Catherine Zeta-Jones fought against Darling Buds of May fame: ‘People have the wrong idea’

 was determined to shed the good girl image that playing Mariette Larkin had given her, but found herself in the middle of media frenzy. The budding actress has since admitted that the fame was overwhelming at first, especially as she didn’t have the funds to cope with it. 

Zeta-Jones’s monumental rise to fame happened almost overnight with her role in the successful nineties ITV series Darling Buds of May based on the HE Bates novels. 

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The show, situated in the Fifties, broke records as one of the only new series to receive top ratings from its pilot episode, instantly making the cast who weren’t already bona fide stars household names. 

The Swansea-born Zeta-Jones earned her role alongside Only Fools and Horses star David Jason, but soon found herself getting national recognition which largely assumed her personality was similar to that of her character. 

reported that in 2004 Zeta-Jones revealed: “Literally, with one hour of television my life completely changed. I couldn’t go anywhere.”

The fresh-faced actress seemingly couldn’t escape her character as she started being classed as “unlucky in love”, with workplace friendships often being misconstrued into relationships in the public eye. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones

The actress admitted that if the Darling Buds of May series came back she would not reprise her role (Image: GETTY)

Darling Buds of May

Darling Buds of May starred some British icons and earned Zeta-Jones national recognition overnight (Image: GETTY)

On one occasion, Zeta-Jones claimed she had to swerve her car into a lamppost while she was trying to escape the paparazzi. 

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It wasn’t just the constant attention that unnerved the upcoming actress, as she told in 2021: “I didn’t have the finances to protect myself or to have any privacy. I never went on the Tube anymore or the bus. Walking out of my house on the streets of London, I’d get barraged.

“Be careful what you wish for. I craved a break like that. And, when it came, it was really terrifying.”

Zeta-Jones discovered she was entirely sick of constantly being in the public eye and in 1996 moved to Los Angeles where she was still an unknown actress. 

In an attempt to rewrite her own narrative in the press this time, Zeta-Jones gave a bombshell interview with the Daily Mirror in 1997 declaring: “I drink, I swear, I like sex. People have the wrong idea.”

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas

Starring in The Mask of Zorro alongside Antonio Banderas catapulted the actress into global stardom (Image: GETTY)

The interview also saw Zeta-Jones admitting she had turned down some roles as they were too similar to Mariette, saying “there’s a limit” to what actors can do with a character like that. 

The star was no less successful in America, and quickly earned herself a global following but this time for far raunchier roles than the timid Larkin that had given her a start in the industry. 

In 1998 she starred as Elena de la Vega in The Mask of Zorro, alongside Hollywood heavyweights Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins.

The star reportedly received the role on the recommendation of cinematic legend Steven Spielberg in 1996 after he saw her performance in a miniseries following passengers on the Titanic. 

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While promoting the film at a French film festival, Zeta-Jones bumped into acclaimed actor . 

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Douglas at the time was a well-known star for his roles in blockbuster hits like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, and was 25 years older than Zeta-Jones. 

The duo soon discovered they had a lot in common, even sharing the same birthday September 25, and attempted to keep their relationship quiet at first.

The Traffic stars got married in 2000 and have been one of the most steadfast couples in Hollywood ever since. 

Around the same time as her marriage, Zeta-Jones was bombarded with awards for her 2002 role as villainous Velma Kelly in the movie musical Chicago, which has since become one of her most notable roles. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas

The Mask of Zorro brought more than just fame, Zeta-Jones met her husband while promoting the film (Image: GETTY)

The Welsh actress was now an established Hollywood star and borderline sex symbol for her Chicago role despite being a few months pregnant with her second child when it was filmed.

Regardless of her qualms with the show that catapulted her to stardom, Zeta-Jones admitted in 2016 that she would enjoy doing a remake of Darling Buds of May, but would opt for a different character this time. 

She told Yahoo Movies she would prefer to take the role of Ma Larkin, added: “We were stupid really when we did the Darling Buds of May because we had these eight books and we did the whole books – all of them – in one season.

“We didn’t know it was going to be successful, we didn’t know we could push them out. But yeah, absolutely, redo it. Any good stuff should be redone.”

The Mask of Zorro, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, aired on Channel 5 on October 2.

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