Catherine Zeta-Jones is no stranger to an avaricious media. Meeting the press in L.A. for the first time since her highly publicised wedding, the beautiful 31-year old Welsh lass recalls that before finding Hollywood stardom her experience as a television star in the UK "kind of prepared me, in a way, for what goes on: for this microscopic, insatiable appetite for any information - truth, lies, or any plain old gossip."
Her new husband Michael Douglas apologised to her for the US media's fascination with the private lives of the stars. But the actress insists that her experience of the tabloids back in Blighty certainly gave her "a kind of water-off-a-duck's-back attitude to what goes on."
She adds: "I'm sure that will all change come two years time when I have to take my son to the park and I have to try and explain to him why there's 20 people with cameras running after us. I hope that the frenzy will die down and he will not have to sacrifice any of the good things in his early years."
Things came reached frenzied proportions when the couple married in New York but, crazy as it was, Zeta-Jones glows when recalling that memorable event. Paparazzi be damned.
"It was just amazing for me. I remember everything about it, which was one of my big concerns, that I would wake up the next day and go: Did we get married? But our wedding was very beautiful, romantic and elegant. It was formal in one way, then just a wild party the way we like to have fun with our best friends and family. So it was very homespun in that way, which is exactly what I wanted."
For Catherine, she remembers not knowing "whether to burst out laughing or burst out crying, and then I saw other people's faces and they were smiling - so I burst out laughing."
Before marrying Douglas, Zeta-Jones was already dealing with motherhood and the birth of her son Dylan. There can be no doubt that motherhood and marriage have changed her outlook on life.
"Even when I was doing Traffic and carrying Dylan, a lot of the emotions and instincts that I used in my character, came from this instinct of the lioness wanting to protect and nurture my new little life. When he was born it just blew my mind away that a complete little stranger would fill me with this overwhelming desire to nurture and protect him, and I would go to such big lengths to do that."
"With Michael and our relationship, there will be a point when everyone will have their knives out, and be publicly looking to photograph or write something that is detrimental to our relationship and us, or how we feel about each other. And those are things I just have to deal with, because the spotlight is so focussed on it. But it's changed my life completely."
The pregnant performance
The actress first knew she was pregnant when Steven Soderbergh asked her to do his ensemble cast in the drug trafficking drama Traffic and so had to share that confidential stuff with him. "I really wanted to do it and work with him, so I suggested playing it pregnant, because it would give the character a vulnerability and would also up the stakes for her."
She says that doing the film pregnant grounded her. "It stripped away preconceptions that you start to have yourself, because to make money for the studio you play a certain kind of woman. So I was flattered that Steven wanted me in my six months pregnant glory and wanted me as me. It liberated me as an actor and forced me to go places I'd never had the chance to go before."
Traffic is a patchwork of stories that evokes the high-stakes, high-risk world of the drug trade, as seen through a series of inter-related stories. Some are highly personal, and some are filled with intrigue and danger.
A Mexican policeman finds himself caught in a web of corruption; a pair of undercover D.E.A agents work in the sordid and dangerous world of San Diego dealers; a wealthy drug baron living in upscale, suburban America is arrested and learns how quickly his unknowing and pampered wife (played by Catherine) takes over his business; and the U.S. president's new anti-drug czar, an Ohio State Supreme Court Justice, (Michael Douglas) must deal with his increasingly drug-addicted teenage daughter.
Fans of the actress will be astonished as to the complexity of her work here, and the character she plays, a woman who goes through a subtle but astounding, transformation. "I loved going to all those emotional places. Looking at the movie now in its entirety, Steven did a great job for my arc and character."
Catherine on drugs
Asked about her own thoughts on the drug trade, Zeta-Jones says that, as in the film, "you have bad people, who sell 'em, have bad people who take 'em and somewhere governments are turning a blind eye as to how it's getting in. What this film has done for me and I hope for everyone who sees it, is puts it all on the table and doesn't define it via a social status or ethnic group.
"I'd always assumed it happened way down town in those areas that I never go to after dark and it's a nasty problem that doesn't affect my life. But now, as you can see from the movie and what Steven did in telling these different stories, is to show that it's happening in palatial homes. It's happening right next door to you. It's happening to the A-students in the country. Yes, it's happening on the streets of Mexico."
The film has also given her another perspective on motherhood. "I'll be showing this film to my son as soon as I can. Even the optimist in me looks at what can happen fifteen years down the track," she explains. "He is the son of a famous mum, dad and grandfather. His self-identity can be knocked constantly, because he may have to work harder to make a name for himself because a lot of people will have an attitude of: 'Oh, he's from that family and it's an easy ride for him'."
"They're at the most vulnerable when they're like that. To the outside world, it's like: 'That kid's mixed up with that family. He's got everything he wants and what is he? A junkie!' It terrifies me that one of the lines in the movie is: 'Kids can get drugs easier than they can get a beer.'"
Life After Traffic
Next up for Zeta-Jones is the ensemble comedy America's Sweethearts, which, ironically, deals with the frenzied world of movie press junkets, a world she now knows too well - although that wasn't always the case.
"I just remember going to my first press junket, when I had to beg to be interviewed. The only reason I came to LA was to promote The Phantom and my agent had to beg, borrow and steal from Paramount to get me a ticket to go to that junket, but he wangled this somehow and I remember nobody had anything to say to me as if I was invisible. I'd sit there in this round table situation and not one question would come my way."
How times have changed, she adds smilingly. Robert Downey Jnr was all set to be playing her "Latin lover" in the film, but following his arrest again on drug charges, his role may be recast. "Obviously we're all really devastated about Robert. A guy with such enormous talent...", she trails off.
From Hollywood hills back to Welsh valleys?
Zeta-Jones may well be entrenched as part of Hollywood royalty, but her Welsh brogue reminds one of her ethnicity. The actress concedes that she is culturally divided. "I'm still a British citizen and there is a part of me that loves both cultures. I came here to be in the movie industry, joining a long line of girls from all over the world who come from similar places to do the same thing. I'm just thrilled that Hollywood opened its arms to me and accepted me, first to play someone who's Spanish, then to play an American, and as a British actor that opened another world up for me.'
"At the same time, I still have strong roots in my home country and I want my son to know those roots. I think there's a European feel to this movie, and I would love nothing more than to do some European movies again."
She also hopes to work on screen with her husband in the foreseeable future. "We're trying to find a script right now, though I always find it weird when couples off-screen are couples on screen. It seems voyeuristic, but if we can find a specific project, I think it would have to be comedic."
Life has been like a dream come true from this young lady from Wales. She has a staunchly supportive family, though does recall that her "mother was like dying when she had to walk down the aisle and there were all these film stars in the audience. She nearly had a nervous breakdown." But at least, luminous star as she is, Catherine still has "the ability to talk intimately with my family and they haven't become star struck by it all." Unlike the rest of the world.