Hollywood may be the world capital when it comes to gossip, but it is usually about which celebrities are having affairs, babies, meltdowns or getting divorced.
But when Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Sheen met for the first time, the pair turned that on its head by swapping stories about all the ordinary folk they both know back in South Wales.
The pair grew up in the same corner of the country, have mutual friends and their parents know one another – but they had never come across each other until last year while filming American crime drama Prodigal Son.
Catherine says: “We spent a lot of time going, ‘Did you hear about… Jones?’ ‘No, how is she?’ ‘She’s got two kids’ ‘Never.’”
The two actors had plenty to catch up on and quickly made up for lost time – leaving the rest of the cast and crew in New York baffled as they gossiped about friends, discussed rugby and told old school jokes in their Welsh accents.
Catherine, 51, says: “We are literally like brother and sister from different parents, we’re that close.
“I don’t know why that never happened. My parents know Michael Sheen’s parents, Michael Sheen has met my parents. Half my friends are Michael Sheen’s friends but never the twain had crossed.
“We’re the same age, don’t tell anyone. Where we come from is like a pimple on the map of the world. I could throw my ball to the end of the village.
“Talk about connected by blood and country and culture. When they’d say, ‘Cut’ we’d go into the strongest Welsh accent that we ever have. We’d like revert back to when we were in school, telling silly jokes.
“We’d break out of our characters and go back to, ‘Did you see Wales won the rugby on Sunday? Did you watch?’
“You can’t be Welsh without being a rugby fan, right? The world stops when the rugby is on, we have that in common.
“But we just know so many people, in our Welsh theatre, acting community, that he went to drama school with, when I was in London those people used to stay at my house on the weekends. So it’s six degrees of separation.
“It was everything I thought it would be. Like I’d known him all my life.”
Michael, 52, lived in Port Talbot and went to the local primary school, while Catherine was raised in Swansea – where she was sent to the private Dumbarton House School.
Although from a similar modest background as Michael’s parents, Catherine’s family fortunes improved after they won £100,000 in a bingo competition, allowing them to pay for her dance and ballet lessons.
She says: “I went away to London so young and I was schooled with a tutor and a chaperone going to the West End.
“And then I came back and he was in the Dylan Thomas Contemporary Dance and the Dylan Thomas Theatre. Dylan Thomas is from my home town, too. I wasn’t in Dylan Thomas theatre as a young actor because I was in like three different amateur dramatics groups.”
Catherine joins the Prodigal Son in its second series, which starts on Sky One next month, as resident medical doctor of Claremont Psychiatric Hospital. Michael plays serial killer Martin Whitly – nicknamed The Surgeon – who is serving life. Catherine admits she was a fan of the first series.
But she adds: “I only watched because I wanted to see what Michael Sheen was doing as I always love watching him.
“I’ve watched actors of all generations, even ones that are not with us anymore, and gone, ‘Oh I’d like to have worked with him’. Michael was one of those.”
Catherine, who has two children, Dylan and Carys, with actor husband Michael Douglas, adds: “I love Prodigal Son because I kind of gravitate to the darker side of human nature, I just do.
“I genuinely love family dramas. It’s those families that are completely dysfunctional which makes your dysfunctional family not so bad.” Having dreamed of West End success since she started acting aged nine, Catherine got her big acting break aged 17 when she was promoted from second understudy to the lead role in the hit musical 42nd Street.
But it was her first major TV role, in the 1991 comedy drama The Darling Buds of May, that made her a household name.
She says: “After I did my television show in Britain, I wanted to give America a shot.”
Catherine went on to star in a series of films which were deemed flops, including Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. But she refused to be put off, despite only having been granted just six months on her US visa. She recalls: “I went back home, but I kept looking at this visa going tick tock. I didn’t have a boyfriend.
“So I sold my house, my car, and I gave it a go. I was really well known at the time in Britain but at US castings they’d ask me what I’d done.
“As opposed to going, ‘Really? Well, if I got off a plane in Britain there would be paparazzi everywhere’, I took it as a very humbling new beginning, new me, nobody knows me, I can be whoever I want, kind of moment.”
It took two years before Catherine, then 29, landed the role that would propel her into the Hollywood A-list, in the Mask of Zorro alongside Antonio Banderas.
Other hit movies followed, including Chicago with Renee Zellweger, which earned her an Oscar and BAFTA for best supporting actress.
Despite her success, Catherine admits she’s more insecure today than when she started out. She adds: “I have a vulnerability that I hardly show.
“To overcome that I try to throw myself into things and take fearless moves and not be whipped up in the failure of it all, which seems to get progressively worse as an actor as you get older.
“When I was young, it wasn’t as if I didn’t care what people thought, it was just a fearlessness of walking into a room or getting onto a stage.
“Personally, it seems the more you do and the more you get renowned or known the more you go, ‘Argh!’ And I feel like, ‘Ooh, what do they expect?’
“So like any actor, we all have our insecurities.” Prodigal Son was filmed in lockdown, which brought its own challenges for the actors.
Catherine says: “As actors when they’re setting up a shot we kind of sit behind like our version of the water cooler and bitch and chat and talk and gossip. I miss that because we all have to kind of go back to our own little rabbit hole whilst we wait for the crew to do their job and then we do our job.”