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Zeta Jones getting richer by the minute; HOLLYWOOD: pounds 54m nine-film deal puts star at top end of Tinseltown earners tree.

Byline: KAREN PRICE Arts and Media Correspondent

WHEN she first arrived in Hollywood Catherine Zeta Jones was little more than an unknown.

Her initial attempts to make a name for herself across the Atlantic were far from a success - her first screen role in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles led to disappointing reviews.

Then just when it seemed that stardom had turned a blind eye she achieved her big break in the 1998 movie The Mask of Zorro.

Now four years later, she is one of the world's most bankable stars.

Her new pounds 54m nine-film deal makes her Britain's highest-paid actress by far.

In America, she is now competing with the likes of Julia Roberts, who headed the Hollywood hot list a year ago when her last five films grossed more than pounds 69m each in the US.

At the time, Roberts, who won an Oscar for her role in Erin Brockovich and starred with Zeta Jones in America's Sweethearts, was the first woman to gain admission to the socalled $20m (pounds 13.8m) club of Hollywood's highest-paid stars.

But Zeta Jones's new deal, which works out at pounds 6m for each project, means that she will not be far behind.

Among the other high-earners in Hollywood are Charlie's Angel's actress Cameron Diaz, who will reportedly bank $20m for the sequel to the film, and When Harry Met Sally star Meg Ryan, who is already on the exclusive high-earners' list.

Zeta Jones is not the only British actress making big money in America. Earlier this month, it was reported that Jane Leeves had signed a pounds 20m contract for three new series of the US sitcom Frasier in which she stars as Daphne Moon.

When she signed on the dotted line, it made her the highest-paid British actress in history ? but Zeta Jones's new package is worth more than double that amount.

Leeves, who started her TV career on The Benny Hill Show, will earn more than pounds 275,000 for each 30minute episode of Frasier.

Among the male stars with the most earning power in Hollywood are Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, John Travolta and Brad Pitt.

As she grew up in Swansea, Zeta Jones could never have imagined the success she has come to realise.

She was catapulted to stardom at the age of 22 when she won the role of Mariette in the TV series The Darling Buds of May.

But she failed to capitalise on the success, and although she was regarded as the new golden girl of the small screen she failed to take the film world by storm.

It was not until she moved to America that she eventually got her big break.

Hollywood director Steven Spielburg spotted her in the mini-series Titanic and decided to cast her alongside Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro.

Since then she has appeared in a number of successful films, including Traffic, Entrapment and America's Sweethearts and is now a multi-millionaire in her own right.

It so happens she is also married to Michael Douglas, one of Hollywood's richest men.

Point

CATHERINE Zeta Jones is set to star in and produce a film about a gay Welsh rugby coach.

Coming Out is among the projects which are part of her new pounds 54m ninefilm deal.

The package will see her working alongside some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Richard Gere, George Clooney and Russell Crowe.

Her plans include playing sexy Velma Kelly in the big screen version of the musical Chicago alongside the established Gere.

Zeta Jones will team up with George Clooney for the black comedy Intolerable Cruelty in which she will play a gold digger and she will star alongside Crowe in Greekfire, the story of the love affair between Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas.

She will also team up with her husband Michael Douglas in the courtroom movie Smoke and Mirrors and play Elizabeth Taylor in Monty, a film about tortured movie star Montgomery Clift.

CAPTION(S):

ALL THAT GLITTERS: With her new multi-million-pound film deal Zeta Jones will be in no hurry to do panto at the Swansea Grand TOP EARNER: Julia Roberts EXCLUSIVE: Meg Ryan SEQUEL: Cameron Diaz CONTRACT: Jane Leeves
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 16, 2002
Words:703
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