From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Actress

Even though she's a true Traffic-stopper, the female star of this year's Oscar-winning blockbuster has bad hair days, says she worries about middle-age spread and, for inspiration, still tears pictures out of magazines and sticks them on her mirror. One concern that never enters her mind, however, is the notion that her perfect features might ever stand in her way. "Well, I may be the first actress to admit that beauty doesn't hold you back," she says with refreshing candor. "I think beauty is a gift that you have to make the most of. I've worked hard at trying to look my best."

Her best is something else again. Since she slashed her way to stardom in 1998's The Mask of Zorro, the 31-year-old native of Swansea, Wales, has become the most breathtaking screen siren of the day. Her riveting presence harks back to a time of curvy goddesses like Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Zeta-Jones's favorite, Rita Hayworth. "Catherine is the movie star," says Joe Roth, who directs her (and Julia Roberts) in the upcoming romantic comedy America's Sweethearts. "Her glamor transcends time." Adds talk show host Larry King, who has a cameo opposite Zeta-Jones in Sweethearts: "She improves a room."

That wasn't always so, Zeta-Jones insists. She says that her business executive father, Dai, and homemaker mother, Pat, told her she was "beautiful even when I wasn't." In grammar school, she says, "I was teased because I had a really flat-looking nose, and before I got braces, my teeth used to stick out a bit." She also recalls a "home perm so bad that kids in school couldn't see the blackboard because my hair was so big" and an experience with "hideous, false nails that I peeled off, which ruined my real nails for months."

To keep her allure these days, the 5'8" Zeta-Jones stays on the case. To remain fit and healthy, she plays golf with her husband, Michael Douglas, 56, father of the couple's 9-month-old son Dylan, and takes a vitamin supplement called Berocca, which is popular in Great Britain. But the actress draws the line at three-hour gym sessions. "That's too much," she says. Nevertheless, "she's an athlete," says friend Pat Riley, the former Knicks coach who is now leading the Miami Heat. "She did her own sword stunts in Zorro, and she holds her own on the golf course."

Zeta-Jones believes in giving nature a helping hand. "I am a complete makeup fiend," admits the actress, who sends packages of her favorite products on ahead of her when she travels. "I buy any cosmetics that any professional uses on me because I think they're fantastic." She also sings the praises of night moisturizer. "Sometimes I look like a seal," she says with a laugh, "because I'm so lathered in the stuff." When it is time to take off the war paint, though, Zeta-Jones watches her pennies: "I'm very frugal about makeup removers. I buy the cheapest one, and it works for me."

No matter what she's using, her husband finds her charm most intoxicating beneath the skin. "Catherine's beauty," says Douglas, "is her sense of fun and joy in life." Zeta-Jones is fine with that. What would she like to change about herself? "Nothing," she says. "I've got what I've got, and that's it."