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In The Terminal, Zeta-Jones (at the film's L.A. premiere), 34, plays a flight attendant who falls in love with a passenger (Tom Hanks) who is fleeing his war-torn Eastern European home country and must remain in the airport indefinitely after his passport becomes invalid. Up next: Ocean's 12 with Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and George Clooney.
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As a student in Swansea, Wales, "I was teased because I had a really flat-looking nose, and before I got braces, my teeth used to stick out a bit," says Zeta-Jones (at 7). She also had a "home perm so bad that kids in school couldn't see the blackboard because my hair was so big."
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Zeta-Jones (left, in 2001; middle and right, in 2004) is known for her glamorous red carpet looks (she favors Versace and Christian Lacroix), and is often compared to classic curvy actresses like Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth. "Catherine is the movie star," says America's Sweethearts director Joe Roth. "Her glamor transcends time."
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"When I met my husband, my whole world got turned upside down – in a good way," says Zeta-Jones (with Michael Douglas, 59, in 1999). The pair met in 1998 and married in a star-studded ceremony at New York City's Plaza Hotel in 2000. Of their 25-year age gap, she says: "It's nothing. He never makes me feel inferior."
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An eight-months-pregnant Zeta-Jones won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as nightclub singer Velma Kelly in 2002's Chicago, and even performed a number from the film – "I Move On" – with co-star Queen Latifah at the Academy Awards in 2003. Daughter Carys (Welsh for "beloved one"), born a month later, seemed to enjoy it: She "was kicking like crazy right before I sang," said Zeta-Jones.
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PARTY OF THREE
"My parents taught me the importance of being a kind and good person," says Zeta-Jones of father Dai, a former candy-company executive, and Pat, a homemaker. "That's what I want to instill in (my children)."
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Zeta-Jones had already signed on to play the wife of a drug trafficker in 2000's Traffic when she discovered she was pregnant with son Dylan, and she successfully lobbied director Steven Soderbergh to write it in. She and Douglas (who also stars in the film) attended the L.A. premiere in December of that year, a month after tying the knot.
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In 1995, Zeta-Jones moved to L.A. and landed a role in the 1996 miniseries Titanic. Director Steven Spielberg took notice and recommended her to The Mask of Zorro director Martin Campbell, who launched Zeta-Jones's film career by casting her as heroine Elena in the 1998 film, opposite Antonio Banderas.
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Zeta-Jones has a close relationship with her brothers David, 36, and Lyndon, 32 (in Paris in 1999), who both work for her production company, Milkwood Films.
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By age 4, Zeta-Jones was studying tap ("My earliest memories are of her tap-dancing in the kitchen," says her brother David). At 11 she debuted on London's West End; at 19 she won the starring role in a London production of 42nd Street (left) after the lead was injured; then, at 22, played a sexy farm girl in the British TV series The Darling Buds of May.
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Before hitting Hollywood, Zeta-Jones enjoyed stardom in the U.K. – and was a regular in the British tabloids. The fodder for the gossip? Her string of high-profile boyfriends: director Nick Hamm, actors John Leslie and Angus MacFadyen (who broke off their 15-month engagement in 1996), and Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall (left, in 1998).
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Even off the red carpet, "Catherine is very old-fashioned," says Entrapment costume designer Penny Rose. "She's not a belly-button-sticking-out and ring-through-her nose type. She's a high-heels, full makeup and beautiful hair type." Zeta-Jones (in 2003) adds: "I think beauty is a gift that you have to make the most of. I've worked hard at trying to look my best."
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SONG & DANCE
Zeta-Jones drew on her singing and dancing skills for 2002's Chicago. "She was plopped down with dancers who do this stuff eight times a week, and she rose to the occasion," says the film's associate choreographer, Joey Pizzi. "She could have easily gone to doing this show live on Broadway."
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Unlike many Hollywood beauties, Zeta-Jones (in 2002) isn't a workout fanatic – she prefers golf and walking to lengthy gym sessions – and doesn't adhere to a strict diet. "If there's a piece of chocolate cake, she'll dig in," says Mask of Zorro producer David Foster. "If she wants to drink a bottle of wine, she'll drink it. She enjoys living life."
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Zeta-Jones and Douglas have an apartment in L.A. and properties in New York, Mallorca and Aspen, but they call their 1821 Bermuda estate (reported price: $2.5 million) home. "In Bermuda, it's easy for us to have a normal life," says Zeta-Jones (in February with Douglas, Dylan and Carys in Beverly Hills).