Zeta-Jones in New York City in late 2009. Photo: Bruce Glikas, FilmMagic.com

"To be pretty alone does not cut it," says Catherine Zeta-Jones.

In fact, if she were just a pretty face, she would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime: Her breakout role in "The Mask of Zorro."

"When I went to the Zorro screen test, I won't mention exactly who was there, but there were six beautiful women," the raven-haired stunner admitted to StyleList in an exclusive interview.

"I remember saying to my mother 'If this is a beauty contest, I'm not getting this job -- I'm not!'"

"My confidence made me feel much more beautiful, and that contributed to me getting a job that changed my life considerably," she says of nabbing the role of Elena in the 1998 movie, which put her in the international spotlight.

"But really, if it were a beauty contest I wouldn't have gotten it," she laughs.

One of her tricks? Red lipstick.

It's seen Zeta-Jones through the biggest moments of her professional life -- the premiere of "The Mask of Zorro," and the 2003 Academy Awards, where she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in "Chicago," wowing the crowd with a dazzling burlesque performance while eight months pregnant.

And it's red lipstick that brought the 40-year-old actress to New York City's Essex House Hotel recently, to discuss Elizabeth Arden's new Red Door Red Lipstick, created to commemorate the company's 100th anniversary and benefit Look Good, Feel Better, a charitable organization that strives to improve the self esteem of individuals with cancer.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in red lipstick at the 2003 Academy Awards (left), and the 1998 "Mask of Zorro" premiere (right). Photos: Getty Images

"What does a lipstick do to empower you?," asks Zeta-Jones. "It uplifts you. If you look good, you feel good. You have a confidence, and if you don't, you can regain it"

The sheer, tomato-tone Red Door Red Lipstick was created to honor Elizabeth Arden's legacy in the beauty business; founding her eponymous company in 1910, she created jobs for women at time when there weren't many, while empowering women to discover their voice -- Arden handed out crimson lipsticks during the suffragette movement, when women painted their pouts red as a symbol of defiance.

Zeta-Jones -- who along with husband Michael Douglas and their two children Dylan and Carys, recently moved from Bermuda to New York City while she headlines the Broadway show "A Little Night Music," and he films the sequel to "Wall Street" -- understands red lipstick, and the symbolic role it plays in the complex relationship between a woman's beauty and her confidence.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas in 2009; Zeta-Jones with children Carys and Dylan backstage at "Shrek the Musical." Photo: Getty Images

A self-described "makeup and lotion" girl, Zeta-Jones has turned her fascination with beauty into a sideline career, signing on as spokesperson for Elizabeth Arden in 2002. Not surprisingly, just playing a pretty face wasn't enough for Zeta-Jones, and she quickly became a shareholder in the company, which gives her a deciding vote on the final products, and brings out her inner lab geek.

"I'm much more hands on than maybe other spokeswomen are for beauty companies, she says. "I get to see all the prototypes; I feel empowered when I get these little products with no packaging, and I get to test it first. "At the lab, the guy comes in glasses and a white coat, and I sign a document of confidentiality."

Zeta Jones tries many of the big launches first, and gives feedback on the formulas for the company to tweak before putting a product on the market. "I'm very happy that my bosses at Arden listen," says Zeta-Jones. "The relationship over the years has been a collaboration."

"For me as a spokesperson, it important," she says. "People say 'C'mon, Catherine, you have to say it's great.' But I know it's great."

Zeta-Jones even takes a role in developing new products. "This mineral bronzer was created for me actually, she says, picking up Elizabeth Arden's new Pure Finish Mineral Bronzing Powder. "Because I love the glow you have in the morning, and wanted something to add to it."

Three of Zeta-Jones' favorite products, Elizabeth Arden Prevage, Eight Hour Cream, and Pure Finish Mineral Bronzing Powder. Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Arden

And like any beauty lover, Zeta-Jones has her arsenal; the most important weapon happens to be one of Elizabeth Arden's oldest products, Eight Hour Cream (though when asked to choose her desert island product, she wavered between that and Prevage, the company's star anti-aging serum.)

Zeta-Jones touts it as a cure-all, especially with tough-to-treat eczema.

"My son has eczema – which is actually doing well right now as it seems to come in cycles – and I had it as a kid too. My mother would put Eight Hour Cream on me; I used to get it in the joints," she says, pointing to the crook of her elbow and behind her ears. "The smell is so reminiscent of my childhood – it brings me back."

Zeta-Jones in 1990, with a Fame-inspired perm. Photo: Getty Images

The cream, which Zeta-Jones tells us, was originally created by Arden for the hooves of her horses, is also great for cuts, and as a lip balm. "When my kids graze their skin, I put on antiseptic first and make sure it's all cleaned up, and then the recovery process is a big blob of 8 Hour Cream," she says.

But like every women, Zeta-Jones has her share of beauty regrets. Her biggest? The 80s perm. "I wanted to look like Coco in Fame," Zeta-Jones confesses. "Being a dancer, I was in leotards all the time and thought I would look better if my hair was big."

But Zeta-Jones lost her curls and found her beauty footing, establishing herself as Hollywood glamour icon in the late 1990s, culminating in her role as Velma Kelly in Chicago, which was her favorite beauty moment. "I love the period," she says. "I got to do the whole showgirl makeup thing -- a high glamour that we don't see a lot of anymore."

Which is yet another reason Zeta-Jones is enamored with Elizabeth Arden's Red Door Red Lipstick.

"Red lipstick says glamour, and it's my idea of true movie stars -- the type that comes from my father in law's world," she says, referring to husband Michael Douglas' father Kirk. "The images, the billboards, and the beautiful Hollywood portraits with the red lips."

"And I'm not scared of it, especially this one, which is for a fantastic cause."

Which doesn't surprise us one bit.