Emmanuel Itier: Had you both always wanted to play a chef? What was the chemistry like between you and Aaron Eckhart before you got to know each other? Did you have meetings?
Catherine Zeta-Jones: Well, we met for lunch, actually, because I had heard through Scott Hicks that Aaron was really interested in being in the movie, and I thought that would be terrific. So we met for lunch and we’d never met before. We got on really well and chit-chatted about the project. We talked about Mr. Hicks and then, before we knew it, we were all signed on and up here in New York ready to go. So it was an easy process for us to get together. Then the idea of being a chef, for me, was pretty terrifying, to be quite honest with you. I’m serious. If I could pull this one off, let me tell you. But afterwards, we had this intense training together, which was a laugh because I arrived in this kitchen with my little apron on, looking ever so professional and looking at Aaron going, “Oh, God, my finger is coming off before you know it.” We had a few weeks of that and we were off and running, and then I felt very comfortable in the kitchen, and I still do, actually.
EI: Do you now cook at home?
CZJ: Oh, all the time. [Laughs] No. I have a new appreciation for being in the kitchen. I have a new appreciation for when the catered food gets put on my table–how much goes into it as opposed to going, “Is this cooked right?”
EI: How is Aaron in the kitchen?
CZJ: He was ever so professional when I first him. I had to take a few gulps because he came with all his knives, his little private knives. He was like, “Where’s the spoon, Scott?”
EI: Do you have favorite restaurants with some favorite dishes? What would you make Aaron?
CZJ: I think that I would make Aaron some Welsh lamb, some good roasted potatoes, good solid stock food that I was brought up on.
EI: And favorite restaurants?
CZJ: I can’t remember the name, but maybe you can find out. There’s this restaurant that’s outside of Barcelona which is like going inside of a chemistry lab. I went there and it was completely jam packed, and you had to book like two years in advance, and so I got to eat at a table in the kitchen. So I could see all these cooks who looked like scientists, literally, concocting these amazing dishes with textures that you’ve never even seen or felt. You put your spoon in something and it would all dissolve. It was genius. So I think, for me, that experience, going there, was one of the best I’ve ever had.
EI: Is there a food out there that you can’t resist? How do you stay in such great shape?
CZJ: Thank you. This might sound so ridiculous and so crazy, but smoked salmon sandwiches on brown bread with potato chips in the middle crushed down. I had them during each of my pregnancies, and I actually had it two nights ago for dinner as well. It’s one of those comfort foods.
EI: Do you have a work-out regimen?
CZJ: Yes, I do. It keeps my brain sane and it gives me energy. In fact, I’ve been over in Europe doing a lot of swimming, which I absolutely adore doing. So that’s mixing it up a bit.
EI: Do you have a routine that’s five days a week?
CZJ: No. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I do. I have to drag myself down to the gym like everyone else, but when I finish it, I do enjoy it and I can eat more smoked salmon sandwiches with potato chips crushed in the middle.
EI: So what was it like working with Abigail Breslin?
CZJ: Just adorable inside and out, such a talented actress and very real young lady. She’s not pretentious in any way, and I’ve had a lucky run with working with children, not so much with animals, though I almost got thrown off a horse. But with children, I’ve been really lucky to be working with great talent and children that you’re going to be watching for the rest of their careers and wishing them the best because they have the talent. So she was an absolute dream.
EI: How was your research for the role? You worked at a restaurant with chefs, but what was it like?
CZJ: Well, Aaron and I started off, like, the second time that we met, we were basically in the kitchen together. It is intimidating because we started off initially with just us and Michael, the chef, and just gradually he would take us through the kitchen. Like, in a way, it’s organized chaos. You think that everyone would be slamming into each other, burning each other, yelling, “Get out of my way,” but it actually moves really gracefully. It’s like a ballet. Aaron and I wanted to learn to fit into that environment so that we could look like this was our job, that it was for real. What was terrifying for me was when all of the other chefs would come in and you were trying to get out of their way. You’re there to learn and so you want to be helpful and not do anything really ridiculous, and then I went out onto the floor, which was really pretty terrifying because I’ve never been a waitress before. I know that other actresses have, but I’d never been out there before, and I started screwing up my lines and forgetting what sauce it was, and then there was one dessert that was this big concoction of this buoy and this ball of chocolate and so I would say, “Just have it. It’s delicious. Just have it, it’s great.”
EI: How do you not let your career take over your life? Like your character?
CZJ: I always hate to say the world “balance” when it comes to my family and children, because at the end of the day, that is my life, and everything else is a bonus. What’s changed for me considerably since I’ve had my family is that the logistics have completely gone crazy. As opposed to me being offered a role in Romania for four months, I’d say, “What time’s my flight?” I’d pack my case and I’d be gone. Now, I can’t do that. I try to schedule my work in between times where they can either come with me or when I know that Michael (Douglas) is definitely not working and doing a movie here in New York. This movie, No Reservations, was great because our home is predominantly in Bermuda, and even though we were working pretty much every day, Scott would give us some time off. So I would go home to Bermuda for either a day or they would come and see me. Then my last movie that I completed was during summer break, and so they were with me all the time. So that’s the only thing that I think is a balance and more of a struggle than it ever was before in my life.
EI: What is the name of the movie you did during the summer?
CZJ: Death Defying Acts.
EI: How is Aaron’s singing in the film?
CZJ: They would play the first few bars and then turn the sound down so they could get it. It was brilliant. [Laughs] It was brilliant. You were brilliant. You really went for it.
EI: Did you coach him?
CZJ: No, I stood there and I said, “Come on, Eckhart, give it your best.” He did. He did a great job. I actually did an opera many, many years ago at the English National Opera, which was an amazing experience. It was terrifying, for one. They did a season of different shows. One of them was Kurt Weill’s, but you didn’t have a run up of doing it the whole week. It was like you were on two days and then The Magic Flute two days, and so every night felt like a first night, and I would see these great people with these great talented voices chatting each other up on the side of the stage, where they’re going to go for dinner, where they’re going to go for a drink, and then, “Oh, one second,” and they would go onto the stage and just boom these songs out. I was shaking in my shoes, going, “I’m on next.” It was really interesting to do. We toured Germany with it for a while and it was really interesting to be a part of that opera world.
EI: Are you as driven and ambitious as your character, Kate?
CZJ: I wouldn’t say that I was like Kate in the way that she was so blinkered in her career and her work and how she goes about it, but I’ve always said that I’ve had a healthy ambition, I call it, where I did want to come from Wales and try different things. I wanted to go to London and do some theater and do some TV. I had that inherently in me, but I wouldn’t say that I was such a control freak the way that Kate is, or that there was nothing else in my life. I had my friends and I had my other life in addition to my career.
EI: What is the recipe for a successful relationship?
CZJ: I think just to be kind to each other. I’ve said it before, but we meet so many different people in life, and sometimes we spend more time being nice and friendly to complete strangers than you do the person that you love more than anything else in the world. So just to have that in the back of your mind is good–to be respectful, kind and nice.
EI: Is it easier to live in Bermuda?
CZJ: There’s a real sense of privacy in Bermuda, and I have to say that it’s been very great bringing up my children there, taking them to school without any hassle, and there have never been any photographs or photographers hanging around. So for me, it was the ideal choice to bring up my children, with it also being easy to go to New York. We travel and we don’t stay there the whole year around, and so it’s been fantastic for me.
EI: Any drawbacks to Bermuda?
CZJ: Of course there are drawbacks. I mean, socially we have a lot of friends in L.A. and a lot of friends in New York, and we have a lot of friends in Bermuda, which is a different life. I so appreciate coming back to the city more than I ever did before, because it’s the complete opposite to where I come from and it’s only an hour and 45 minutes on the plane. I sound like a Bermuda tour guide. “Come to Bermuda!” Don’t come to Bermuda! [Laughs] I love you, but please don’t come to Bermuda.
EI: What did you think about the script when you first read it?
CZJ: I think that what the film also says, quite clearly, is that it’s not just bereavement, but it’s that you have to heal. It’s the way that you conduct your life, the way that you look at the world outside, how blinkered and how self-centered, in a way, that we can be, and how, through different relationships and sometimes through grief, you’re able to heal and come out on the other side stronger and happier, and with a different life than you ever imagined you could possibly have.
EI: Did you see the original German film, Mostly Martha? Did it affect your character?
CZJ: I think that, on a character basis, I certainly didn’t go into this movie wanting to be a caricature of that wonderful performance. You have to just put that aside and just know that that was a beautifully created performance culturally in that world and as a completely different situation to where I was going to portray this character. I think that the director did a fantastic job of creating that environment in that movie, and I did see the movie after I read the script. I loved the script so much that I said, “You know what? I can’t resist it. I have to see the movie.” I bought the DVD and put it on the kitchen table, and this guy who works for me, who is not a film buff at all, said, “Have you seen that movie? It’s great.” I thought, “How on Earth did a guy from Bermuda, half Portuguese, see this German movie, Mostly Martha? He said, “It came to this small little film festival and we just happened to be there. Lined up and went in and saw it.” I said, “Okay, well, if you loved
It… ” and he’s a big old burly gardener. As much as I loved the script, I can’t resist. I have to see it once. I saw it once and then I put it away and I never saw it again.
EI: Do you miss the stage? Would you ever return? Are there any aspects of Kate’s Type-A personality you can relate to?
CZJ: Yes, I can miss the stage. In fact, there’s been an influx of offers for me to come back to New York and do some stuff. If I’m going to do it, it’s predominantly musicals and one straight play I got the other day, but if I’m going to do it, it’s such a big investment with the rehearsal period, and invariably they want you to be in a good portion of the run of the show. So it would have to be something that I’d really want to commit to. On the musical front, there’s a revival of this, a revival of that, a revival of this, and it’s kind of like I already did my revival on film and it’s there forever. If there was a fresh, new musical, then perfect. On the play front, I would love to. I just need to find the right piece of material and know that it’s a lot of commitment for me, which means I have to do that logistics thing which I’m really bad at. It’s that organization of where everyone goes and if they’d all move back. It’s always in the cards, and I’m happy to have that. I’m very flattered that theater does come my way quite a bit, and I wouldn’t say that I’m a perfectionist in the way that Kate is, because it’s borderline anal retentive and I would hate to give myself that title, but I think there is a quality there. There is a much shyer quality to me that people don’t usually see, and I could relate to Kate, not in that stoic way, but just in being a little reserved. I get perceived sometimes as, “Here comes the show girl,” and in fact I have my insecurities and I’m a lot more reserved and quiet than I let on to be. I do that for a reason sometimes, but I’ve found a quietness in her that I related to.
EI: When did you know that you and Aaron would have good chemistry?
CZJ: You can’t really rehearse chemistry. It’s just something that happens. Sometimes you can put the best of actors together and watch them and go, “Why is this not working?” It’s just something that just happens. And as an actor, it’s great because it’s like, “Whew. One less thing to worry about. Lets get on with it.”
EI: Is this role the de-glamorization of Catherine Zeta-Jones by playing a work-obsessed, single woman? Hard to believe Catherine Zeta-Jones without a man.
CZJ: [Laughs] I think that’s a compliment. I’m not sure. It was definitely one of the things that, when I read the script, made me go, “Wow, this is not a character that even a director or producer would think was a slam dunk for me. ‘Lets get Catherine Zeta-Jones to do this.’” I think that’s what was exciting to me, to be able to play a much more vulnerable character and, of course, not to be like this is my de-glamorization to come down a bit of what is necessarily an image of me onscreen. I think that’s why I found this as such a fascinating experience, because it was like a breath of fresh air for me, as opposed to going into work with how the hair and makeup was. Every day I went in to work with just my chef’s outfit and that bloody green coat. I was going to burn that green coat after this movie because every day I would go into my trailer and be like, “There’s that green coat.” I’d say, “Scott, we’ve got a few other options.” “Nope. Kate has one coat and it’s great.” I said, “Fine.” So apart from that, it was a fantastic experience, and I enjoy just being much more simple and more still with my work. I had a great time doing it. I did say to Michael– Nigela Lawson is a fan of mine–and we watched the screening of it, and Michael was laughing when he saw me with the completely natural bed-head and reaching for the alarm clock and I said, “Do you think that Nigela Lawson wakes up like that?” He said, “No. I don’t think so, sweetie.”
EI: How are you in Death Defying Acts?
CZJ: I play a psychic who guides Houdini.
EI: Was it a good experience?
CZJ: Fabulous. Gillian Armstrong directed. We had a great time.
EI: Does Michael eat your salmon sandwich?
CZJ: No. He thinks it’s gross. When I bring out the marmite, then he really wants to throw up.