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Catherine Zeta-Jones takes on two new roles

Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones discusses her new movie, "No Reservations," and finds a new appreciation for a room she rarely uses: the kitchen.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Catherine Zeta-Jones’ new movie, “No Reservations,” takes her to two places she’d never been before — a lead role and the kitchen.“I don’t cook,” she readily admitted to host Matt Lauer in the TODAY Show kitchen. “I pass the kitchen, but just to get to the other room.”

Ironically, in “No Reservations” Zeta-Jones stars as perfectionist chef Kate Armstrong, whose entire life revolves around her kitchen.

Zeta-Jones and her husband, actor Michael Douglas, have two children, Dylan, 6, and Carys, 4, and she is reluctant to leave them for extended periods.

“I never get this time back with my kids,” she explained. But Armstrong’s character convinced Zeta-Jones to leave the family’s Bermuda home to make the film.

“I was looking for a character that was a different role, a different dynamic for me that I hadn’t played on film before,” she said. “‘No Reservations’ came on my desk, and I read it and immediately I said, ‘Okay, this is what I’ve been waiting for. This is the one, if I’m going to be away from my family, I’ll be 110 [percent] committed to [it].’ ”To prepare for the role, she spent two weeks working in a New York City restaurant, an experience she called “terrifying.”Many aspiring actors wait tables to make ends meet while trying to break into the business, but Zeta-Jones has been acting since she was 11 years old.

Unfamiliar territory“It was like going to school for the first day when I arrived in that kitchen,” she said. She also greeted guests and waited tables. She found it fascinating that diners are so wrapped up in scanning the menu that they rarely actually look at their server.“It was a very interesting lesson how people don’t make eye contact sometimes with the server,” she said. “It took a while until somebody said to me, ‘Has anyone ever told you you look like that actress, Catherine Zeta-Jones?’”“Yeah, I get that all the time,” was her response.Zeta-Jones won an Oscar for her portrayal of Velma Kelly in the 2002 film “Chicago,” but that role, like all the others she’s played, was a supporting one. “No Reservations” marks the first time she’s the lead character.The difference for her was in being on the set virtually every day instead of getting days off and long weekends during production. “What’s great is you have a really great affiliation with the crew,” she said.Zeta-Jones’ co-star is Aaron Eckhart, who plays the chef who fills in for Kate when her sister is killed in an accident, leaving her in the unfamiliar role of caring for her 9-year-old niece. Zeta-Jones could identify with that.“I can equate some of her characteristics,” she told Lauer. “Not that I’m as completely compulsive and  a perfectionist the way she is in the kitchen. Her life revolves around the kitchen and she’s a perfectionist and she’s in control in the kitchen.“[But] when I was single without any kids, I used to do that with my career in a way. Not to the extent my character does in the movie. But I did nothing else. If somebody said, ‘Do you want to go to China? There’s a movie.’ I’d say, ‘What flight? Pack my bag.’ ”That was when the Welsh-born star was establishing herself as a star in such movies as “The Phantom,” “The Mask of Zorro” and “Entrapment.”“Obviously,” she said, “my life has changed considerably.”

New appreciationShe came away from “No Reservations” with a new appreciation for cooks and kitchens.“I was there in a working kitchen,” she told Lauer. “It just fascinated me how everything moved so beautifully and fluidly. If you took the sound out, the clanking of the pans and the sizzling of the pans, it was like a ballet — the way they moved, no one was bumping into each other.”The star still doesn’t cook, but she now knows how to go through the motions, as she showed when she and Eckhart joined Martha Stewart in making sour-cherry pies. Zeta-Jones’ effort looked as good as Stewart’s. Eckhart’s was sort of a hanging garden of crust, or, as he called it, “a Rastafarian pie.”