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ShowBiz Weekly: news from the UK & US...

Screenwriter NORA EPHRON is hurriedly making changes to the script for the comedy America's Sweethearts, which stars JULIA ROBERTS and CATHERINE ZETA-JONES and is due to begin filming in January. Sources say she is enlarging Zeta-Jones' role as Roberts' sister to take advantage of the vast public exposure the Welsh actress is receiving through her wedding to MICHAEL DOUGLAS and her role in Traffic. In addition the part originally intended for ROBERT DOWNEY JR is being rewritten as Downey, who has once again been arrested on drugs charges, is being replaced.

ADAM SANDLER, whose most recent film Little Nicky was an unexpected box-office flop, is turning to the past for his next role. The comic actor will star in a new version of the 1936 comedy, Mr Deeds Goes to Town. The story, about a small-town poet who inherits a fortune and sets out to give it all away to needy people, is being updated for Sandler and will probably have a new title.

Model-turned actress ANGIE EVERHART has stepped in at the last minute for actor JAMES CAAN as the star of a new action-adventure television series called Undercover Blues. The script was hurriedly reworked to accommodate Everhart, the former girlfriend of SYLVESTER STALLONE, after Caan backed out three days before shooting was due to begin in Las Vegas. The original story, of what was to be a father-daughter undercover crime-busting story, with former Baywatch babe BROOKE BURNS playing Caan's daughter, is now a show featuring undercover sisters.

British actor ALFRED MOLINA was forced to eat more chocolate than was good for him during the filming of Chocolat. ``I was sick as a pig,'' says Molina, who indulges in a major chocolate orgy in his role as the mayor who also runs the church in the picturesque French village where the story is set. The best-selling book by Joanne Harris features a priest as the villain opposing the woman, played by JULIETTE BINOCHE, who opens a magical chocolate shop. But says Molina: ``Changing the priest into a nobleman allowed the film to develop as more of a comic fable and romantic story.''

ROBERT DOWNEY JR had been using drugs for at least six weeks before his arrest on November 25 in Palm Springs, California, according to People Magazine. The magazine quotes a source as saying Downey ``has been getting loaded on and off''. The source told People that during a weekend visit with his son two weeks before his arrest, the actor left seven-year-old Indio at home with an assistant to go to buy drugs in the middle of the night. As a result, People says, Downey's estranged wife, DEBBIE FALCONER, no longer lets him see their son.

Singer-actress JANET JACKSON has sold her home in the Bel-Air neighbourhood of Los Angeles for nearly £7 million. Jackson, who separated from her video director husband RENE ELIZONDO JR early last year, never felt comfortable in the five-bedroom, 9,000 square-foot house which she thought was too big for her, according to her friends. Jackson, 34, the youngest member of the nine children in the Jackson musical family, will not buy another house at the moment, said an acquaintance, adding: ``She'll probably wait until her divorce is final.''

JOHNNY DEPP decided to follow in BRAD PITT's footsteps and make the character he plays in Chocolat an Irish gypsy. Pitt is receiving praise from US critics for his portrayal of Mickey the gypsy in Snatch. ``I didn't know until the first day of shooting whether the director - LASSE HALLSTROM - would accept it or not,'' said Depp, who stars in the film with JULIETTE BINOCHE, LENA OLIN and JUDI DENCH. Depp, who also plays his guitar in the film, has studied the plight of gypsies in Europe and, he says, ``they got the most raw deal of anyone - like Native Americans in the US.''

HELEN MIRREN turned to her husband, director TAYLOR HACKFORD, for help in making her directing debut on the film Happy Birthday. The British actress says she consulted Hackford, whose latest film is Proof of Life with RUSSELL CROWE and MEG RYAN, on every aspect of filming, from costs to looping. ``Luckily he was busy, so he wasn't too present,'' she says. ``He just gave me hints, here and there.'' Happy Birthday stars JOHN GOODMAN, BEVERLY D'ANGELO and DAVID HYDE PIERCE. Now that it is finished Mirren and Hackford are taking their first holiday in six years and, she says, they intend to spend a few weeks doing nothing in the Virgin Islands.

SEAN PENN will play a disabled man with the mind of a seven-year-old in Sam, in which MICHELLE PFEIFFER is negotiating to co-star. Pfeiffer would play a lawyer who represents him in his bid to regain custody of his young daughter, who has been taken from him by social workers. Both Penn and Pfeiffer worked together briefly last year when they played themselves in SPIKE JONZE's Being John Malkovich.

MATT DAMON made a cameo appearance in the new SEAN CONNERY film Finding Forrester after being asked to do so by the director GUS VAN SANT. ``Any time Gus says, `Jump,' I say, `How high?''' says Damon, who was directed by Van Sant in Good Will Hunting. ``It is great to even have just one day with Gus. We are always looking to do something together again.'' Damon is in Paris filming The Bourne Identity, for which he was trained for three months in martial arts, boxing and weapons handling. He plays a bullet-ridden amnesiac who is washed ashore unwittingly carrying top-secret information.

MILLA JOVOVICH, who recently finished filming MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM's Western The Claim, will work with another British director for her next project. She will play Alice the Zombie Killer in Resident Evil, a film to be directed by PAUL ANDERSON and based on the popular video game. Anderson is co-producing and has also written the script for Resident Evil which centres on a special military unit that must combat scientists who have mutated into flesh-eating creatures because of a laboratory accident.

SEAN BEAN, who has played memorable villain roles in Patriot Games and Goldeneye will once again be on the wrong side of the law when he co-stars with MICHAEL DOUGLAS in Don't Say A Word. Bean will play the mastermind of a robbery gone awry who can only get the loot if he can force a psychiatrist - played by Douglas - to unlock the mind of a near-catatonic patient. Filming begins in January in New York and Toronto, which means more time away form home for Bean, who recently finished filming his role of Boromir in The Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand.

The tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is to be given a new look in a big-budget action drama to be film by the Pearl Harbour team of producer JERRY BRUCKHEIMER and director MICHAEL BAY. Written by Gladiator screenwriter DAVID FRANZONI, the project is a closely guarded secret but sources say it will differ greatly from previous Hollywood treatments of the story. It will reportedly look at the politics of the period during which Arthur ruled, when the Roman empire collapsed and skirmishes over power broke out in outlying countries. No casting has yet been announced.

ALEX KINGSTON believes Dr Elizabeth Corday, the character she plays in the hit TV series ER, will soon be getting married. The British actress, whose real-life pregnancy has been written into the script, tells USA Today: ``I think they're going to make an honest woman out of Corday.'' However, in the series Dr Corday's fiance, Dr Mark Greene - played by ANTHONY EDWARDS - has cancer, which may postpone a trip down the aisle for her.

ANJELICA HUSTON, whose father John Huston directed the 1964 drama Night of the Iguana is reportedly interested in taking a role in the remake, which is due to begin filming soon. JEREMY IRONS has the role originally played by RICHARD BURTON and Huston could take either the part played by AVA GARDNER or DEBORAH KERR. Based on the play by TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, the story of an alcoholic ex-clergyman involved with two women will be filmed on the same stretch of Mexican coastline where John Huston filmed the original. C

ATHERINE ZETA-JONES uses her normal speaking voice and Welsh accent for the first time on screen in director Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. ``It was very liberating for me because I'd never had a chance to do that,'' says the actress, who portrays the pampered wife of a drug smuggler. ``I usually have to hide my real accent but Steven was adamant that he wanted it to be just the way I speak normally.'' The character she plays, Helena Ayala, has no particular nationality. ``She's not an American and the feeling is that she is a woman who came to the United States, fell in love and never left,'' she says.

The British television mini-series Trust is being turned into a feature film that will star CATHERINE ZETA-JONES. The film is described as a sexy thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction, which starred the Welsh actress's husband MICHAEL DOUGLAS. She will play a lawyer who discovers that her psychiatrist husband is having a torrid affair with one of his patients. The setting will be moved from London to New York. ``It's a hugely commercial premise with a great role for Catherine, as well as a terrific role for the husband and his best friend,'' said Lyndon Jones, Zeta-Jones's brother, who will produce the film with his sister. Zeta-Jones is currently starring in another film based on a British mini-series, Traffic, in which she plays the wife of a drugs baron.

RUSSELL CROWE will have to age from 25 to 72 for his next role, as the schizophrenic mathematics genius JOHN FORBES NASH JR, who in 1994 was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics. Although filming does not begin until March Crowe is already attending lectures on mathematics in an attempt to understand the character. ``It's way beyond me at the moment but I've been focusing on it for a month already and it will come slowly, I hope,'' he says.

ANGELA LANSBURY has dropped out of starring in the long-planned Broadway musical The Visit because she wants to stay at home to care for her husband, Peter Shaw. The British-born actress says that Shaw, who underwent heart surgery for the second time this summer and is now fitted with a defibrillator, finds it hard to get around. ``I stay close to home now. I can't deal with being away from him,'' she said.

ROBERT REDFORD, who played a convict in the 1980 prison drama Brubaker, is going back behind bars for his next project, The Castle. He will play a five-star general who is convicted of a capital crime and sent to the military's maximum security prison where he turns the convict population into his own 1,200-man army. MARK WAHLBERG is negotiating to co-star with him.

MARY TYLER MOORE, who was once known as America's Sweetheart, will undergo a change of image for her next role as the real-life con woman and killer Sante Kimes. Kimes and her son Kenneth were recently sentenced to prison terms of 100-plus years in the sensational murder case of New York millionairess Irene Silverman. The made-for-TV film, The Mother, the Son...and the Socialite is due to begin filming in Australia in late January. Kimes conspired with her son to murder Silverman to get their hands on her fortune and went on to pose as the 82-year-old woman. Ever wonder what kind of pay packets some of your favourite Hollywood stars are taking home these days?

TOM HANKS, soon to be seen in The Castaway is averaging earnings of 71.5 million dollars per year. Chat show queen OPRAH WINFREY is raking in 150 million dollars annually from her TV and film entertainment empire. CELINE DION earns 55.5 million dollars a year, while JULIA ROBERTS has seen her price per movie rocket to 20 million dollars with the success of Erin Brokovitch, and netted 50 million dollars in 1999. And new dad WILL SMITH can buy plenty of baby clothes with his last year's earnings, which totalled 34 million dollars.

MICHAEL MYERS is putting aside Austin Powers to star as the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the remake of The Pink Panther which IVAN REITMAN is in talks to direct. Myers is a long-time fan of PETER SELLERS, who starred in the original Pink Panther series and was reportedly reluctant to step into his idol's shoes. But sources say a recent meeting with Reitman, a fellow Canadian, was so successful that the duo agreed to work together on the project, which Myers is likely to co-write. The Pink Panther followed the misadventures of the inspector as he hunted for a notorious jewel thief known as the Phantom. Subsequent films included A Shot in the Dark and Revenge of the Pink Panther.

The rapper ICE-T, who recorded the controversial song Cop Killer in 1992, knows why he was invited to join KEVIN COSTNER, KURT RUSSELL and HOWIE LONG in the upcoming film 3,000 Miles to Graceland. ``They needed somebody to come in at the end of the movie and whack a bunch of cops. Who else you gonna call?'' the rapper is telling interviewers. He says he was allowed to do all his own stunts for the fight scenes because he studied martial arts for 12 years. ``I get real nasty,'' he says. ``I have a fight scene with martial arts, knives and guns. I'm hitting, stabbing and shooting simultaneously. It's real crazy.''

SHIRLEY MACLAINE, who is known for her unconventional spiritual views, claims she contacted directors both living and dead for help while making her directing debut with Bruno. The film, which also stars KATHY BATES, GARY SINISE and JENNIFER TILLY, is about a schoolboy who wears dresses and is inspired by dreamlike visits with angels. ``It's about triumphing with your own individuality which is sort of what I've been devoting my life to,'' says MacLaine, 66, who plays Bruno's grandmother in the film. ``Maybe I saw myself in Bruno.'' Among the living directors from whom she sought assistance are CLINT EASTWOOD and BARBRA STREISAND, both of whom have experience in directing themselves.

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON has joined the cast of Planet of the Apes, the TIM BURTON-directed film inspired by the 1968 classic science-fiction film which starred CHARLTON HESTON. He will play a warrior who leads a human revolt against the oppressive ape regime. The films stars MARK WAHLBERG, ESTELLA WARREN, TIM ROTH and HELENA BONHAM CARTER. When filming is finished Kristofferson will move straight on to co-star with WESLEY SNIPES in Blade 2 despite the fact his character died violently in the first film.

The Scottish actor ADRIAN PAUL, who has spent six years playing an immortal hero in the television series Highlander, will next be hunting intergalactic fugitives in a new series. Paul will play an intergalactic bounty hunter sent to earth after a jailbreak he inadvertently prompted sent a swarm of convicts to the planet. ``Adrian already has a core audience we can build on,'' producer KEVIN BEGGS tells Daily Variety. ``He's got the eye candy appeal that will make women stop and tune in and he's got the action appeal that men want.''

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