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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Actresses > Feature Interviews - Actors > Feature Interviews U to Z > Feature Interviews A to E > Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart

 

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart

Show No Reservations For Fine Cuisine

by Brad Balfour

By cooking up some serious chemistry between Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) and Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking), veteran Australian director Scott Hicks (Shine) stirred up a satisfying romantic comedy with No Reservations. But he didn't just follow the genre's staid conventions – the film also throws in tragedy and some serious drama into the mix. 

When workaholic chef Kate (Zeta-Jones) is suddenly forced to become a parent-surrogate for her niece (played by Oscar-nominee Abigail Breslin), her constant commitment to a perfect kitchen and cuisine is thrown awry. Her emotional turmoil causes tensions to boil over with her restaurant's owner Paula (played by Patricia Clarkson). Then, to complicate matters even further, a new sous chef, Nick (Eckhart), enters the scene to threaten Kate's career and her precariously balanced life – with the possibilities of seizing both her job and her heart. 

For both Zeta-Jones and Eckhart the film offers a chance to play against type; she is hardly the glamour girl this time around, and he, for once, is the guileless charmer – not a manipulative male monster. 

You did a lot of research for these roles; Catherine, you worked at a restaurant and you both worked with chefs. Can you elaborate on those experiences?

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Well, the second time we met, we were in the kitchen together. It is intimidating, because we started off initially with just us and Michael the chef, and gradually he would take us through the kitchen. 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. 

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. There was one dessert that was this big concoction, a ball of chocolate, and I would say, “Just have it. It's delicious. Just have it, it's great.” 

Had either of you ever wanted to play chefs? 

Aaron Eckhart: I've never had a fantasy about being a chef, nor will I. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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 we had this intense training together, which was a laugh. 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. Then I felt very comfortable in the kitchen – and I still do, actually. 

So do you cook at home now? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Oh, all the time [laughs]. No. [But] 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?' 

Catherine, is there a food out there that you can't resist? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: This might sound so ridiculous and so crazy, but smoked salmon sandwiches on brown bread with potato chips in the middle crushed down. A little bit of lemon, a little bit of salt and pepper. 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. 

Did you create this recipe? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Yes, I did. 

And does Michael [Douglas, her husband and noted actor] eat that sandwich of yours? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: No. He thinks it's gross. When I bring out the Marmite [a weird English sandwich spread made of yeast extract – ed.], then he really wants to throw up. 

So what would you two make for each other as a result of what you've learned? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: I think that I would make Aaron Welsh lamb, and some good roasted potatoes. Good, solid, stock food that I was brought up on. 

Aaron Eckhart: Well, I'm really just a surfer. I like fish tacos and things like that. 

What about fish fingers, like the ones Catherine made for Abigail Breslin in the film? 

Aaron Eckhart: Well, I wouldn't go that far. Fish fingers are so '80s, man. But if she cooked me Welsh lamb and roasted potatoes, it'd be great. I like shepherd's pie and stuff like that. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Until he tells me he's a vegetarian, and I would get really annoyed. 

Are you a vegetarian? 

Aaron Eckhart: No, I'm not. I love meat. 

You both must have favorite restaurants and favorite dishes. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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 [dear readers – send us your suggestions for the restaurant she is referring to but can't name – ed]. 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. 

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. 

Aaron Eckhart: Well, I don't want to sound ignorant. Chef Josiah [Citrin's award-winning] Melisse Restaurant, in Santa Monica, is great. They have truffle eggs and all that sort of stuff. 

When you first read the script, what struck you about it right off the bat? 

Aaron Eckhart: What struck me first, like Scott [Hicks, the director] talked about to me – there are so many things about this movie, so many different layers between the food and the love and loss, the healing, and how all of it is all intertwined. Food can help you heal. Music can, too. 

My character's philosophy of life is so breezy and fluid and has, I think, a more relaxed way of life as opposed to Catherine's character. Then, with Scott directing it, he was a perfect fit, and Catherine, too, of course, it's the whole package. I really was very happy to be in this film for all of those reasons. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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 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. 

Were there meetings between the two of you before you started shooting? And what was the chemistry like between you two before you got to know each other? 

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. We'd never met before. We got on really well, chitchatted about the project, and we talked about Mr. Hicks. 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. 

Aaron Eckhart: Well, we had a great time getting to know each other in the kitchen. At first, Scott got us in with Chef Michael White at Fiama. We went into the kitchen, and we were trying to stay out of the way and be very courteous with each other and move around the kitchen. By the second or third day, you're bumping into each other and you're reaching over each other and becoming very familiar. That was a lot of fun, doing that. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: He was ever so professional when I first saw 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?" 

Catherine, in light of all the cooking and eating, how do you stay in such great shape? Do you have a workout regimen? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Thank you. 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. 

And is your routine five days a week? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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.

The film also had a lot of great music, as well as the food. Aaron, did you listen to opera to get familiar with it before singing in the film?

Aaron Eckhart: I did when I was making the movie. I listened to one song a lot. It doesn't come totally natural to me. I'm not a great singer. It was interesting to do those days. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: They would play the first few bars and then turned the sound down so they could get it. It was brilliant. 

Aaron Eckhart: Catherine, please [laughs]. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: It was brilliant [laughs]. You were brilliant. You really went for it. 

Aaron Eckhart: Scott really helped me out. I did actually like doing it, experimenting with it. Like Scott said, there are such amazing voices, and to see the difference [between] just a layman's voice and their voices is amazing. Saying the words and having the poetry in the words and the meaning in the images that go along with the music is really inspiring, and it's archetypical with all these symbols and imagery. 

That's why theater and opera are important, because they tell tales. This is the tale of a guy who lost his love. So it was very appropriate for the film, but to sing it, it was a stretch. Catherine has a beautiful voice, so to sing in front of her was tough. 

Did she coach you? 

Aaron Eckhart: Not at all. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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 repertory, so 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, so every night felt like a first night. 

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. 

Were there any aspects of Kate's type-A personality that you can relate to? Can you rip a tablecloth off like that? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Yes, I can [Laughs]. 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 [similar] 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.” 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. 

Did you see this role as the de-glamorization of Catherine Zeta-Jones by playing a work-obsessed, single woman? Is this role like Catherine Zeta-Jones without a man? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: I think that's a compliment [laughs]. I'm not sure. It was definitely one of the things that when I read the script that made me go, "Wow, this is not a character that even a director or producer would think was a slam dunk for me."

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 from what is necessarily an image of me onscreen. I think that's why I found this such a fascinating experience, because it was like a breath of fresh air for me as opposed to going into work [concerned] 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.” 

But he said, “Nope. Kate has one coat and it's great.” 

So I said, “Fine.” 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. Nigella 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 Nigella Lawson wakes up like that?” He said, “No. I don't think so, sweetie.” 

Are you as driven and ambitious as this character is about her career? How do you do that and have a successful relationship? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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. I've always said that I’ve had “a healthy ambition,” I call it. 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. 

I always hate to say the word “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. [When I was] 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, or doing a movie here in New York. This movie, No Reservations, was great because our home is predominantly 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. 

The last movie I completed was during summer break and so [my kids] were with me all the time. It was Death Defying Acts. I played a psychic who guides Houdini. Gillian Armstrong directed. It was fabulous. We had a great time. 

But that's the only thing that I think is a balance and more of a struggle than it ever was before in my life. 

Is it easier to live in Bermuda? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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've 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. 

Are there drawbacks? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Of course there are drawbacks. I mean, socially we have a lot of friends in L.A. and a lot of friend 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 forty-five 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. 

Aaron, what about your life and career? 

Aaron Eckhart: I'm always trying to get both of them. When I have one I don't have the other. I don't distinguish between the two. I mean, they're just both very pleasurable. I'm single with a girlfriend and I can go to Romania if she's not available. 

Aaron, are you recognized everywhere you go now. Is it hard to find a private lifestyle? 

Aaron Eckhart: It's basically the same as [Abigail]. She's probably eclipsing me a little bit. 

Some actors swear off working with animals and children. How was it working with Abigail Breslin? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Just adorable inside and out, such a talented actress and very real young lady. She's not pretentious in any way. 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. 

Catherine, do you miss the stage and would ever return? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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. 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. 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 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. 

Aaron, will you ever go back to theater? 

Aaron Eckhart: I would. If there's a strike, I'm going to do theater. 

You've always seemed, Aaron, like a person who's loved acting, but never crazy about being a movie star. Here you are with this film, and Thank You For Smoking was one of the best-reviewed films of last year. So can you avoid being a star? Can you just act and say, “I don't want to go to that next step?” 

Aaron Eckhart: You could. I don't advise it. In this day and age it's so difficult to get a movie made. To be in the movies that you want to make, you have to, I think, come along with everyone else. I also feel that as you get older your tastes change. 

I was just talking to Gary Oldman about this. I said, “Gary, would you do Sid & Nancy again right now?” He said, “No. I wouldn't do it because I don't want to climb that mountain right now.” 

I think there are times in your life where you want to climb certain mountains. As I get older, I feel like I would rather make people laugh and feel good coming out of the theater. When people came out of Thank You For Smoking feeling good and smiling, [it] made such an impact on me. 

I'm so happy that this film is a family film that deals with issues of mourning, loss, love, food, happiness, laughter – everyone can go see the movie. I can't say enough about that. I'm so happy to be a part of that and I hope to be a part of it so much more. Whatever it is it doesn't matter. As long as it inspires people and makes them laugh and makes them feel good about themselves, then I'm in. I'm in. That's how it's changed my life. 

Did either of you see the German film Mostly Martha that this film is based on, and did it affect you? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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 put that aside and just know that that was a beautifully-created performance culturally in that world, and a completely different situation to where I was going to portray this character. I think 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. A guy who works with [Michael], who's not a film buff at all, [saw the DVD] and he 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 – queued 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 never saw it again. 

Aaron Eckhart: My character is so different. When you're making a film you're really focused on what you're doing that day. There were other issues to deal with such as chopping, sautéing, opera, love. Those things consumed me now, but it was a touchstone and we all loved the movie and referred to it. It's not something that you have to put away and can't mention. I think that Sandra [Nettlebeck, the director of the original] even came to the set one day. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: She did, yeah. 

Aaron Eckhart: So I think that they both stand on their own. 

Do you feel the same way about the version of Two-Face that you're doing in the next Batman film, The Dark Knight Returns, as opposed to the earlier version? 

Aaron Eckhart: Yeah. I feel that one is completely separate from the other. I don't feel like I have to do what Tommy Lee Jones did. I think that's not even something that I considered. It's not something that bothers me. 

What are you going to do to as Harvey Dent in Batman? Is he going to start out as the nice guy he is in the comics? 

Aaron Eckhart: There are people here who will put poison darts into me if I talk about Harvey. It's really incredible. Yeah, that's why I loved the script and wanted to do the movie. It's not even about how I'm perceived as an actor as much as what I want to do. I would like to just go to work and try to make people happy, as opposed to backstabbing someone or whatever. I found that very refreshing, [that] I felt like going to work on this film. 

A lot of times, I don't even like working. You sometimes just go there and you do your thing and you make some people laugh and you cook some food and it was a good day's work. Whether or not it will help to take off the edge, I don't know, because it seems like I can't get away from Chad [his signature nasty character from In The Company of Men] and things like that. But I do like playing romantic comedy roles, and have a lot of fun doing it. 

And after all this, have either of you gained a recipe for a successful relationship? 

Catherine Zeta-Jones: 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 to 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.

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#6 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#7 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#8 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#9 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#10 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.
#11 © 2007 David Lee. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 27, 2007.

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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 27, 2007.