What can money and power get you in Hollywood? Apparently, more money, more power and a choice of any role you desire. Just ask Julia Roberts.
The actress, recently anointed by Forbes magazine as the most powerful person in Hollywood, next will be seen playing against type in the legal drama "Erin Brockovich" (opening wide Friday).
By "against type," we're not referring to the cool $20 mil Roberts reportedly banked for playing a secretary name of Erin. What we mean is simply that this particular film is outside of the actress' area of specialty (or marketability) -- the romantic comedy.
Based on a true story and directed by seasoned stylist Steven Soderbergh ("Out of Sight"), Roberts plays a small-town paralegal who spearheads a lawsuit against a utility company she says is polluting the water. (But not to worry. Just because Roberts is playing a working-class, twice-divorced woman with kids does not mean that she'll look like one in the film.)
Her real-folks turn has generated a strong word of mouth -- even some way early Oscar 2001 buzz.
And just in case the film doesn't work out, there's always romantic comedy to fall back on.
Other key new releases this week:
-- Being added to the pile of post-"Scream" kiddies horror flicks is the new kiddies horror flick "Final Destination" (opening wide Friday). Even though the film doesn't feature an illusive bloodthirsty slasher, it does pose a really grim question: Can one escape the fate of death? The film marks the directing debut of "X-Files" producer James Wong and stars teenyboppers such as Devon Sawa ("Idle Hands") and Kerr Smith ("Dawson's Creek").
-- On the art-house front, there's a batch of new stuff, including: "The Carriers Are Waiting" (opening Wednesday in New York only), "The Lifestyle" (opening Thursday in New York only), "Baby Mother" (opening Friday in selected cities), "Beyond the Mat" (opening Friday in selected cities) and "Soft Fruit" (opening Friday in New York only).
Dolly Parton as Mae West? You were thinking of someone else?
ABC is developing a made-for-TV movie about the legendary buxom blonde Mae West specifically with the country-singer/actress Parton in mind, but it has not been confirmed on whether Parton has agreed to the project. Parton would certainly fit the bill as the seductive and sexually charged West, whose tremendous comic timing was unmatched in her time. West made nine films before her death in 1980.
Parton, whose acting career has stalled since her memorable turns in films such as Nine to Five (1980) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas(1982), could look at this role as a comeback of sorts.
A "GUEST" IN THE HOUSE : Tara Reid (American Pie) is in negotiations to join co-star Ashton Kutcher (That's '70's Show) in Dimension Film's The Guest. Production is slated to start mid-April in Vancouver.
Reid will play Kutcher's paramour, who also happens to be his boss's daughter. This proves to be troublesome for Kutcher's character when he is asked to house-sit the boss's house and can't get rid of an array of uninvited guests.
Reid was last seen in Dr. T and the Women and will be in the upcoming Josie and Pussycats opening April 11.
TAKE A ROMANTIC "WALK": Pop singer Mandy Moore and Shane West (ABC's Once and Again) are in talks to star in Warner Bros.' romantic feature A Walk to Remember, directed by Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner).
The story revolves around a restless high school student (West) who falls in love with a young woman (Moore) whom he and his friends once shunned before learning that she is dying. It is based on a 1999 Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name.
Moore will be making her acting debut in the upcoming Disney feature The Princess Diaries, while West can be seen the recent feature release Get Over It.
HAVE A "MIND" FOR MATH: Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan) will join co-stars Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in director Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind for Universal Pictures. Principal photography is scheduled to start March 26 in New York.
Based on a true story, the plot follows schizophrenic mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jr. (Crowe), from his days at Princeton to his Nobel Prize-winning success. Goldberg will play Nash's colleague and fellow Princeton alumni, from the ages 24-70.
Goldberg has just completed the thriller Salton Sea with Val Kilmer and All Over the Guy for director Julie Davis.
James Franco is climbing up in the world.
The "Whatever It Takes" actor is in final talks to join Tobey Maguire in the much-hyped "Spider-Man" feature, Columbia Pictures says today.
In the Sam Raimi big-screen adaptation, Franco would play Harry Osborn, the high school pal and college roommate of Peter Parker, aka Spidey.
Franco is currently shooting the thriller "City By the Sea" with Robert De Niro and has just wrapped the TNT tube-pic "James Dean," wherein he plays the titular rebel.
GOING MOO: The Hollywood Reporter says that Cuba Gooding Jr. and Judi Dench will lend their voices to the Disney animated feature "Sweating Bullets" about a group of cows fighting to save their farm. Sarah Jessica Parker and Ja'Net DuBois have already signed on to do their cow duties, with actor Randy Quaid possibly joining them.
GUILTY AS CHARGED: "The Thin Red Line" and "Frequency" honey James Caviezel will play opposite Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman in the thriller "High Crimes," the Reporter says. The story is about a lawyer (Judd) in charge of defending her hubby (Caviezel) accused of war crimes.
'NATIONAL' TREASURE: Is it a zany comedy in the making or what? Daily Variety says that "Big Daddy" helmer Dennis Dugan and "Happy, Texas" whacky guy Steve Zahn are both in talks to join Martin Lawrence in the comedy "National Security." The film is said to be a mismatched buddy film wherein a white cop is wrongly charged with beating a black man. We're sure it'll be a lot funnier on film.
'VIEW' FINDER: The Reporter says that Kelly Preston will join Gwyneth Paltrow in the comedy "A View From the Top." Preston will play a fellow flight attendant in a story about the rise to fame of an international flight attendant (Paltrow).
'WORD' UP: If TV doesn't work out, there's always the movies. Oliver Platt, whose tube series "Deadline" was just recently pulled by NBC, is closed to signing on to the thriller "Don't Say a Word," Variety says. Platt would co-star with Michael Douglas in the story about a New York shrink (Douglas) whose daughter is kidnapped.
'MIND' AND BODY: "Requiem for a Dream" breakthrough Jennifer Connelly is in talks to star in "Beautiful Mind" with Russell Crowe. According to the Reporter, the story follows the true life of John Forbes Nash Jr., a Nobel Prize winner who suffers from schizophrenia. If all goes well, Connelly would play his wife.
'OCEAN' IN MOTION: Two more down for the count. The Reporter says that Casey Affleck and Scott Caan will join the ensemble cast of the Rat Pack remake "Ocean's Eleven" as Mormon brothers enlisted to pull off a mega Vegas heist. Already on board are George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Alan Arkin.
Can audiences expect a Ron Howard/Tom Cruise reunion? Maybe. Daily Variety reports today that Howard is in negotiations to helm the adaptation of "A Beautiful Mind," a biography on Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash Jr. who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
Howard has just finished directing Jim Carrey in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and, if all goes well, will start shooting "A Beautiful Mind" at the end of the year.
The question is whether Cruise, who worked with Howard in "Far and Away," will commit to the project, as well. He's said to be interested in playing Nash.
COLUMBINE REVISITED? Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst will turn movie director in "Runt," a story that follows an ostracized high schooler who takes arms against his rivals. The pro-skateboarder-turned-music mogul will be mentored by director David Fincher ("Seven," "Fight Club") for his feature debut.
BRIT INVASION: Hugh Grant and Colin Firth have confirmed their participation in "Bridget Jones’ Diary" as romantic rivals vying for the attention of Renee Zellweger. The film is slated to go into production this month.
They are some of the most-asked questions at donut shops around the world: (1) Who will go home with Oscar?; (2) What new and probing insights will the most important social commentators of our time, Joan and Melissa Rivers, have to say about the nominees' clothes? (3) Why is a babe like Catherine Zeta-Jones hanging around with that old guy? And, (4) What is Ricky Martin's sexual orientation, and how does it affect us?
Ricky Martin At least some of those questions -- and more -- will be answered this week on TV. And just so you don't have to sit through all of it just to find out about the really important stuff, here's a handy little guide:
-- Live from the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium, it's the 72nd Annual Academy Awards (8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST, Sunday, ABC)! In case you haven't heard of this show, it's kind of like the Golden Globes. What to watch for? How will Robin Williams perform the expletive-laden Best Song nominee "Blame Canada" (from "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut")? Our prediction? We predict that we will go to a party and drink too much champagne so we won't notice how incredibly long this show is.
-- The annual Oscar night "Barbara Walters Special" (7 p.m. EST; immediately after the Academy Awards on the West Coast, Sunday, ABC) looks to be a good one this year. Interviewees Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are expecting, Mike Myers is a very funny man and Ricky Martin actually requested that Walters bring up the much-talked-about issue of "Is he or isn't he?" Our prediction? We will still be at a party drinking champagne and will probably get pretty upset at the whole Catherine Zeta-Jones issue because we really think we would have had a chance if it weren't for Michael Douglas.
-- If it's wacky Oscar-related commentary you're looking for, check out E!'s live pre-show coverage starting at 6 p.m. EST/3 p.m. PST, and featuring the ever-catty Joan and Melissa Rivers standing outside the Shrine and judging people by their covers like mean-spirited high school cheerleaders. Joan looks absolutely fabulous, by the way. Also on Oscar night, ABC unspools the "Politically Incorrect After-Party" at 12:05 a.m. EST/PST. Host Bill Maher will surely have a few choice words to say about some of the goings-on at the ceremony. Our prediction? We will have come to our senses, wished the Douglas family well and cried ourselves to sleep by this time.
-- Jennifer Love Hewitt is quite charming in the title role of "The Audrey Hepburn Story" (8 p.m. EST/PST, Monday, ABC). The made-for-TV movie is as light and breezy as its subject always seemed to be. Nothing groundbreaking or shocking here, but it's always so easy to like Audrey Hepburn, and this movie keeps the feeling going. All in all, not a bad night in front of the tube.
-- ABC has another mid-season replacement worth checking out when "Wonderland" premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. EST/PST. Created by actor Peter Berg, formerly Dr. Billy Kronk on CBS' "Chicago Hope," "Wonderland" is a brooding drama that's just a little different from the more-familiar police precincts and emergency rooms we're so used to seeing on TV. Martin Donovan and Michelle Forbes head a strong ensemble cast as husband and wife doctors in a New York City hospital's psychiatric ward. Our prediction? The show has drawn a tough slot, opposite NBC's "ER," but there might just be room for this one.
It's amazing how one hit pop song and an electronic gizmo that makes your voice sound like a robot can lead to global domination.
Forbes magazine released its annual "Celebrity 100" list Thursday, power-ranking the world's greatest actors, entertainers, athletes, authors and other notables according to how much moola they made last year and how much media attention they received making said moola. Most of the names in the Top 10 were no-brainers, given their recent successes: Julia Roberts is the world's No. 1 omnipotent celeb (with estimated 1999 earnings of $50 million), followed by people like George Lucas (No. 2 -- $400 mil), Oprah Winfrey (No. 3 -- $150 mil), Tom Hanks (No. 4 -- $71.5 mil), golfer Tiger Woods (No. 7 -- $47 mil) and Steven Spielberg (No. 10 -- $60 mil).
But then there's No. 9. One word: Cher.
According to the magazine, Cher only made a measly $40 million last year (peanuts compared to Lucas' league-leading $400 million haul). Cher's take presumably came from sales of her chart-topping "Believe" album, and from copies of her terribly thoughtful book, "The First Time," in which she observed that Jackie Kennedy was better looking than Mamie Eisenhower.
Perhaps based on the power of such ideas, Cher's Forbes "power rank" was higher than that of Spielberg, Bruce Willis (No. 11 --$54.5 mil), Jim Carrey (No. 19 -- $45.5 mil) and Tom Cruise (No. 20 -- $27 mil).
Although Cher's 1999 earnings were less than those of other celebs in the Top 10, Cher's rank was bolstered by the number of Web site hits, press clips, magazine covers and TV/radio stories she generated. All this from a woman whom Sonny Bono once said was so stupid, she thought the moon was the backside of the sun.
Here are some other notable story lines to emerge from the Forbes list:
BOY POWER: While most members of the "Celebrity 100" are well past puberty, the Backstreet Boys are representin' the teen crowd (even if they aren't exactly teens anymore themselves) at No. 8, with 1999 earnings of $60 million.
THE POWER OF THE PRINTED WORD: Most of the celebrities named by Forbes are of the short-attention-span variety (i.e., TV stars, music stars, movie stars and athletes). But lest you think that America doesn't read anymore, think again. Bestselling authors making the list include Stephen King (No. 14 -- $65 mil), John Grisham (No. 21 -- $36 mil), "Harry Potter" creator J.K. Rowling (No. 25), Dean Koontz (No. 53 -- $34 mil) and poet Maya Angelou (No. 81 -- $3.3 mil). Then again, most of these guys, save for Angelou, are makin' the big bucks off film rights.
WHO? So, we know who Michael Jordan (No. 5 -- $40 mil) and Harrison Ford (No. 15 -- $46.5 mil) are, but who the heck are Anna Kournikova (No. 58 -- $11 mil), Gerald Cassidy (No. 69 -- $18 mil), The Rock (No. 83 -- $3 mil), Reed Hundt (No. 89 -- $2 mil), Edgerrin James (No. 75 -- $15 mil), Jean-George Vongerichten (No. 91 -- $3 mil) and Jim Romenesko (No. 96 -- $60,000)? Answers: A tennis player, an artist, a pro wrestler, an ex-chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, a football running back, a chef and a Web site guy. (But we cheated and looked 'em up.)
FLASH IN THE POWER PAN? Somebody tell "Mambo No. 5" guy Lou Bega (No. 87) to savor the moment. He's not likely to be included in this list ever again. Of course, with a $6 million haul on the strength of one novelty hit, does he really need to be?
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE PHOTOGENIC: These days, you can become a powerful celebrity even if you've got a face for radio -- or the Internet. That helps explain the lofty rankings of the likes of Howard Stern (No. 30 -- $18 mil), Rush Limbaugh (No. 40 -- $22 mil), Dr. Laura Schlessinger (No. 70 -- $13 mil), Dr. Joy Brown (No. 90 -- $2 mil) and Internet movie-rumor guru Harry Knowles (No. 95, with an estimated 1999 income of a whopping $100,000).
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Taking a year off, quitting your hit sitcom or breaking up the band isn't healthy for your power ranking. Three celebrities who made the Forbes Top 10 just one year ago fell entirely off the 2000 edition of the "Celebrity 100" list. Notable MIAs include: Leonardo DiCaprio (No. 3 in 1999 with $37 million in earnings); Jerry Seinfeld (No. 4 in 1999, with $267 million); and ex-supergroup Spice Girls (No. 6 in 1999 with $49 million).
FORGOTTEN, BUT NOT GONE: Will someone please tell the Rolling Stones (No. 6 -- $50 mil), Mike Tyson (No. 17 -- $33 mil), surname-free Roseanne (No. 74 -- $8 mil), George and Barbara Bush (No. 76 -- $6 mil),and unfunnyman Don Imus (No. 77 -- $10 mil) to give it up?
HOW'D THEY DO THAT? What have Penn & Teller (No. 88), that early 1990's comedy/magician duo, been up to lately? Whatever it is, it's lucrative: They made $3 million last year.