Perched on a settee in the lobby of the Parker New York hotel, near Central Park, Carys Zeta Douglas certainly looks the part of celebrity daughter, in a lipstick-red Realisation Par dress, black suede ankle boots, and delicate gold jewelry. She’s all dark eyelashes and long limbs, daintily sipping English breakfast tea as she talks about where she wants to travel (Bali), her dream prom date (Timothée Chalamet), and why she prefers a bound book to an e-book (“I like to mess it up and mark it”). She mentions her ardor for Häagen-Dazs, which, judging from her attenuate frame, it’s hard to imagine she ever, ever eats. “I’m picky about chocolate ice cream,” she says. “It can’t be too dark, can’t be too creamy."
All typical topics for a 15-year-old, but Carys Zeta Douglas is anything but typical. The third generation in a family of show business royalty—her parents are Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones—she has already captured the attention of the press after two fashion week appearances, one at Michael Kors, the other at Dolce & Gabbana, both in the company of her glamorous mother.
Zeta Douglas wears a Dior dress, Tabitha Simmons shoes, Tiffany Paper Flowers necklaces and bracelet.
Working the step-and-repeat like a pro, she exuded the air of a young Emmy Rossum, delivering a well-placed pouty face here, a shy schoolgirl smile there, all of it documented by the fashion press. Was there a new It girl in the making?
Patrick McMullan, the society photographer who has been chronicling It girls for generations, thinks perhaps there was. Modern It girldom, he says, requires intuitive style, being new on the scene, raw physical beauty, a growing social media throng (Carys has 54,000 Instagram followers and counting), appearances at the “right places,” and a novel name (“How many Tinsleys do you know?”).
“Now, when you add, ‘Oh, it’s the daughter of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones,’” McMullan says, “it’s like, ‘This girl could be going places.’ She has the credentials.”
When I was younger I didn’t like the idea of having this name attached to me, this kind of "Douglas dynasty" stuff.
And the strength of her sartorial convictions. “Fashion has been so important in my life, because my mom is like a fashion icon to me,” Carys says. “I’m always looking through her closet.” Asked if there’s something she covets above all, she laughs. “She has this one thing, and it’s absolutely crazy. It’s this pink kimonoey coat, but it has this fur and these fringes. It’s just so cool.”
“She has her own individual style,” Zeta-Jones says. “She’s modern but age-appropriate. I’ve never had to turn to Carys and say, ‘I think that’s a little inappropriate.’ Once she said, ‘Mom, I really like this romper.’ I went, ‘Mmm, but don’t you think it’s cut a little too long? Shouldn’t it be shorter?’ She went, ‘Mom, you’re the only mother in the world that would tell a 15-year-old girl that the romper should be shorter.’”
In an age of Kardashians and vulgar television housewives, Carys possesses something rare in someone so young: a sense of restraint—the art of not showing one’s cards, of leaving you wondering what’s going on behind those luminous brown eyes. “She has a mysteriousness about her,” her mother admits. “But she’s still a teenager.”
Carys spent her early years in sunny Bermuda, a paradise far removed from the madness of Hollywood. "I thought my dad was a pancake maker," she says. "I didn't know he was an actor. Honestly."
When the family moved to Manhattan it was jarring, as the serenity of the island gave way to paparazzi. “I hated it,” Carys says. “I used to get really upset. They would jump on the subway and sit right in front of me. I was, like, six. I was confused. That’s when I knew, ‘If this is going to be what it’s like, I need to focus on who I really am, and this is going to be something that’s just going to happen, and I can’t do anything about it.’”
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Carys Zeta Douglas at a Michael Kors show last fall.
Was she really reciting a kind of serenity prayer to herself at age six? To those around her, it’s believable. “She’s incredibly smart,”says her best friend, 16-year-old Maelani Groff. “You would never know she has famous parents. It isn’t the kind of thing she talks about. She doesn’t carry herself that way. She’s thoughtful.”
Her poise is the result of a loving yet punctilious upbringing by parents determined that their fame and its accompanying perks were not going to mollycoddle their two children. (Carys’s brother Dylan, 18, is a freshman at Brown.) “My parents do a really good job of reality-checking me and being like, ‘Look around you. The life you have is extraordinary,’” she says.
“What I instilled in my kids, and I’m very, very proud of it, is manners,” Zeta-Jones says. “There’s nothing worse than a privileged kid without manners. I drilled it into them like boot camp. The teenage years... She knows she cannot roll her eyes at me, or huff and puff around me. I never did it to my mother, and she’s not doing it to me.”
There’s nothing worse than a privileged kid without manners. I drilled it into them like boot camp. —Catherine Zeta-Jones
Michael Douglas is now 73, Zeta-Jones 48. While Carys has long been used to snide remarks about her father’s age (“People would be like, ‘Your grandpa’s here to pick you up’”), she confesses she was caught off guard by her first brush with tabloid culture, which came when she walked into a drugstore a few years ago and saw a headline declaring that Douglas’s cancer, which had been in remission, had returned.
“There’s this picture of my dad and it’s like, Michael Douglas Cancer Again, Dying In a Month. I just started crying. I was like, ‘Why didn’t my parents tell me this?!’ Only it wasn’t true. People just always want a story to tell.”
Zeta-Jones (who is currently filming a dark comedy series for Facebook about a beauty pageant coach, called Queen America) was recently quoted as saying, “One thing I’m not is humble anymore. I’m sick of being humble. I really am. ‘So sorry I’m rich, so sorry I’m married to a movie star, so sorry I’m not-so-bad-looking.’ No sorrys. Enough.”
Her point was that, as the daughter of working-class folk in Wales, she earned what she has. “My husband and I and my father-in-law live, and our family lives, in a world where you are going to be scrutinized,” she says. “It’s all out in the open, the good and the bad. Our kids know before anything comes out. We discuss what’s going on.”
Carys and her father, Michael Douglas.
For Carys, tuning out such noise means tuning into her interests, which include, predictably, acting (she has been in school productions of Tommy and Spring Awakening, and she played the lead in Once on This Island) and music (she plays the piano—well). She dreams of an Ivy League education and ponders being a doctor. But her real passion is for the profession that made stars of her Oscar-winning parents and her grandfather Kirk Douglas.
Carys Zeta Douglas in a Ralph Lauren Collection dress and Harry Winston necklace.
“When I was younger I didn’t like the idea of having this name attached to me, this kind of ‘Douglas dynasty’ stuff,” she says, taking a casual sip of her tea.
“I think what bothers me the most is that people think I don’t work hard for it, that I don’t need to work hard for it. That anything I do gets handed to me. When, honestly, I feel like it’s the opposite. I feel I need to constantly prove myself to people—that I am not just my parents’ daughter.”
And, really, how many 15-year-olds authoritatively discuss Italian cinematography or read biographies of the maharaja of Jaipur? Carys does, all while building toward becoming a presence in her own right. But she’s in no hurry. Apart from attending the occasional fashion show and movie premiere, she is content—for now—to remain the girl longing for her mother’s pink kimono coat with the fur and the fringes, madly scribbling in the margins of books.
Photographs by Victor Demarchelier
Styled by Nicoletta Santoro
Hair by Ben Skervin for Oribe at the Wall Group. Makeup by Alice Lane at the Wall Group. Manicure by Gina Viviano for Zoya. Tailoring by Yasmine Oezelli at Lars Nord. Floral arrangements by Designs by Ahn. Produced by Nathalie Akiya at Kranky Produktions. Location courtesy 27 Charlton Street, New York City.
This story appears in the September 2018 issue of Town & Country.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.