MIPCOM: Catherine Zeta-Jones Talks Lifetime's 'Cocaine Godmother,' Rise of TV

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Catherine Zeta-Jones

"The world has got smaller and the quality has got better, so we’re along on this fantastic creative roller-coaster," said the Oscar winner about her return to the small screen.

Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones is making her return to the small screen with the Lifetime movie Cocaine Godmother, a role the actress had been longing to play for years.

The star said Tuesday at MIPCOM that the story of the Miami drug lord was not a typical “Catherine Zeta-Jones role, whatever that is.” It is the story of a woman who is not a traditional mother or wife. Zeta-Jones also found nothing personally similar in the character of the infamous drug lord, which was a challenge.

“Griselda spans so many emotions and so many layers, but she has no redeemable qualities. This woman was as ruthless as powerful as dangerous as any man in this very dark world,” the actress said, comparing her to Pablo Escobar, who gave money to the poor: “She didn’t even have that. She was greedy.”

Zeta-Jones came to find that ruthlessness admirable, and said playing such a character "brought out a sick, dark sense of humor that I’ve been hiding all my life." She added: “That she is a woman in this world makes it even more interesting for me.”

The Oscar winner lamented the dearth of mid-budget films as Hollywood is dominated by the polar opposites of “hand-held camera” films and $200 million blockbusters. “The true human stories are becoming rare in movie theaters,” and television has taken up that space, she said, with actresses like Nicole Kidman flocking to the small screen.

While it’s not unusual now for A-list actors to do small-screen projects, executives said the TV movie marks a relaunch of sorts for the Lifetime brand.

“I think it is a new starting point working with [Zeta-Jones], because it creates a plateau that matches up with the industry trends, and so many more stories can be told in different kinds of formats going forward,” said Patrick Vien, A+E executive managing director, international.

The global marketplace has evolved from producing American television and selling it abroad to telling more localized stories. “The marketplace has evolved,” said Vien. “But that in no way negates the power of Hollywood, so we are really living in a hybrid world today where companies like ourselves can make films for truly global audiences. Going back a few years, that was less true.” He added: “Mining IP, mining inspiration for stories, whether scripted or factual, no longer has any boundaries whatsoever."

As the Lifetime brand evolves, the network will seek out more passion projects from actors, like the way it connected with Zeta-Jones.

“Moving forward, we can keep going out into the community and asking women what is the story you want to tell, what is the character you want to play, and we are an unbelievable platform to make that happen,” said senior vp Lifetime movies Tanya Lopez. “As the world becomes smaller we have more connective tissue; we can tell stories to women and to audiences all around the world. It’s not as much that we’re shifting as that the world is shifting and we have to evolve as a brand as we talk about how women are evolving.”

Added Zeta-Jones, who said she had recently spoken with Kidman about the shift in television projects: “The world has got smaller and the quality has got better, so we’re along on this fantastic creative roller-coaster.”