Sep 20

charlie sheen mug shotchris-brown-mugshotHere is hoping the outcry over domestic violence perpetrated by Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and other NFL players has more impact than similar rounds of public disgust and media attention directed at Hollywood celebrities — which have done nothing positive.

One need look no further than Charlie Sheen for proof. With a rap sheet including multiple episodes of assault and threats to several girlfriends and two wives, Sheen has done better than survive — he’s made hay with his image. His FX “Anger Management” series has been on since 2012 despite what critic Maureen Ryan described perfectly as the show’s “core ugliness and toxic narcissism.” Sheen and brother Emilio Estevez produced a game show pilot called “Charlie Sheen’s Bad Influence” this past spring for WE tv.

See how pop culture has rewarded someone who made his women into punching bags?

Chris Brown gets downright ticked off when people have the nerve to remember that he once almost killed his on and off again girlfriend Rihanna (currently off, but rumors of a persistent obsession continue). How dare we bring up something we were all supposed to forget? After the headlines in ’09 that Brown had choked Rihanna and left her for dead, questions resounded in the media over whether his career was over. We predicted that he would carry on, as, indeed, he has.

It was impossible not to notice Brown and Rihanna cuddling in the audience at the 2013 Grammy Awards. She was also on hand at his probation hearing shortly before that, where prosecutors said that he had failed to complete the community service part of his sentence for felony assault against her in 2009. Yes, she blew kisses at her man in court. Yes, she at one time was planning to be a role model for young girls to get out of abusive relationships, but a few years after the incident, she and Chris were sending Instagram pictures from the same bed and letting the world know their relationship was “Nobody’s Business” — as in one of their duet titles. Of course, she’s made it our business with ongoing teases of S&M in her songs and duets with the misogynistic lyric-spouting Eminem.

Like Sheen, they’ve exploited their own sorry story to burnish their public notoriety. Now we have a sideshow with Rihanna’s gripe against CBS over her song being pulled/used on their Thursday night NFL broadcasts. Bah.

Speaking of Eminem (who has been investigated on domestic violence allegations, but never charged), as you may be aware, his songs have explored a myriad of vicious sex crime fantasies like raping his mother and assaulting underage girls.

Most notorious, perhaps, is his song named after his ex-wife, Kim Mathers, in which he verbally abuses her and slits her throat. She attempted suicide after watching him perform the song. And then there’s Eminem’s song “Kill You”, which includes lines such as “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore / till the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?”

It follows the hideous tradition of hate speech against women in hip-hop, with stars like Akon referring to women as bitches and hos. This disgrace has gone on so long (in rock, too — “Brown Sugar” anyone?) that sadly, young women and men today simply view it as part of the scenery, the way things are.

Again, in the entertainment world, there’s money to be made and fame to be gained by exploiting domestic violence.

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the mere accusation of spousal abuse could kill the momentum in an actor’s career. In 1983, going public about his history of uncontrollable anger — which had led to his wife charging him with battery — put then-hugely-popular “Starsky & Hutch” star David Soul’s career in deep freeze.

Then things changed. In 1998, when Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee was sentenced to six months behind bars over domestic violence involving then-wife Pamela Anderson, many thought that would be the end of his stardom. Few would have imagined that Lee would go on to even more success — including his own reality show, a rap metal band called Methods of Mayhem and joining in the fun on Pam’s popular cable TV roast.

The public got used to the revolving door of breakups and make-ups — including telltale signs and stories of violence — between Bobby Brown and the late Whitney Houston.

Some celebrities have plea bargained and been sentenced to various diversion programs, probation, etc. in spousal abuse cases (examples include Christian Slater and John Singleton), with barely a ripple in their careers.

“Celebrities have a powerful influence on our culture. We admire famous actors, athletes, musicians and other public figures. What does it mean, then, when they fail as role models, when they batter their partners, and we as a culture continue to admire them and pay to see them perform?” asked the Family Violence Prevention Fund on its website a few years ago. “When we continue to view our celebrities as sexy or heroic even after they are known to be violent to their partners, we condone their behavior and perpetuate domestic violence by helping to create an environment in which violence is viewed as acceptable. Celebrities, and the media that publicize and employ them, must be held accountable. It is up to us, as consumers of entertainment, to make sure that this happens.”

We have not. And unfortunately, with Hollywood’s double standard on domestic violence, and the NFL’s disingenuous stance (they’re shocked — shocked! — that any of their players might hit their girlfriends or experience steroid rages) it’s unlikely any change will come without consumers forcing it.

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Sep 17

charlie roweCharlie Rowe is a bit bemused by widespread speculation that he and his fellow young cast mates on “Red Band Society” will become hot little new celebrities once their show debuts on Fox tonight (9/17). “I don’t really know quite what it means, to be honest,” he admits. “Everyone’s mentioning it. I don’t know if I accept it,” adds the 18-year-old, who already finds himself with a burgeoning Twitter following, though he has yet to be recognized on the street.

Certainly he will be easy to spot, having had to shave his head to play a cancer patient on the Steven Spielberg-produced show that has been hailed as “The Breakfast Club” in a pediatric hospital.

“That’s true. That’s why I’m buying more hats,” he says jovially.

Rowe plays Leo Roth, de facto leader of the collection of friends brought together by shared serious medical plight — a complex charmer with an edge of sadness, the kind of character that does indeed turn up-and-comers into stars. His portrayal is all that much more impressive when you hear his natural British accent and realize that behind the all-American Leo is a Londoner, born and raised.

Rowe played Peter Pan in Syfy’s “Neverland” prequel and Billy Costa in the big-screen “Golden Compass.” Last year, he became the youngest lead actor in the history of The Old Vic, where he played the title role of Ronnie Winslow in “The Winslow Boy.”

So how did a nice British teen wind up working in Atlanta, Ga., playing a cancer-stricken California boy?

“This is the first pilot I’ve ever auditioned for. I’ve never done pilot season or anything like that,” notes Rowe. “I was just going off the pilot script, reading it in the U.K., and I got to page four, and I knew I wanted to do it — it just seemed to be more ambitious than other shows. It was one I could really relate to. It wasn’t about guns and cops or the Middle East; it was very clearly something I related to, yet it was something far away from me. An interesting mix.”

There was also the character himself. “I really, really like Leo. I think he’s very powerful. There are things that are different from me about Leo, but I’m not quite sure what those things are yet. There are things I find similar. He has an urge to know everything, not be left out.”

Once Rowe put in his bid for the role, he had an audition for a London casting director within a week. “The director was on Skype, and the writer was on Facetime, so it was a strange conception of screens,” he recalls.

“They enjoyed it, and I got the part about a week and a half later.”

Rowe has the theater in his blood. His mother is a drama teacher whose students have included “Coronation Street” actor Charlie Condou. His father is an actor and writer. His aunt is on television in the U.K. His grandmother on his father’s side is an actress, as well, and his grandpa is a camera man. “I’ve grown up with it, and I can’t imagine myself doing anything or attempting to do anything else,” he says.

Taking the edge off his homesickness as he toils on sound stages half a world away from the British Isles is the fact that he’s become fast friends with his young “Red Band Society” cast mates. “Some of us live in the same building, some five minutes away. We’re all almost the same age. It’s almost like family,” he notes. The show also stars Octavia Spencer and Dave Annable.

Another bonding experience: Cast members did a cross-country tour of pediatric hospitals. “We went visiting different cities and different hospitals and talked to the kids there about what we were doing and why we wanted to talk to them and get to know them. Partly it was very formalized, in that we were there to do interviews and we had a whole publicity team with us, and it was very much part of the publicity process. But part of it was going to these kids and chatting with them, one on one, about what they were going through and stuff like that. That was the part I really loved,” he recalls. “There was some really funny and hilarious stuff. You don’t have to use a lot of imagination with this. It’s easy to relate to the real thing.”

Asked whether the visits were emotional, Rowe says no. “None of them were really upset. They were very happy to be where they were and very happy they were getting better, and tremendously interested in telling their stories. You know, they’re just ordinary kids. I’m going to try to meet this girl, I’m going to try to have new friends — that sort of thing.”

The series also benefits from writer/executive producer Margaret Nagle’s experience, having spent countless hours and days in the hospital with her brother, who was comatose for years. (He is now an outsider artist, though still disabled.)

Rowe reports that the company is working on episode five as we speak, and he says, “We’re getting to the good stuff now. We’re getting to the heart of the show. We’re going into more aspects of the characters. It’s great.”

Whether Rowe and his cast mates skyrocket to fame or not, his acting work is such that he’s bound to be around for a long, long time.

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Sep 12

Gladys Knight photoGladys Knight admits she would never have thought of tackling a romantic role in the just-wrapped “Seasons of Love” if Taraji P. Henson, executive producer and star of the Lifetime movie that just finished shooting, hadn’t brought her into it.

“This part is one of the main characters of the film,” the seven-time Grammy-winning singer lets us know. Speaking of Henson, with whom she worked previously in Tyler Perry’s “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” Gladys goes on, “I don’t know what she saw in me that she would think I could even do a part like this, but they called me and, oh! I prayed so hard about it, because I wanted to do well. It’s a love story even though it’s coming out at Christmas time. I just really didn’t know if I could pull it off. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to be like this with a partner.”

So how was it to be affectionate on camera? “I felt like I was cheating on my husband!” admits Gladys, and lets out a great big laugh.

And her husband? “My husband is pretty protective when it comes to me,” she replies. “We share everything. I asked him, ‘How do you feel about this?’ and he was okay, you know, but at that time I didn’t know I was going to have to kiss the guy!” She laughs again.

Gladys’ mate since 2001, William McDowell, wasn’t on the set as she was going through her romantic paces. In fact, he wasn’t even in the same state. “We bought a school,” she explains, “and he’s working so, so very hard to get the school renovated so we can get going in making a difference in young people’s lives — young adults’ lives. He’s down in North Carolina working on that.”

Right now, Gladys is in the midst of a media blitz on behalf of her new “Where My Heart Belongs” inspiration/gospel album.

She wrote some of the material on the album as far back as the 1970s, when she was performing with her brother Merald, William Guest and the late Edward Patten, a.k.a. The Pips.

“I was looking for certain stories, certain information I could put on this album, just as a reminder to people about the spirit that we should have and that God is still amazing and we need him in our lives,” she explains. “I wanted to give people just a peek into the most important part of my life and how I feel about that.”

She says she was prompted to start the album as a response to the troubled shape of the world: “I think sometimes a little message is like a candle in the dark.

“At first I thought it was going to be a Christmas holiday album, where we would talk about the spirit of the Lord and loving each other and that kind of thing. And then the closer I got to it, I felt like his love for us and our love for him should be for all seasons. I started putting songs in there that people usually just listen to around certain holidays, like ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus,’ like ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord’ — songs that we should be thinking about any time of year.”

Gladys has been out touring this summer, including some dates with Kool and the Gang, and has more performances ahead. The devout Mormon (since 1997) is also still managing to find time to do Latter-day Saints firesides in-between. Then, too, there are her 16 grandchildren and eight great-grands. Gladys tells us that she does indeed get time with them, that “If we’re away from North Carolina too long, they come to see me.”

That the beloved Empress of Soul and her husband are embarking on brand new major enterprises at this time of life is no small inspiration in itself.

How does she do it? Answers Gladys, “I just take it all in stride and be grateful for the blessings that I have, and if I stay focused on the blessings, I ain’t got time for nothing else.”

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Sep 10

LeoBy the time you read this, George Clooney could be a married man. As you probably know, in early August the suave actor-filmmaker, who for years has unofficially reigned as Hollywood’s top playboy, posted wedding banns in Chelsea with his fiancee, human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin — a legal detail that was necessary at least 16 days prior to their planned nuptials.

So now the question is, who will ascend to his place atop the heap? It won’t be easy to fill Clooney’s $700 Armani loafers, you know. For one thing, Clooney showed us that a guy can be a playboy and remain politically correct. In his past he had a brief marriage (to Talia Balsam) in addition to his long string of romances with fabulous beauties — from British television personality Lisa Snowdon to French model Celine Balitran, Italian heiress Gianna Elvira Cantatore, actress Krista Allen, wrestler cum TV personality Stacy Keibler — plus an appreciation of Renee Zellweger that reportedly had George gifting the star with a $30,000 diamond bracelet.

Yet impressively, George’s ex-girlfriends seem to have good things to say about him — like Allen, who worked with him after their breakup and can’t say enough about how much she reveres his talent and abilities as a producer.

The story goes that his pal Nicole Kidman bet Clooney $10,000 he’d be married by the time he was 40. Obviously, she lost. “Nicole sent me a check for $10,000,” he was quoted as saying. “I mailed it back and wrote, ‘Double or nothing for another 10 years.’”

She missed by three years. With fellow “Sexiest Man Alive” Adam Levine out of the running, having recently wed model Behati Prinsloo, our attention turns to these seven prospects for Tinseltown’s Top Ladies’ men:

Bradley Cooper. The “Silver Linings Playbook” superstar has a pretty breathtaking playbook of his own. He had a brief marriage to actress Jennifer Esposito, and then moved on to Renee Zellweger and Zoe Saldana, with appearances by Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez and Scarlett Johansson in the mix before dating 17 years younger model Suki Waterhouse last year.

mayerJohn Mayer. The handsome, preternaturally talented singer-songwriter clearly has gifts for other things as well — with exes including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, Minka Kelly, Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Too bad he flubs on gentlemanly behavior, as most notoriously evidenced by his kiss-and-tell interviews in Rolling Stone and Playboy.

Jake Gyllenhaal. Celebrity watchers were so busy examining the elevator video of Beyonce, Jay Z and the very upset Solange Knowles outside an after party the night of the Met Gala last May that relatively few noticed Jake Gyllenhaal was at the event — as were three of his exes at once: Kirsten Dunst, Reese Witherspoon and Taylor Swift. Awkward! He dated model Alyssa Miller till December, and then, more recently, he’s been seen out and about with Rachel McAdams. Like George, he’s gorgeous and politically active.

Gerard Butler. The Scottish hunk has resisted being termed a playboy, but he certainly has the track record of the genuine article. He’s reportedly dated Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, Shanna Moakler, Jasmine Burgess, real housewife Brandi Glanville, and Kazakhstani billionaire Goga Ashkenazi, in addition to an array of models including Naomi Campbell. The “300″ and “How to Train Your Dragon” star recently split from Madalina Ghene and is back on the market.

Jared Leto. The Oscar winner and 30 Seconds to Mars frontman has burned quite a trail through town, having dated Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, Ashley Olson and Cameron Diaz, and enjoyed a flirtation with Lindsay Lohan.

Irish hellraiser Colin Farrell is the first roguish face that comes to mind for many when the words “movie star” and “playboy” are uttered in the same sentence. The one-time boyfriend of Britney Spears bought a house for his ex-girlfriend and mother of one of his sons, model Kim Bordenave, but didn’t marry her. He sued another ex-girlfriend, Playboy Playmate Nicole Narain, trying to keep her from marketing their sex home movie. His second son is with his “Ondine” costar, Alicja Bachleda-Curus. His past flames list also includes Angelina Jolie, Maeve Quinlan and Demi Moore.

Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s up there with George in so very many ways — a debonair superstar who also shows up trying to make a difference in the world at large. Plus, he has a list of exes who are internationally renowned models and actresses — Gisele Bundchen, Kristen Zang, British model and socialite Emma Miller, Naomi Campbell, Scarlett Johansson, Israeli model Bar Refaeli, Erin Heatherton, Blake Lively, and Leo’s girlfriend since May of 2013, Victoria’s Secret model Toni Garrn. There’ve already been rumblings of trouble between DiCaprio and the 21-year-old German. He was seen dancing up close with model Katie Cleary at Gotha nightclub in Cannes while Toni was elsewhere.

Who do you think will take George’s spot? One of these, or someone else? Time will tell.

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Sep 07

betsy landin“Dolphin Tale 2″ gets the wet — er, red — carpet premiere treatment next week at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where the real-life stories of both “Dolphin Tale” features took place. The original cast — including Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson and Ashley Judd — is back for the second movie centered on Winter, the dolphin famous worldwide for learning to live with a prosthetic tail.

The actors never imagined there being a second film about Winter back when they were making the first one, according to the movie’s Betsy Landin — that is, until just after finishing production. “We’d been wrapped for about two hours, I’d say, and we were at the wrap party enjoying ourselves. Then all of a sudden someone got a phone call that there was a baby dolphin found in need of help in the same area where Winter was. We all just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, my gosh! Wouldn’t it be something if they made a ‘Dolphin Tale 2?’” She laughs. “And here we are.”

According to her, “You kind of get to see us kind of re-enact that scene in the movie. It was really at that restaurant where we shot that scene and heard about this little baby dolphin. Some of the cast members went to go see her.”

The new film, opening Sept. 12, follows the story of Winter and the little newcomer, named Hope. If you got teary over the first movie, you’re bound to get teary over this one, also written and directed by Charles Martin Smith, which also features surfer Bethany Hamilton in a cameo.

Winter’s first movie was such a hit that her Florida facility reportedly doubled its size and began to draw ten times the amount of visitors as it had prior to the film’s release.

The “Dolphin Tale 2″ team has been queried continually about controversy over keeping dolphins and other marine life in captivity. Landin, who plays Winter’s trainer, is quick to dive in, saying, “I think when you breed in captivity, that’s a very different thing than the rescue, rehab and release work like they do at CMA. In a case like Hope — she was found as a tiny, tiny baby still feeding from her dead mother. She could not have survived if CMA had not taken her in. She was an orphan. Now she’s a healthy, happy dolphin. Or the older dolphin that they had there that passed away during preproduction — she had lost all her teeth and was found very malnourished. They found later she couldn’t echolocate. She was deaf. She was begging boats for food, things like that. So she couldn’t be released. If the animals can flourish in the wild, they’ll do all they can to help them do so, but if they can’t …

“I really believe organizations like this are important, and I’m glad they’re there. And these animals need to be exercised, they need to have fun, so sure, they’ll do the shows, which are actually training sessions for the animals to keep them active. And the places need to operate. I’m all for it,” sums up Landin, the up-and-coming Latina actress and former Puerto Rican beauty queen seen in a far different light in her recent sexy role on “Ray Donovan.”

For the “Dolphin” movies, she hung out with real-life trainers, carried around buckets of fish, did a lot of swimming and got to know the dolphins. Part of the “Dolphin 2″ storyline has to do with the emotions involved when humans become attached to these animals and then have to release them back into the wild. Landin can relate.

“It was a great experience to see Hope again, 3 years old, kind of grownup and getting rambunctious. You’ll see — at first she was so tiny.”

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Sep 06

Joan RIvers

Joan RIvers

As fans and fellow comics across the land remember the funny, fearless and frank Joan Rivers, other, warmer sides of the groundbreaking star are also emerging. Among those: Joan Rivers, inspirational figure.

This woman had come back from devastating loss; she’d spent two years in a professional dry spell after the suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, and the failure of the Fox late night show that many predicted would be a career-ender. Yet well after “retirement age”— and decades after many women in show business are forced out to pasture — she’d somehow made her way through several successful incarnations, managing to work two or three series simultaneously while keeping up a string of nightclub gigs and hawking her jewelry line on QVC.

In 2010, feeling stung by some setbacks of my own, I was in the frame of mind to ask Rivers her about what she did to be such a survivor. And she was quick to respond. “I’ve been fired a lot. I’ve had full books and I’ve had years where I’ve had empty books, and when one day you find you’re slightly older and you have an empty book, that’s really, really scary,” she admitted. “You just have to keep on moving and keep on trying and keep on pushing.”

Many who experienced Rivers’ public speaking engagements walked away having literally laughed and cried, feeling bolstered to keep moving and trying and pushing as well.

Not surprisingly with her work ethic, she was an admirer of the great American dream, something readily apparent on her “How’d You Get So Rich?” show. “All these people started out with nothing. They put in hard, hard, hard work. It shows if you’ve got a good idea and are willing to work your butt off, you can get rich,” she said admiringly.

Rivers left a great legacy of laughter, of course, and also of inspiration through her books and interviews and the unfiltered, acclaimed “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” documentary of 2010.

“I didn’t want to do a documentary and have it be one of those things you see on Biography channel where everybody says nice things. Let’s show the truth, otherwise why bother?” she said.

“There was only one thing I asked to have removed from it. I was talking about Edgar’s suicide and how angry I still am at him. You know, I’ll walk by his picture and still say $@!! you. And Melissa got very upset with that,” she said of her daughter. “She asked if you could please ask them to take that out. Everything else — the deal was that they would follow me around and I would give them free access. And that’s exactly what I wanted.

“I just love the business, it’s the only business I love,” she went on. “And if you have to work hard to do it, fine. It’s a wonderful tradeoff.”

As we mark Rivers’ passing, we can’t help but note with a smile that worked right up to the end, moving, trying and pushing — and never did let setbacks stop her.

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Aug 25

image003“It was like summer camp for actors. We were out playing dress-up in medieval clothes — playing pirates and princess and giants — it was just so much fun.”  So says Cary Elwes, describing the behind-the-scenes atmosphere during the making of Rob Reiner’s classic “The Princess Bride.”

Elwes relates that he and other stars of the beloved fantasy romantic comedy were at New York’s Lincoln Center for a 25th anniversary showing and panel discussion, and he found he didn’t have time to answer fans’ questions adequately. And so he started writing. And writing. And writing — until he and coauthor Joe Layden completed the new “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.”

Now the rest of us can be in on what was going on among actors including Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest and of course, Mandy “My name is Inigo Montoya” Patinkin off-camera back in 1987 when the film was made.

“All the cast got involved, which I’m so grateful for,” says Elwes. “It may say my name and my co-writer, Joe Layden, on the cover, but in fact it’s an effort by the entire cast and the director of the piece.”

Elwes recalls that when he first met Patinkin prior to the start of shooting, “I thought he was really cool. I’d seen him in ‘Ragtime’ and knew of his work and I knew he was a serious, theater trained actor. He’d won a number of awards already. And he’d already spent two months training in sword fighting — which he didn’t tell me. So by the time I started training I was already two months behind.”

Further complicating Elwes’ life was the fact that he broke his toe when Andre the Giant convinced him to take his all-terrain vehicle out for a spin. Now, Elwes attributes that break to helping him focus on getting his arm movements right for his fencing as the swashbuckling Westley.

image002According to Elwes, the “Princess Bride” team has stayed in touch ever since filming. “It’s like a family, really.”  He misses the late Andre the Giant. “We all do. He’s very much in our hearts, so it was wonderful reminiscing about him.  That’s the beautiful part of doing this. The memory is like a playback in your head and you get to relive things — although with less and less clarity as time goes on. Luckily, I had all the call sheets from the movie, and that was really a good memory aid for me to be able to go through all of those.”

The physicality required of him would leave him “bruised and burned and exhausted” after a day’s shooting, he says, laughing. However, the biggest challenge was to refrain from breaking up during shooting when so many funny things were going on. One particularly gaseous shot involving Andre the Giant makes for a standout anecdote in the book.

And then there was Robin Wright. Elwes’ first impression: “Beautiful. Stunning. Like Grace Kelly — and funny!  So funny.”

Oftentimes, exquisitely beautiful women aren’t regarded as able to be funny. Not so with Wright, says her “Bride” leading man. “Oh my God, she’s hysterical! In fact, I might say that was the first thing I noticed. No, both at the same time — she’s that beautiful. She’s that funny,” he says.

Elwes will be traveling to promote the book, which has its official pub date next month. He also has two new movies in the can — the dramas “Sugar Mountain,” and “The Greens Are Gone.”

He doesn’t need to look at statistics to know that “The Princess Bride” has found new audiences with each generation. Despite his substantial body of work, he still gets recognized as Westley. In fact, “at Toys R Us, some days, it is difficult in certain aisles,” he admits. But more seriously, he adds, “It seems to be a film that resonates with people, that they feel connected to.”

Follow Cary…

Twitter: @Cary_Elwes //



Aug 21

Billy CrystalPlan to watch the 66th annual Emmy Awards show Monday (8/25) night?  The Granddaddy of TV Awards shows looks likely to bring us plenty of memorable moments. Here are five reasons to tune in:

1. This is where the TV community will be giving Robin Williams a proper send-off. That’s the word according to Executive Producer Don Mischer, who has Robin’s long-time best pal Billy Crystal giving a tribute to the man. Mischer himself worked with Williams at least 30 times. Planning began as soon as the production team heard of Williams’ death. Don’t be surprised if presenters and winners comment on Williams as well.

2. If Matthew McConaughey wins an Outstanding Lead Actor award for “True Detective” — and many believe his searing portrayal of existentialist detective Rust Cohle will rule the category — it will be the first time since George C. Scott in 1971 that a leading man has won an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year. McConaughey won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for “Dallas Buyers Club.”  (Scott turned down his “Patton” Oscar, but accepted his Hallmark Hall of Fame Emmy because he liked the Emmys Blue Ribbon Panel voting system better.)

3. Host Seth Meyers. Meyers watchers know that behind the seeming calm of the late night host and former “SNL” Weekend Update guy lurks a scathing wit. Recall how he ripped Donald Trump when he hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011?  “Donald Trump has said he’s running for president as a Republican. Which is surprising because I thought he was running as a joke,” he said. And another, “Donald Trump owns the Miss USA pageant, which is great for Republicans because it will streamline their search for a vice president.”  Who’ll be his target Monday night?  Meyers told the L.A. Times he plans to front load the comedy — his opening monologue and a couple of film pieces are where his funny stuff will be most visible — and then just keep the evening moving along, so be sure to be there for the opening.

4. As more and more A list actors move to TV the wattage of star power at the Emmys just keeps getting higher. You’ve got McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in “True Detective,” Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo among the many nominees for “The Normal Heart,” Billy Bob Thornton for “Fargo,” Don Cheadle for “House of Lies,” Jodie Foster for “Orange is the New Black” and more.

5. The big contests. Will “Orange is the New Black” break “Modern Family’s” Best Comedy streak, or will the latter show prevail with a record-breaking fifth win in a row?  Will “True Detective” squeeze in front of “Breaking Bad” for Drama series?  Will Robin Wright “House of Cards” beat Claire Danes, Lizzy Caplan and Kerry Washington as Best Lead Actress in a Drama?  Can Don Cheadle break Jim Parson’s streak as Lead Actor in a Comedy?  We want to know!

natalie burnMOVING UP: Natalie Burn, who plays Mel Gibson’s wife in a short-but-sweet turn in “The Expendables 3,” admits she’d have liked to have been in on the action of that high-octane Sylvester Stallone feature. The Ukranian-born former prima ballerina for the Bolshoi has been sharpening her fighting skills to be ready for…anything. The much-discussed “Expendabelles” perhaps?  “The next push I will try to convince Stallone or whoever I work with that I’m a good fighter — and coming from a ballerina background, I’m still flexible. I did gymnastics so I can do a lot of backflips and wire work and a lot of knife fights. I’m definitely a good asset to an action film,” she says.

Burn likely already impresses Stallone, since she is taking her career into her own hands as the “Rocky” star did, writing and producing her own projects. One of those is her “Awaken” drama about a random group of people who wake up on an island where they start being hunted down. She reports that it is coming out in October. In it, moviegoers will be able to see her doing plenty of action, including fights she calls “raw and natural. That’s what I like.”

“We finished it a couple months ago. I wrote the movie, produced and starred. Daryl Hannah, Edward Furlong, Robert Davi, Michael Pare, David Keith and a few others are in it,” she says. Next, she’s making another of her own movies, called “Devil’s Burn” in Louisiana.

“I would definitely encourage all the young actors to do that,” she says of writing and producing projects for themselves. “We don’t get enough auditions and enough scenes. If you make your own projects and get them seen, it’s a good start.”

Initially the “Expendables” team planned to have an older actress play Gbson’s wife, by the way. But in came Natalie with her youth, beauty and Russian accent — parallelling Gibson’s notorious ex — and those plans changed. According to her, the prickly actor-director couldn’t have been nicer.

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Aug 14

Robin WilliamsAs the outpouring of grief over Robin Williams’ death continues, it becomes more and more apparent that another legacy of the comedic genius will be heightened public awareness of the ravages of depression – and that is a good thing. In fact, Williams at his best would be pleased to play a part in bringing understanding and help to others battling the condition. The superstar who was so quick to lend his name and his energy to dozens of good causes, including the Comic Relief events he toplined with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, would surely have stepped up for this one.

Williams, as has been noted by many colleagues, gave his best in interviews. We experienced many of those rollicking sessions, during which he would fly rat-a-tat through free association craziness, character voice upon character voice, then veer into seriousness with insightful remarks. (I often quote his “humor half-life” measure of how funny a comedy bit is: funny if you laugh at the time, very funny if you think of it a day later and laugh again, exceptionally funny if you still laugh after a year or more. Robin scored lots of the latter. Think Mrs. Doubtfire, flaming bust, for instance.)

But the interviews changed in recent years, more and more tinged with the pain he was experiencing inside. He commented that his doctor used to tell him drugs could kill him. Now his doctor told him he needed drugs to stay alive. “So my doctor has become my dealer, and harder to get a hold of.”

He talked candidly about his return to drinking alcohol in 2003 after 20 years of sobriety. Asked by Decca Aitkenhead of the U.K.’s Guardian whether those who attributed his drinking to the loss of his friend, Christopher Reeve, were correct, he answered, “No…It’s more selfish than that. It’s just literally being afraid. And you think oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.”

What was he afraid of? “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.”  And loneliness, he said.

Ironically, he was promoting the black comedy film “World’s Greatest Dad” at the time – a film in which his character’s son dies, and he writes a fake suicide note that becomes a sensation. Suicide and death were present in several of his films.

Now, one can’t help wondering how much his fear and anxiety was at work within him, even as he made what was supposed to be, expected to be, a triumphal return to television last year with “The Crazy Ones.” The show had started off with 15.52 million viewers, making it the most highly viewed series premiere that fall – then ratings dropped off. Still, it was considered “on the bubble” until the announcement came that CBS was cancelling it – with an audience of 10.5 million, the highest-rated cancellation of last season. Don’t be surprised if stories emerge that there was more of a problem behind the scenes than a supporting cast that didn’t quite jell.

In fact, there will be, sadly, many more stories emerging of Williams’ decades-long struggle with depression, which fueled his alcohol and substance abuse, and the pain behind his tragic end. He was jarred by his heart surgery – for replacement of an aortic valve – in 2009. He felt open and vulnerable, and very mortal, a feeling he said never left him, which he considered a blessing.

He had reached out for help numerous times, had gone through 12 step program rehabs and sobriety journeys with friends. Tragically, it wasn’t enough.

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Aug 07

octavia spencerOctavia Spencer has an Academy Award and a steady influx of film offers — but she scoffs at the very notion of shying away from television. “That’s not a reality in today’s world. You see Julia Roberts doing television,” notes the “The Help” Oscar winner — who will join the small screen action Sept. 17 with the premiere of Fox’s “Red Band Society.”

She adds, “Some of the most interesting characters out there for character actresses like myself are in television, so I would be shooting my big toe off, and not being able to walk very well, had I done that…I don’t see that there’s a difference, really. I think that stigma is quite gone.

“I’m not a snob, I’m an actor. And I’m a character actor, so I have to be realistic about the parts that are available to me,” she goes on. “So it’s about really and truly being a part of a show with a character I can grow with.”

Spencer plays a nurse with a sarcastic edge in the hospital dramedy centered on teens that forge social bonds while dealing with long-term illness.

Writer/exec producer Margaret Nagle (“Boardwalk Empire”) brings a wealth of personal experience, as she “grew up in a hospital,” as she put it, while her brother was in a coma following an accident. Still physically challenged, he is now an outsider artist, she told press at the recent Television Critics Association conclave. Stories are based on real-life situations, and Spencer and other cast members and writers visited pediatric hospitals around the country to absorb the atmosphere and get to know patients. Steven Spielberg is also an exec producer on the show.

Spencer says her character is “a lot of fun because you do assume she’s That Way — all business — but the children pull on her heartstrings…You see it played out differently. She only shows her true colors to a few people, and usually it’s kids.”

She does make it clear she “absolutely” will continue to make movies — having launched “Get On Up” earlier this summer, and having “Insurgent,” the second installment of “Divergent,” ahead. The studio and network, she says, “have been wonderful” about working with her film calendar. Spencer and the series’ “hot doc” Dave Annable are “interwoven throughout the episodes,” according to her.

As far as her life changing because of her taking home the Best Supporting Actress statuette in 2012, she says, “My life is still very much the same. I like a small manageable life. But my career, obviously, exploded. I have access to a lot of great material. I got offered a lot.”  A series, she believes, is “a marriage, so you want to be married to a project that’s brilliant and you want to be married to people that you respect and whose work you’ve been a fan of, and who’ve influenced you. That’s what i have with Margaret and Steven Spielberg and everybody at Dreamworks and Fox.”

don starkHUSH-HUSH:  The Aug. 11 season ender of VH-1′s “Hit the Floor” is being kept secret — even from the cast. That’s the word from Don Stark, who costars on the steamy VH-1 show about an NBA cheerleader (Taylour Paige) and her world. According to him, show producer James LaRosa “is a master of keeping things close to the vest. The last half page of the script was redacted; none of us knows what’s going on. I don’t even think the NSA could have picked it out.”

Someone on the show will be meeting a bad fate, it seems, and different possibilities were shot. “We have a pool as to who it will be. Every actor thinks, ‘Is it me?  Am I going to be out next year?’” notes Stark with a laugh. He certainly hopes it isn’t him, especially since the one-time “That 70′s Show” actor is having a blast on the show, which was picked up for a third season in May. “It’s a great group of people to work with — amazing dancers, Dean Cain, Kimberly Elise…. The writing is quite good. I hope to be along for the ride next season.”

Either way, Stark certainly has a full plate of activities. He recently joined Sally Field’s big screen comedy, “Hello, My Name is Doris.”  “It’s a coming-of-age story for someone who is already of age,” he says. “She’s a woman in her sixties who lives out on Staten Island and works in the city. She’s a bit of a hoarder. When her mom dies, her life changes.”

And she winds up falling for a younger man — 33-year-old “New Girl” cutie Max Greenfield. Stark plays his uncle, a would-be suitor for Field. He also has the upcoming indie film “Safelight” with Christine Lahti, and returns to his role as Vinny the Scar on the new season of “Castle” this fall.


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