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

BRITNEY SPEARS has just signed on for her first movie before meeting her idol MADONNA in May to discuss a joint music project. The as yet untitled film tells the story of three childhood friends whose lives take very different paths. Spears plays the brainy, virtuous girl next door, while the other characters are a cheerleader and a drop-out. The trio take a summer holiday road trip and meet a musician who persuades them to enter a talent contest. Although insiders say the film will not be a musical, they confirm Spears will be singing in the picture.

Movie heart-throb MEL GIBSON and Hong Kong's martial arts superstar JET LI are to join forces after their explosive encounter in Lethal Weapon 4. The duo will star in a new TV series, and are heading for the studio to shoot a two-hour pilot for the show they're calling Invincible. This fantasy story pits the forces of good against evil, represented by Halo Warriors and Shadow Men. There will also be a Merlin-like magician and magical stones. Gibson and Li are meeting in Sydney next week to assemble their TV team and scout locations.

Martial arts legend JACKIE CHAN wants to make some changes in his career before it breaks him. Performing his own death-defying movie stunts has taken its toll on his body of broken bones and sprained muscles. Chan thinks he's got at most another five years of pushing himself to the limit in his action-packed career. ``Then I'm going to make Jackie Chan cartoons,'' he says. ``A cartoon goes on forever and I don't hurt myself.''

BRENDAN FRASER is moving away from the comedies that helped make his name like George of the Jungle, Blast From the Past and Bedazzled. Now the actor is heading for Vietnam and Australia to shoot a drama, The Quiet American, an adaptation of Graham Greene's famous novel. It will co-star MICHAEL CAINE as an opium-addicted British cynic opposite Fraser's idealistic and naive character. There's more good news for the millions of fans who discovered Fraser in the light-hearted adventure tale The Mummy. He will appear in the sequel The Mummy Returns, which opens late this summer, and is bound for the UK, where he will star in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in London's West End in August.

ANTHONY HOPKINS is heading from Silence of the Lambs to Black Sheep. The Oscar-winning actor has agreed to star opposite CHRIS ROCK in a new film project called Black Sheep for Disney. Hopkins will play a CIA agent working on a top secret mission with a Harvard-educated agent - Rock's identical twin brother. When the twin is murdered by enemy agents, streetwise Rock is called in to finish the job.

Word is finally out in Hollywood about NICOLE KIDMAN's long-kept secret addiction. The auburn-haired actress, who has been shooting Moulin Rouge in France and The Others in Spain, is absolutely hooked on bangers and mash. Now she and husband TOM CRUISE are back in Los Angeles, where she can be found in its most famous English pub, The King's Head, eating her favourite food. The actress admits: ``It's wonderful! When Tom and I were in London filming Eyes Wide Shut, we fell in love with the whole country. But I think I'm one of the only people who thinks England has the best food in the world!'' After she has finished filming Panic Room, her next role is in The Hours - and Kidman should be delighted. This movie adaptation of Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is being shot in England.

TOM HANKS's magnetic performance in Cast Away as a systems engineer marooned on a remote tropical island did not come without its tribulations. The double Oscar-winner feasted on fatty food so his weight ballooned for the portrayal of his character before a plane crash consigns him to solitude. Then he shed four stone in an austere regime to complete his transformation from a chubby 16st to a rugged, sinewy recluse. He let his hair become matted and a huge beard grow to become a modern-day Robinson Crusoe fighting for day-to-day survival. But the four months of relentless fitness training and careful eating began to take its toll on Hanks, who said: ``I wish I could have just eaten a pill and lost all the weight.'' Yet the rigours and discipline seem to have paid off as the film, directed by ROBERT ZEMECKIS, has stormed to the top of the US box office charts. Rumours are rife that girl band All Saints are splitting up amid bitter squabbles and festering acrimony. Lawyers were believed to be meeting to discuss what musical future lies ahead for the foursome if they go their separate ways. Headline-grabbing sisters Natalie and NICOLE APPLETON are expected to form a duo, while songwriter SHAZNAY LEWIS and MELANIE BLATT would go solo. With the band's next single, All Hooked Up, out next Monday and a UK tour due to begin in May, it could prove a messy split for the girls. Their street-wise look and sassy tunes have scored them five number one hits in three years, but a shadow has fallen over the quartet after a series of recent public rows.

Teen sensation BRITNEY SPEARS may have caught the eye with five slinky costume changes at American Music awards but she failed to win any gongs. As co-host of the LA ceremony with rapper LL COOL J she raised temperatures with a mini-skirt and crop top but the voters remained unmoved. Her two nominations bore no fruit, while her 'N Sync boyfriend JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE scooped an internet award with his band. But the main winners came from the field of country, with FAITH HILL collecting an awards hat-trick and husband TIM McGRAW taking a fourth for the couple.

resh from his four nominations in the US Grammy Awards, controversial rapper EMINEM is now in the running for six British music prizes. The US star, notorious for his expletive-ridden and violent lyrics, won double the nominations of his closest rivals in this year's NME Carling Awards. Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, has been shortlisted in the categories for best album, best single, best solo artist, best hip hop act, hero and villain of the year. British rock bands Radiohead, Coldplay and Oasis have been nominated in three categories.

CATHERINE ZETA JONES's latest Oscar-tipped movie Traffic has taken more than 10 million dollars in its opening weekend in the United States. The film, for which the 31-year-old actress has been nominated for a golden Globe, has accelerated to number three in the US movie charts. Traffic, which stars the Welsh actress's husband MICHAEL DOUGLAS, took 9.9 million dollars over the weekend - well behind chart-topper Cast Away's 16 million dollars.

LA Confidential star GUY PEARCE may have had less of a meteoric career rise than fellow Australian RUSSELL CROWE, but his star is also in the ascendancy. First known to British audiences for his role as Mike in Neighbours, Pearce then starred as a drag queen in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and more recently in Rules of Engagement. Now he has been cast in a new comedy called Blood & Guts. Pearce, who is shooting a new version of HG Wells's The Time Machine, will say only that Blood & Guts is a comedy so dark ``it's jet black''.

When GEORGE CLOONEY left ER, the show's heart-throb replacement, Croatian actor GORAN VISNJIC, raised the pulse rates of fans all over the world. He's proved such a success that he is now starring in a new movie opposite British actress TILDA SWINTON. The Deep End is a thriller in which a mother accidentally kills her gay son's lover and hides the body to cover up the crime. Visnjic plays one of two men who then begin blackmailing her, but he soon falls for Swinton's character. The film is making its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival this spring and should be in British cinemas at the end of the year.

Sopranos star JAMES GANDOLFINI will not rest on his laurels when the show takes a break from shooting its third season in March. He's heading straight back in front of the cameras as ROBERT REDFORD's co-star in the big-budget drama The Castle. Gandolfini will play a maximum security prison warden who squares off against the man he served under in the army, a five-star general played by Redford, now an inmate in Gandolfini's wing.

Oasis star NOEL GALLAGHER has been hit by a £10 million divorce deal from his wife MEG MATHEWS, according to reports. Meg, mother of the couple's baby daughter, Anais, wants 7 million in cash as well as their £1.5 million properties in Ibiza and London. She plans to take Noel to the High Court if he refuses to meet her demands, and has reportedly threatened to reveal details of their three-year marriage. The couple, who split last September, had signed a pre-nuptial agreement which gave Meg £100,000 if they divorced. Just before Christmas Noel, 33, offered her a £3 million settlement, which she rejected. Multi-million dollar film epic Alexander the Great is inching closer to the cameras, with production due to start this summer.

British actor JUDE LAW is one of the frontrunners for the role of the Persian conqueror. 2001: A STAR-STUDDED ODYSSEY Star power in 2001 looks set to propel a number of the new releases into box-office stratosphere after cinema's fairly average showing last year. Many major names have a movie coming out this year and some have two or more.

BRAD PITT will be seen in The Mexican with JULIA ROBERTS, the star-studded Ocean's Eleven remake and America's Sweethearts with CATHERINE ZETA-JONES.

NICOLAS CAGE appears in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, based on the book by Louis de Bernieres, as well as Second World War film Windtalkers. Oscar-winning JACK NICOLSON features in The Pledge, a crime thriller directed by MADONNA's ex-husband SEAN PENN. Meanwhile, TOM CRUISE stars in romance flick Vanilla Sky, BEN AFFLECK in Second World War epic Pearl Harbor, BRENDAN FRASER in The Mummy Returns and MERYL STREEP in the dark comedy Adaptations.

MICHAEL DOUGLAS is smitten with his new bride CATHERINE ZETA-JONES, but his father has already been expressing fidelity concerns to friends. Hollywood legend KIRK DOUGLAS says he's worried the marriage could be jeopardised because his son's eye has wandered in the past. Douglas senior, 84, confided: ``Michael's crazy about Catherine and the baby, but he's just not the faithful type. ``If they're apart on location, I'm afraid Michael might give into temptation just as he has before.''

SANDRA BULLOCK thought she was treating her Miss Congeniality co-stars when she took them out dining and dancing after a hard day's filming. But going boldly into uncharted territory proved too much for former Star Trek actor WILLIAM SHATNER. ``It was a heavy metal club,'' says the horrified Shatner, who plays a beauty pageant organiser in the film. ``There was no melody or lyrics that you could understand, and you couldn't talk.''

Friends of MEG RYAN are concerned her infatuation with new love RUSSELL CROWE may cost her custody of her son Jack. Australian star Crowe flatly refuses to live in LA and is trying to persuade Ryan to move to his antipodean home. But actor DENNIS QUAID, father of eight-year-old Jack, swears he'll go to court to prevent Ryan from taking Jack out of the country. All Hollywood knows Ryan adores her son - and is wondering which love will triumph if she has to choose.

Comedian JIM CARREY seems to be dogged by misfortune lately. His film Me, Myself & Irene bombed at the box office, then his relationship with co-star RENEE ZELLWEGGER fell apart. Now the star is smarting from the news that his offer to host this year's Oscar ceremony has been turned down in favour of actor STEVE MARTIN.

THE CORRS are staging a fundraising concert in the city where their mother died 14 months ago. The successful Irish family band returns to Newcastle upon Tyne for the first time since her death in November 1999 to play a one-off charity concert. Jean Corr, 57, was awaiting a lung transplant operation at the Freeman Hospital when she died. Her children - Andrea, Caroline, Sharon and Jim - have made Monday night's show an extra date in their current UK tour. It is expected to raise around £100,000 for the hospital.

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