stalker in court and accused her of permanently ruining their family's comfort. "You have profoundly affected me in how I conduct my life," the actor wrote, per CBS News. "Your actions will be with me the rest of my life — how I will be constantly observing, looking over my shoulder." She also insisted that Knight's proximity to their family didn't make her a celebrity: "You will never be famous, you will never be infamous, you are just a criminal," read Zeta-Jones' statement. Knight reportedly apologized to her, declaring: "I hope one day the victim will forgive me. I am sorry. I think about it all the time." In the end, she was found guilty and sentenced to three years in state prison.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is an avid golfer

As many paparazzi shots over the years have shown, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas have one key hobby in common despite their age difference: golf. Both actors love the sport and have teed off in charity celebrity tournaments hosted by Douglas, per the Daily Mail. Other stars like Sharon Stone, Morgan Freeman, and Mark Wahlberg also took part in these competitions to raise money for good causes.

Wales Online reported that Zeta-Jones inherited the hobby from her father, who could often be seen at the Morriston Golf Club in Swansea. Although she enjoys the sport, Zeta-Jones doesn't take it too seriously. "I may be the most annoying golf partner to be with on the links," the actor admitted on her social media, posting a video of herself grooving with her club on a golf course. "...dancing on the tee box, taking way too long to secure my golf ball on the tee [laughing emoji] amongst other things." She's even shown her Instagram followers where she grew up golfing in Wales.

Catherine Zeta-Jones became a Broadway star

When Catherine Zeta-Jones returned to the stage, she won a Tony Award for her performance in the 2009 revival of "A Little Night Music" alongside Angela Lansbury.

In a 2021 interview with Seth Meyers, she expressed concern for the theatre community in the wake of COVID-19 and said that she would be happy to return to the stage herself. "After I did 'Chicago,' of course, I was offered every high-kicking, jazz hands, everything ever written," Zeta-Jones shared, joking that she was presented with roles that were more appropriate for Carol Channing. "When I won the Tony for 'A Little Night Music,' it's Stephen Sondheim, but it's really a play to music, it's not high-kickin.'"

Zeta-Jones also pondered the idea of doing a play, rather than a big musical. She shared her thought that even great performances on classic musical theatre shows would garner comparisons to older legendary actors. "I'd like to do something original, something that hasn't been done before," the actor said, suggesting that her priority would be creating a completely new character. 

She struggled after her husband's cancer

Although the world was shocked by Michael Douglas' cancer diagnosis in 2010, no one was hit harder than Catherine Zeta-Jones. "When Michael was diagnosed with cancer I really thought, 'You are going to have to wipe me off the floor,'" she told The Telegraph, admitting that she'd never experienced a health scare so close to home. "This happens to people all the time, but it's still a huge shock when the cards start to fall and you realize, "My God, it really is happening to us."'

As she recalled, Douglas kept his spirits up throughout chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but Zeta-Jones had to be hospitalized over her mental health during the stressful period. "When you get sideswiped like that, it's an obvious trigger for your balance to be a little bit off — not sleeping, worry, stress. It's a classic trigger," she explained. 

Eventually, the actor was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In an interview with Good Housekeeping, she shared that knowing more about the condition had been valuable. "There are amazing highs and very low lows. My goal is to be consistently in the middle," she said.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones split and reunited

After the emotional fallout of his brush with cancer, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones took a break from each other in 2013. People reported that they hadn't been seen together in months, but neither of them had filed for divorce. 

"Catherine and Michael are taking some time apart to evaluate and work on their marriage," representatives confirmed to omg! (via Us Weekly). Some speculated that Zeta-Jones had been embarrassed by Douglas publicly suggesting that his cancer was connected to their sex life. "It was one of those things... and I so regretted any embarrassment that it caused Catherine. And her family," he told Event magazine (via the Daily Mail). The movie star also referred to their separation as "a little bump in the road," adding: "The problem in this business is that everything is so public."

In a 2015 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Douglas confirmed that they were back together and living harmoniously again. "I'm crazy about her," he stated, adding that a marriage can only be repaired if both partners put in the effort. "I think every couple has their difficult times. The only problem is, as you well know, we're all in the public eye and it tends to get a little more exposed than most," Douglas explained. "But we're back, stronger than ever."