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

DENNIS QUAID has jumped to the defence of his estranged wife MEG RYAN in the wake of tabloid reports that since leaving him for RUSSELL CROWE she has not been a good mother to their son Jack. "This is not a daytime soap opera, it's real life, and Meg and I are real people,'' he tells columnist Liz Smith. "The reason for our breakup will remain private, just as anyone out there wants their intimate life to be a private thing. But I won't stand for any criticism of Jack's mother.'' An angry Quaid went on: "This has been a very difficult time, especially as it has been so public. But Meg and I are on good terms. We are cooperating and have coordinated ourselves in regard to our son. We are involved parents and she is a great mom - loving, caring, nurturing. Anything else is a malicious lie.''

STEVEN SPIELBERG has backed out of his consultancy role on a television mini-series about Anne Frank after receiving letters from Frank family members asking him not to be involved. Instead the family has endorsed a feature film version of The Diary of Anne Frank which uses prose from her actual diary. "The vision of the project is to portray Anne not as a saintly child but a real girl who came of age during horrific circumstances,'' said Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler, who is producing the film. The television version, Anne Frank: The Whole Story, will still go ahead but without Spielberg's participation. It will be based on a biography by Melissa Muller, which chronicles the girl's life from birth to death. Spielberg became involved because of his activism in Holocaust issues.

BRAD PITT will be singing on a CD called Hollywood Wild. Pitt, along with other celebrity singer-musicians JOHNNY DEPP, RUSSELL CROWE, KEANU REEVES, BRUCE WILLIS and BILLY BOB THORNTON, are all contributing to the project, which will be in the stores early next year. All the proceeds will go to help the Los Angeles Wildlife Waystation animal sanctuary.

Having just finished filming his role as Anakin Skywalker in the next Star Wars movie, HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN is now negotiating to play a troubled teenager in a comedy-drama, Life as a House. The young Canadian actor will star with KEVIN KLINE and KIRSTIN SCOTT THOMAS, who are set to play his parents in a story about an alienated teenager who spends his time getting high, engaging in small-time prostitution anddodging his father.

MATTHEW PERRY blames his skinny look during the first episode of the newseason of Friends on his recent pancreatitis, an illness for which he spent time in hospital. "I was still healing. I couldn't eat more than chicken soup,'' he tells USWeekly magazine. "By the second episode, you can see I'm better.'' Perry, who entered a rehabilitation clinic in 1997 to cure an addiction to painkilllers, says the illness was a result of too much high living. "I've had my share of troubles with partying too much and going out too much,'' he says. "I really lived life to its fullest and that got me in trouble from time to time. But I'm back on my feet again and totally fine.''

JULIE ANDREWS has sung in public for the first time since throat surgery damaged her vocal chords nearly three years ago. The British singer-actress, who feared she would never be able to sing again, thrilled the audience at the New York show My Favourite Broadway: The Love Songs by singing a few bars of I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face. The audience stood and applauded as Andrews, who was only supposed to be hosting the event, stole the limelight from MICHAEL CRAWFORD, who was due to sing the song.

KEVIN SPACEY is at the centre of a race row over his latest film, Pay It Forward in which he plays a facially-scarred schoolteacher. African-Americans are protesting that in the book on which the film was based Spacey's character was black. "It's very sad that a novel that has been so well received had to change to colour of a major character for the film version,'' Tanya Kersey-Henly, the publisher of Black Talent News tells TV Guide. "It's a missed opportunity for a black actor. It's also a missed opportunity to portray a positive black male character who makes a contribution to our children.'' HALEY JOEL OSMENT and HELEN HUNT co-star with Spacey in the emotional drama.

As budget delays hold up filming of WILL SMITH's new movie Ali, based on the life of legendary boxing champ MUHAMMAD ALI, the actor's gruelling physical training for the role is bulking him up every day. Smith is working out for six hours each day, three hours with weights, three in the boxing ring. He has added so much muscle mass to his arms and chest that he's constantly having to buy new clothes. The actor's new appearance blew away his old Legend of Bagger Vance co-star CHARLIZE THERON. She couldn't believe her eyes when she ran into Smith wearing a short-sleeved shirt that displayed his huge pecs. "May I touch them?'' she squealed, and squeezed away to check for herself that they were real. "I'm 20lbs heavier than I was when she last saw me,'' laughed Smith, "and most of it's in my arms.'' Smith's muscles aren't the only thing that are expanding. He's also growing his hair long. "I haven't cut my hair since we finished shooting Bagger Vance,'' he says. "My Afro is about six inches long.''

British actor GARY OLDMAN is claiming that his latest film, political thriller The Contender, was turned into anti-Republican propaganda before its release to show the party in a bad light on the eve of the forthcoming American elections. The Contender, which is heavily tipped for an Oscar, follows the story of a female Democrat vice-president and the attempts of some Republican politicians to discredit her. Oldman, who plays a Republican, says the film was re-edited, making the Republicans more villainous, because of the political sympathies of the studio's owners, STEVEN SPIELBERG, JEFFREY KATZENBERG and DAVID GEFFEN, all Democrats. ROD LURIE, the film's director, says the claims are not true. He adds that he believes Oldman may be suffering from a type of Stockholm syndrome, in which kidnap victims "begin to sympathise with their captors, and in this case, the captors are the characters they play''.

A new stage musical based on the life of SAMMY DAVIS JR will make its debut in Las Vegas if composers QUINCY JONES and LESLIE BRICUSSE have their way. "We have a wonderful libretto and we've finished the songs,'' says Jones. "Now we're talking to directors. We'd like to open in Vegas first because we can do a bigger show there and Sammy, Sinatra and Dean Martin invented Las Vegas.''

MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY will be heading to England early next year to star with CHRISTIAN BALE in Reign of Fire, a Walt Disney film about fire-breathing dragons. McConaughey will play the head of an American militia that has come to England to battle the dragons. He joins forces with a young Briton, played by Bale, whose mother has been killed by the beast and together they try to destroy the queen dragon. The American actor is also toying with the idea of becoming a producer for a film based on the 1960s' criminal Murf the Surf, who spent his time between surfing and jewel robberies. McConaughey would also star in the project, called Wipeout.

Friends star MATTHEW PERRY is to play the world's laziest private detective in The Lazy Private Eye. In the action comedy he is hired to find a woman who turns out to be an ex-girlfriend who broke his heart. Perry, who is now in demand for feature films following his role in the hit The Whole Nine Yards, will film The Lazy Private Eye when Friends goes off the air for the summer.

ANNA NICOLE SMITH, who is still training hard to keep her weight down, was taken to hospital after she dropped a barbell on her arm. The injury has kept the model-actress out of a Texas courtroom where she is seeking additional money from the estate of her late husband, tycoon J Howard Marshall, who died in 1995 aged 90. Earlier this month she was awarded nearly 450 million dollars by a Los Angeles judge in a case involving her disputed inheritance from Marshall.

JOHN TRAVOLTA is undeterred at the scathing reviews and poor box office performance of the Scientology-inspired Battlefield: Earth and is planning a sequel. "The bottom line is I feel really good about it,'' he told interviewers. "I am so thrilled, believe it or not, at the outcome because I didn't believe I could get it done.'' Battlefield Earth was based on a book by Scientology founder L RON HUBBARD and starred Travolta as the leader of a race of aliens bent on dominating the world. Travolta also produced the film which was vilified by critics as "deeply dumb'' and "laughably bad''. Travolta says the film is now winning fans on the Internet. "I felt better about everything when GEORGE LUCAS and QUENTIN TARANTINO and a lot of people that I felt knew what they were doing saw it and thought it was a great piece of science fiction,'' he says. "The book stood for something classic and hopefully this will, too. My whole career has been based on trying something new. If I don't try something new, I worry.''

The underrated 1973 British horror film The Wicker Man is to be updated and remade by JOE BERLINGER, the director of Book of Shadows, the sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Berlinger says there will be roles in it for the original stars, CHRISTOPHER LEE and EDWARD WOODWARD, if they want them. "It is my favourite film of all time and it is a tragedy what happened to it,'' he said. "It was so badly edited hardly anyone saw it.'' He plans to Americanise the film, which centred on a police investigator, played by Woodward, hunting for a missing girl among a small island community off the coast of Scotland.

AL PACINO, VAL KILMER, NICOLAS CAGE and KEVIN SPACEY have all been mentioned as possible stars to play the role of CIA spy Aldrich Ames in the thriller Killer Spy. Based on PETER MAAS's 1995 book, Killer Spy is the real-life story of Ames, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1994 for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. He had been chief of counter-intelligence for the Soviet Bloc division of the CIA from 1983-1985. The film will be directed by PHILIP KAUFMAN, whose last project was directing Quills, with KATE WINSLET and MICHAEL CAINE.

Some of Hollywood's top names will be recruited for a remake of The Great Race, according to a studio source at Warner Bros, which is producing the project. The original 1965 film starred NATALIE WOOD, TONY CURTIS and JACK LEMMON, but the new version reportedly will mix live action stars with cartoon characters.

Martial arts star JACKIE CHAN is the hero of a new cartoon series for children which, he says, will be far less violent than old cartoons featuring the Road Runner. "In those cartoons somebody falls and gets hit. People and animals look like they get hurt and it looks violent,'' he says. The new show, Jackie Chan Adventures is, he says, "very safe for kids''. He adds: "We make a point not to make it ugly or violent. In the show I don't start fights. I defend myself. You don't see blood. I tell kids violence is no good.''

CHARLIE SHEEN, a self-confessed former client of Hollywood madam HEIDI FLEISS, has said he is no longer interested in prostitutes since he gave up drugs. He admits that he has still hired a few ladies of the night but, he tells Us Weekly magazine: "It was depressing... Take away the cocaine and all the desires and weirdness are depleted radically.'' Sheen, who has taken over from MICHAEL J FOX in the television series Spin City, says he still advocates paying for sex, however. "It satisfies an appetite,'' he said. "There's less emotional damage between the parties. It's been around for a long time.''

GEORGE CLOONEY fans couldn't believe their luck when they ran into their hero at an LA theatre earlier this week. Clooney had turned up at the glittering, celebrity-studded opening of feminist favourite play The Vagina Monologues. You may think this play isn't quite the macho Clooney's kind of thing, and you'd be right - but the play stars JULIANNA MARGULIES, Clooney's ER love interest and his close friend. Clooney had promised months ago to be there to cheer her on her opening night. After the show, Clooney was mobbed by autograph-hunters and fans as he tried to leave. But while other celebs jumped quickly into their limos and sped away, good-natured Clooney hung around chatting and signing and posing for pictures until the crowd thinned out. Then he strolled up the street to meet some of his friends for beer and pizza.

Pop princess CELINE DION's husband is her first and only lover, she reveals in her forthcoming memoir Celine Dion: My Story, My Dream. Writing of her romance with RENE ANGELIL, her husband and manager, who spotted Dion's singing talent and started training her for her career when she was only 13 and he was 39. Dion recalls that, years later, "I never dared tell him that I dreamed of him every night, that he would come to my bed to take me away to a desert island where we made love. "He told me, `If you really want to, I'll be the first. I answered him, `You'll be the first. And only.''' The couple are expecting their first baby at the beginning of next year.

WILL SMITH and writer-director MICHAEL MANN are to take cuts in pay to ensure that their film biography of MUHAMMAD ALI goes ahead. Smith has been training with Ali to get in shape to play the former heavyweight champion but Columbia Pictures last week threatened to scrap the project because it was getting too expensive. After meetings with studio executives, Mann, Smith and producer Jon Peters agreed to reduce their upfront fees, lower their share of foreign profits and cut pages and locations from the film's script. In addition they have agreed to pay for any costs that run over the 110 million (£72 million) budget. Columbia said in a statement: "We are pleased that we could successfully work with all involved to reach an understanding that will allow a great actor and a talented director to team up and tell the story of one of the best-known men in the world.''

The bombing that killed 17 people on the US Navy destroyer USS Cole, has forced the producers of KEVIN COSTNER'S latest film 13 Days to hurriedly change their advertising campaign. The film deals with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and the advertisements showed missiles showering down on landmarks such as the Hollywood Sign and the Statue of Liberty, with the words: "You'll never believe how close we came.'' They have been replaced with "more comforting'' advertisements featuring Costner, who plays White House adviser Kenny O'Donnell, with the actors who play John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. "The ads were not exploitative or violent but even the sight of a missile coming down on a US city now, considering word events, would not be right,'' said New Line Cinema spokesman Joe Nimziki.

ROBERT REDFORD and BRAD PITT have postponed their plans to fly to the Middle East this week to being filming their thriller Spy Game because of the current strife in Israel. The British director TONY SCOTT is attempting to switch the location from Israel to Morocco but filming, which was due to begin later this week, has been delayed. Spy Game is set in Beirut in the 1980s and Redford is to play a CIA agent who has to go in a rescue a protege, played by Pitt. Interior scenes will be shot at Shepperton Studios.

MEG RYAN has reportedly persuaded her boyfriend RUSSELL CROWE to turn down a 20 million offer to star opposite SHARON STONE in the sequel to Basic Instinct. "Meg knows a bit about on-set romances herself,'' the New York Post quotes a friend of Ryan's as saying. "I don't think she was wild about the idea of him playing really hot scenes with one of the sexiest women in movies today.''

JOHNNY DEPP and his girlfriend VANESSA PARADIS have left the Spanish location of director TERRY GILLIAM'S The Man Who Killed Don Quixote because of an injury to French actor JEAN ROCHEFORT. Rochefort, who plays Quixote, must undergo surgery for two slipped discs so the 20 million film, which stars Rochefort, Depp and Paradis, has been temporally halted. It is not clear when production will resume.

The British director ADRIAN LYNE who filmed the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction, is to make a follow-up film which looks at obsession from the woman's point of view. Fatal Attraction starred MICHAEL DOUGLAS as an unfaithful husband being pursued by his deranged ex-lover. In the new version, Unfaithful, DIANE LANE will play the adulterous wife stalked by her ex-lover and RICHARD GERE will play her husband. The film is based on French director CLAUDE CHABROL'S 1969 film, La Femme Infidel.

The producers of the hit television series The West Wing, which many see as a make-believe version of President Clinton's White House, have surprised Hollywood by hiring two former senior Republican aides. Marlin Fitzwater, who was press secretary to Presidents REAGAN and BUSH, and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, have joined the series as consultants. West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin denies he is hedging his bets on the outcome of next month's presidential election. "They were hired not so much for their Republicanness as for their wisdom,'' he tells the November issue of George magazine. The series's star, MARTIN SHEEN, who plays President Josiah Bartlet, hasbeen outspoken in his dislike of Republican presidential candidate GEORGE W BUSH, calling him "a bully''.

OLIVIA DUKAKIS is renewing her love for the London theatre scene by starring in the Royal Court production of Credible Witness which opens in January. "Theatre is part of everyone's life in London. It's not as expensive as it is in America and more people go,'' says Dukakis, who is currently in Canada filming Ladies and the Champ in which she plays an elderly lady who becomes a boxing trainer.

MATT DAMON had to learn to play golf well enough to portray someone who could play on equal terms with top golfers Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen in ROBERT REDFORD'S The Legend of Bagger Vance. "I had to learn from ground zero but in some ways it was actually better than if I'd played before,'' said Damon, who learned the game from top professional Tim Moss. "I didn't have any bad habits to break because I didn't have any habits, so it worked out well. Now I'm addicted to the game.'' Damon, who plays former amateur champion Rannulph Junuh in the Depression Era film, can now go around a golf course in less than 100 strokes but he still has some way to go before he can match his director. Redford has a handicap of six and co-star WILL SMITH, who plays the mysterious caddie Bagger Vance, is a 12 handicapper.

JONATHAN DEMME wants as his star in a dark romantic comedy called Intolerable Cruelty. Grant would team with TEA LEONI in the story of a revenge-seeking gold-digger who marries a womanising Beverly Hills lawyer with the intention of making a fortune in a divorce. Demme, who won his Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs, was to have filmed a remake of the 1963 thriller To Catch a Thief with WILL SMITH in the starring role, but he has had to postpone it because Smith will be busy filming the MUHAMMAD ALI story, Ali into early next year.

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