May 20

Jazmyn SimonIf you’ve seen any of the HBO promos for Dwayne Johnson’s June 21-debuting “Ballers,” you know the half-hour dramedy about a retired pro football player looks like a high octane, chest thumping, head bumping, heart pumping, flash-with-cash testosterone fiesta.

Jazmyn Simon is the sole female star in the cast of the show, a position that could have quickly gone sour. However, the fact she starts laughing when asked about that lets us know right away that hers is not a tale of woe. “It was the best thing in the world,” insists the 5’5″ beauty, who plays the wife of 6’6″ Omar Benson Miller. “It was like a clinical study of the male habits of these guys. After awhile, they stopped treating me like a girl and just started treating me like a little sister. The ‘representative’ them leaves, and then the real them arrives, and I have to tell you, men are hilarious.”

Well, yes. Of course.

“On our show, half the guys are married and half are single, and when you get a group of handsome single guys in Miami, you get to see funny stuff. I got to see guys hitting on girls — that they would not normally allow me to see. It was amazing.”

Amazing as in pickup lines that make you roll your eyes?

“I rolled my eyes all the time, do you hear me? I rolled my eyes,” she declares. “All I’m doing is rolling my eyes with these guys.”

She also notes, “They took great care of me. Any time the cast and crew went out, they made sure I had a production assistant walking me to my car. I loved it. And not only was I a little sister, I was like a big sister. One guy, Donovan Carter, is younger than me and we got extremely close, we spoke a couple of times a day every single day, before and after production.”

And to hear her tell it, Johnson led the way in gentlemanly ways. “Any time I walked in the room, he’d stand up give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and then make sure I sat down before he sat down. His parents raised him right,” says Jazmyn. “He is just an exceptional person, by far one of the nicest people around. I’m laughing because it’s crazy how someone could be so handsome and so talented and such a big name and still remain so humble. He’s kind. He’s approachable.”

We will see Johnson as we haven’t seen him before, according to her. “If I drive down the street, I’m going to see, like, three different billboards for movies he has coming out right now,” says Jazmyn, speaking of the star who has “San Andreas” opening May 29, is among the stars of “Furious 7″ (released last month, the blockbuster has a worldwide box office gross of $1,467,817,000 so far) and has several films in the works in addition to “Ballers,” which wrapped its first 10 episodes in Miami this past March.

“I can honestly say he’s an action star up until this point. He does a lot of muscle — ‘Hercules.’ On this show, Dwayne is acting his a— off. He is acting. It’s not Dwayne being a muscle man, it’s Dwayne being the actor, and he’s really so great.”

As for her own role — is she like a little or big sister on camera as well as off?

Jazmyn is quick to reply in the negative. “She’s definitely not sisterly. Julie is sexy and sassy and ambitious and funny, but not sisterly. She is a very ambitious woman who wants the best for her family. She is married to a retired football player, just navigating life after the game of football. When you’ve spent so much time navigating one thing, and then you have to open a new book, it’s chapter 1. It’s post-football. She really wears the pants in her family, which is a good strong character for a woman.”

It’s also a surprising character in this context.

“It’s such smart writing, because it’s true, you generally don’t see that in this context. If I say, ‘She’s married to a football player,’ you automatically thought of something. You thought of a tight skirt, high heels, an expensive purse and an expensive car and there’s nothing wrong with that. They have a lot of money and they know how to spend it. But you don’t really see strong, smart and professional. My character is a doctor, so not only is she sexy and funny and ambitious, but she is very smart and she has a career. So you’re going to see her and her husband figuring out life after football.”

“Ballers” was Jazmyn’s 200th audition — and what a show, what a part to land!

“It feels like a dream. It feels surreal,” she says of the series, which was created by Stephen Levinson (“Entourage”) and is executive produced by Johnson, Levinson, Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”), who also directs.

“I’m so grateful, I count my blessings every day.”

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Apr 14

dreesenComedian Tom Dreesen is feeling bittersweet about his last “Late Show” visit with old pal David Letterman, which is coming up Thursday (4/16). “We’ve known each other since 1975, and we were two young comics at the Comedy Store,” he says, referring to the famed L.A. nightery. Jay Leno was there, he remembers, and Robin Williams and Michael Keaton, “and the girl waiting tables was Debra Winger.”

Dreesen and Letterman “became fast friends — we played basketball, jogged together. The first time he hosted ‘The Tonight Show,’ I was his guest.”

Dreesen recalls Letterman being “funny and witty, but never comfortable” on the nightclub stage, but the first time he saw him do television, “I thought, ‘oh my God. He’s home. You know, he broke into TV in Indianapolis as a weatherman. In a studio, he was right at home.”

Network executives saw that as well, recalls Dreesen. “If a network sees something in somebody, they know right away.”

Don’t be surprised if Dreesen shows up with photos highlighting some of his early days with Dave — as part of the Comedy Store basketball team and such.

Starting with his and Tim Reid’s trailblazing Tim & Tom biracial comedy act, Dreesen’s made standup his metier throughout his career.

He spent 14 years touring with Frank Sinatra as the show business icon’s opening act. Now he’s touring with his “An Evening of Laughter & Memories of Sinatra” one-man show in this year, marking the centennial of Sinatra’s birth. He also spent years as a “Tonight Show” mainstay.  Tomorrow (4/15), however, Dreesen will be doing something entirely different from all that — serving as the keynote speaker at the 150th anniversary of the passing of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. Dreesen’s topic will be Lincoln’s humor.

“He was a master of the art of storytelling,” notes the comic. “And he enjoyed having a laugh and giving a laugh. You know, he lost two sons during his presidency. His wife had emotional problems. And he went through the darkest times of the Civil War. If he hadn’t been able to find ways to laugh, he probably wouldn’t have made it.

“Laughter causes a chemical change in the body. When you’re laughing, you’re not thinking of your problems. Endorphins are released.” Dreesen points to research done at UCLA with the late Norman Cousins that showed a correlation between humor and healing. “Abe Lincoln didn’t know about that, of course, but he knew the value of humor.


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Mar 19

Hunter+King+headshotInterested in starting a conversation about bullying? “A Girl Like Her” gets up close — very, very close — and personal with a mean high school girl who bullies a classmate into constant suffering, employing in-your-face docu-style camera techniques that make you feel as if you’re there.

“At first I really was hesitant. It was a big choice I had to make whether to play that bully and have people think I was that character,” admits Hunter King, the “Young and the Restless” Daytime Emmy winner, who portrays the beautiful but brutal bully, Avery, in the film that begins a rollout release March 27 in 17 markets. “I decided to make the choice to take this role because the movie is about something so important. It speaks to so many people.”

Still, she lets us know, “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as an actress.

“Days when I’m done shooting over at ‘The Young and the Restless,’ I’m back to reality right away; ‘This is my job,’ you know? ‘This is real life. I’m OK,'” she adds. “But with this film, a lot of the days I would feel depressed and sometimes it was even difficult to transition back to my real life because I was so emotionally drained from everything that was happening. I had to really dig deep for the emotions.”

Hunter worked with filmmaker Amy S. Weber on the faux documentary that chronicles the worlds of the bully, the bullied (Lexi Ainsworth) and an onlooker (Jimmy Bennett). Weber, she notes, “wrote an outline of the script, of the scenes that are supposed to happen” — but left room for a great deal of improvisation. “Before each scene of the bullying interaction, we would get together and she would explain to me what she would want to see happen and she really made me feel fully confident to embody the character of Avery and get like a really authentic reaction out of everyone.

We really worked together to give everybody a taste of what was going on in Jessica’s (Ainsworth) life.”
And what is going on in Avery’s life.

“Amy really had to prepare me for what a monster I would be in this film. It was really, really hard for me to get into Avery’s head and her mindset. I have never spoken to a human the way Avery speaks to Jessica. But with my director being there and my mom, we really created a really crazy, compelling character. By watching this film, people are going to experience the bully’s side of it,” says the young actress.

Hunter herself knows what it is to be on the wrong side of high school jokes and bad comments — though the former cheerleader is quick to note that what she experienced at her “regular public high school” was on an entirely different level from what is depicted in the film.

“Everyone deals with those mean girls in high school. I had a lot of people make fun of me, and there were occasions when girls or even guys, when they’re just mean and say really hurtful things to you and make fun of you publicly. I got to the point where I thought, ‘I want to focus on my career and I don’t want to deal with being treated like this anymore.’ I had to put myself through that. I graduated early – fortunately, I was able to do that. I didn’t have to go through it like Jessica did.

“But even now, not being in high school, I experience it on Twitter. Anyone who has a social network presence is open to that treatment. The only difference is now I try not to take it as personally as I did in high school. It’s helped a little bit with the different mindset. People can be bullied in middle school or high school — or at work. You can be bullied at all different ages,” she notes.

She hopes that the film will get people talking. “It really is amazing, to be part of something this huge. It’s mind boggling,” she says. “That’s our main goal with this film — to spark dialogue about how to solve this epidemic of bullying and how to get to the root of the problem.”

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Feb 23

oscar winners 2015Eddie Redmayne enjoyed being in a weird dream, Julianne Moore gushed about her husband, and Patricia Arquette honored Meryl Streep in backstage interviews at the 87th Academy Awards.

“It just felt like a euphoria really, an extraordinary euphoria,” said best actor winner Redmayne, describing the feeling of hearing his name called and accepting his Oscar. Adding to the thrill for Redmayne was the fact he was presented with the award by Cate Blanchett, a friend from when they made “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” together. “I was recovering from that excitement of seeing her, and then just trying to bury all this frenzy of nerves and white noise and trying to speak articulately and, of course, you then forget everything,” he said.

Redmayne plans to go back to Cambridge at some point and show his Oscar to Stephen Hawking, his ex-wife Jane and her husband Jonathan and the Hawking children. “They have been so kind to us the whole way through this process. …Their support has been amazing.”

Amazing is an appropriate word for Redmayne’s staggering performance as the ALS-stricken genius. He provided a little insight into his process when asked about his physical preparation for the role: “When I was approaching the film, we knew we weren’t going to be out of shoot chronologically. So we were going to have to jump into different stages in Stephen’s life and within the same day. And so I didn’t want for Stephen — the illness was of very little interest to him after he was diagnosed. He’s someone that lives forward and lives passionately. And so, similarly, I didn’t want the film to be about the physicality. So I wanted to have the physicality so embedded in me that we could play the human story, the love story. And so I went to ALS clinics in London for about four months with a choreographer, wonderful Alex Reynolds, and she helped to sort of train my muscles to sustain those positions for long periods of time.”

The remarkably gifted Redmayne, who sang live on the Oscar show three years ago when he was part of the “Les Miserables” team, is currently making “The Danish Girl” with Tom Hooper, with whom he worked on the great musical. “The Danish Girl,” he said, is “an incredibly beautiful and passionate love story about authenticity and bravery, and so I’m really in the middle of that project at the moment and it just I was filming on Friday night, got on a plane yesterday and I go back tomorrow and I arrive on Tuesday morning, go straight onto set, so this feels like a wild, weird dream that I’ll wake up in a few days, and go, did that happen? I’ll pinch myself, but it’s amazing. I’m having fun.”

“Still Alice” best actress winner Julianne Moore expanded on her thanks to her husband, Bart Freundlich, backstage. “This is the first time I’ve told anybody this, and I’ll tell you guys in this room. He was the first person to see the movie. The first time I saw the cut, he came with me. And I told the story about how I heard him crying, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ When we walked out of there, he said, ‘You’re going to win an Oscar.’ And I was like, ‘Come on.’ I swear to God, that’s what he said to me. And I just couldn’t believe he said that. But anyway, that’s how much he supported me from the very, very beginning.”

The win was a long time coming for the dependably superb Moore, who’s been nominated five times. But the actress made it clear she didn’t feel particularly deprived up till now because she’s been able to do work that she loves and that is meaningful to her.

“I believe in hard work, actually, you know. And I think — and I like stories about — mostly I like stories about people. I like stories about real people and real relationships and real families, and that’s what I respond to. And this movie had all of those things in it,” she said, speaking of the story of a brilliant linguistics professor stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. “It was about a, you know, it’s about a real issue and relationships and who we love and what we value. And so that’s important to me, too. But I mean, I think just, at the end of the day, it’s the work.”

Oscars 2015 will go down as a year thick with causes and comparatively thin when it comes to frivolity. (Who else noticed the complete lack of response to some pretty funny Neil Patrick Harris material?) Best supporting actress Patricia Arquette’s impassioned call for pay parity for women when she accepted her “Boyhood” honors set the stage for more political statements throughout the night. Backstage, Arquette said that she didn’t see Meryl Streep’s standing, fist-in-the-air reaction to her speech, but “I heard about it, and I hugged her afterwards. And she’s the queen of all actresses, patron saint of actresses.”

She continued, “The truth is, the older women get, the less money they make. The more children the highest percentage of children living in poverty are female-headed households. And it’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t — one of those Superior Court justices said two years ago in a — in a law speech at a university, we don’t have equal rights for women in America and we don’t because when they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t intend it for women. So, the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

It’s not surprising that Arquette used her Oscar moment as a platform. She is passionate about her beliefs, and it may be noted, she also suits her actions to her words. For example, she was down in the grit and disease of post-earthquake Haiti, arranging housing for the homeless with ingenious converted shipping containers and bringing eco-sanitation to camps on the stricken island.

With four wins for his “Birdman,” including best picture, Alejandro Inarritu became the second Mexican filmmaker in a row to be named best director (after Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity.”) Backstage, he was asked about that several times, then talked about the internationality of the Oscar and the art form. “Look at this room. I don’t know how many nationalities are in this room, but I don’t feel different [from] anybody here. … I as an artist, as a human, as a filmmaker, I cannot have these stupid borders, flags, and passports. Those are a concept that were invented by a human society. But, honestly, naked, in tighty whities we will be the same. And I have never felt that different. So for me to make films in United States, or in Africa, or in Spain, or in Mexico, I’m talking about human beings and emotions. And — and I think that’s the beauty of art. Art doesn’t have those stiff ideological borders that @#$! the world so much.”

Though this year’s nominations launched a cacophony of criticisms in the media and #oscarsowhite comments in the Twittersphere, the Academy Awards ceremony itself certainly proved a moving night for people of color — particularly in the dynamic performance of, and win for, “Glory,” from the film “Selma.”

In his acceptance speech, John Legend bemoaned the number of African-Americans under correctional control in America today and the compromising of the Voting Rights Act those in Selma in the Civil Rights Movement fought so hard to achieve. He expanded on that when interviewed in the pressroom, saying, “I think there still is a lot to be done. Some of the things I spoke about today, about the rolling back of some of the Voting Rights Act, is real. … What I spoke about regarding incarceration is real and it’s destroying communities and it’s a waste of our national resources to put so many people in prison, and it disproportionately affects black and brown communities. And so when we think about equality and freedom and justice, we know we’ve got more work to do … and we hope that our song is inspiration for those who want to do that work as well.”

Common, who shares the best song Oscar with Legend, told press he would have liked to have thanked director Ava DuVernay as well as actor David Oyelowo onstage. “He was the beginning of this film,” he said of Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King. “He had the heart and wanted to make this film and he knew it in his heart. And he made sure that Ava DuVernay got on board, he got Oprah to get it moving, and it’s the reason why the film happened.”

J.K. Simmons, who won Best Supporting Actor honors for his portrayal of a domineering music teacher in “Whiplash,” was a victor to be taken to heart as one who is finally getting well-deserved recognition. The Farmers Insurance spokesman self-effacingly noted backstage that “maybe more people saw me tonight than see me in the commercials for the first time, because I know those are seen by more people than the films.”

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Feb 20

Bill EngvallHosting an award show takes superhuman nerve, as funnyman Bill Engvall can attest. “You only have two or three minutes up front to try to get ‘em,” observes Engvall, who serves as emcee for the second year in a row on tomorrow night’s, Feb. 21, 23rd Annual Movieguide Awards on Reelz.

Yes, in addition to the mighty grand finale of awards season coming up Sunday, Feb. 22 — The Oscars — the weekend brings us a favorite awards presentation among fans of family and faith-based fare. As host, Engvall must be funny while keeping things nice and clean. This is no problem for the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and “Bill Engvall Show” veteran. Humor abounds in this realm, he says. In fact, you can find some of the funniest stuff that happens in church: “Obviously, God has a sense of humor. … Look around.”

Still, he admits he was a little tense about hosting the Movieguide Awards when the idea was presented to him initially. “The worst audience a comedian can have is industry people. It’s not like doing a concert. That said, comedians love the opportunity to do awards shows, so there’s a dichotomy.” The Oscar show is cracked up as toughest of all, yet “I’d love the opportunity to do the Oscar show,” Engvall confesses.

Engvall finds it encouraging that wholesome fare has found a hungry audience of late, as the burgeoning ratings of Hallmark Channel movies and other recent family-friendly television programming shows. In January, NBC made a deal with Dolly Parton involving a series of family-friendly made-for-TV movies. Could it be the start of a bandwagon effect?

“Man, I hope so,” says Engvall. “I’m not preaching here, but it’s unfair to drop something disgusting into a show that can be seen by kids — the kind of thing where you go, ‘OK, that’s just for shock value.’ You don’t have to show them actually slit the man’s throat. You don’t have to be that explicit.”

He adds, “I’m not a prude — I love a good dirty joke as much as anyone — but the language on TV nowadays, I’d have had soap in my mouth for using it.”

Engvall has the big screen “Catching Faith” movie in post-production and he’d love to do more family films. Meanwhile, he’s busy throughout the year doing his standup — and enjoying his own family, wife Gail and their young adult offspring, daughter Emily and son Travis.

The latter is soon to graduate from Northern Arizona University and the Engvalls will be out en force. Attending his son’s graduation necessitated Engvall withdrawing as host of the Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan, a move that generated a surprising amount of headlines.

“Some people were upset that I’m going to my son’s graduation,” he acknowledges. “It’s a huge moment in our lives. After all the investment of time and money, to see it come to fruition? Of course we’re going to be there to see him walk across the stage.”

He goes on, “Some of these celebrities don’t realize that one of these days, this will be gone. If your career ends tomorrow, what do you have? You have your family.”

That’s family-friendly indeed.

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Jan 24

ferrerePower suits. Shoulder pads. Catfights. Nobody did the ’80s prime-time soap better than the series that put the nasty in “Dynasty.” Now the Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family” is bringing together members of the Carrington clan with the latest in their vintage TV reunion specials, coming up Monday, Jan. 26.

The recent “Knots Landing” reunion show “went over so well, three days after it aired, the producers told me next we were going to do ‘Dynasty,'” says “Home & Family” co-host Cristina Ferrare.

Pamela Sue Martin, John James, Al Corley and Gordon Thomson are among the names you can expect to see. And you never know who might Skype in — as Alec Baldwin did for the “Knots Landing” show.

It’s a blast from the past to Cristina — and not just because she herself used to wear fabulous “Dynasty”-worthy Nolan Miller gowns. Recall that her husband, Tony Thomopoulos, was the head of ABC back when “Dynasty” ruled the airwaves. Tony and his Max Factor supermodel cum TV hostess bride, Cristina, were one of Hollywood’s dazzling power couples. She’d meet the casts of his shows at various industry events, “do the wife thing, say ‘Hello’ and be gracious,” she recalls. Also, having been co-host of the popular “AM Los Angeles” for four years, Cristina met pretty much every show business luminary out to tout their latest projects.

For the Cleveland born-and-raised Cristina, it was a dream come true. “I was like a little girl caught up in this amazing fantasy — sitting with people like Jimmy Stewart and Lucille Ball.”

She notes, “The whole town was so different then.”

Indeed, things were quite different in the four-network universe, when everyone was watching the same shows, before the fragmentation of TV into dozens of outlets and hundreds of viewing choices.  “Home & Family” remains a bastion of show business of, well, a homier and more family style than much of television now.

“That’s what makes us so unique — no make believe ‘reality,’ no shock value. We have real life problems and humor,” says Ferrare, who is in her third season of the show co-hosted by Mark Steines. “We cook and play games. We shoot the show in a real house.”

Their house is in the middle of the Universal Studios Hollywood lot, but hey, it’s still real — which is a bit like Cristina herself. Much as she is part of the show business milieu, she remains relatable to her admiring audience, coming off as down-to-earth, charming and warm — the neighbor everyone would like to have.

She and Tony have now been together 31 years. The former network honcho currently has projects in the works at Sony Television and with the BBC. “He loves producing,” she says.

What’s their secret to a long-lasting marriage in (of all places) Hollywood?

“A sense of humor,” she answers. “We argue — but we argue laughing. We are each other’s best friend.

“And our family — our kids are everything to us. We have seven children — two from my first marriage, three from his, and our two together. Everyone gets along with everyone. It’s always family, family, family.”

And food, naturally, considering Cristina’s culinary gifts. “Home & Family” viewers have seen daughters Arianna and Alex whipping up delectable items along with their mother. Alex has been pursuing cooking and comedy, in fact, and Cristina says she may just have her own show one of these days. “She’s really funny.”

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Jan 05
richardsonPatricia Richardson admits she was nervous about her Jan. 9 guesting on Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing.”  The actress, who spent eight seasons playing Tim’s onscreen wife on “Home Improvement,” says she had absolutely no trepidations about working with Tim again — it was just that it had been so long since she’d done sitcom work, she wondered how it would be going back into the fray.  Turns out, she had a blast playing a power tool-weilding neighbor of Tim’s current character — and the door has been left open for her to return in her new Helen Potts role again.
Fellow “Home Improvement” alumni Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Richard Karn already turned up on “Last Man Standing.”  As for why it took awhile for the “Last Man” team to get around to asking Richardson, “I think Tim is very protective of Nancy Travis and their relationship on the show,” she says of his current TV Mrs.  “Bringing in the wife from the former show might have caused complications.”  If he did have any concerns in that regard, according to Richardson, they were quickly forgotten.  “Nancy is incredibly centered and well-adjusted — one of the most centered and well-adjusted people I’ve ever met in this industry.  I don’t believe she felt threatened by me in the slightest.  My favorite scenes were the ones I did with the two of them together.”  Plus, her character befriends Nancy’s.
Richardson, who, you may recall, went the drama series route with “Strong Medicine,” says she’s wide open to the idea of doing another series now — either comedy or drama, but likely not a network show.  The series she watches are generally on cable, free of the demands and restrictions of broadcast network shows.  
“I’m much edgier than a lot of ‘Home Improvement’ fans realize,” she notes.  “And I’m different from what they expect politically.  That show is very popular among red state Republicans and I’m a blue state liberal Democrat.  Sometimes people start following me on Twitter and I know they’re surprised.”
Now that her children are grown (her 23-year-old twin daughter and son graduated college this year and her 30-year-old son married), she would be able to focus full attention on work.   In the past, Patricia was not only balancing child rearing as a single parent with her series chores — she was also flying East regularly as she took care of the needs of her late parents, who were each fraught with long-term illnesses.  
Patricia today is a strong advocate for research to cure the ailment that took her father’s life, Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).  She also serves as the national spokesperson for CurePSP.  There is an overlap in PSP research and the quest for a cure for Alzheimer’s, points out the actress, who believes brain disease research in general is drastically under-funded.  Right now, she is taking advantage of her “Last Man Standing” attention to shed light on the cause, and also, to generate notice for the “Home Improvement” jacket and shirt she will be auctioning off on eBay for CurePSP.  Check her @prichardsonla Twitter feed for more information.
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Jan 01
Nicki_Minaj_3,_2012The new year is here at last! Say goodbye to a year filled with entertainment news nobody predicted — a year in which a Hollywood studio suffered a cyberattack allegedly by a foreign country, formerly-beloved father figure Bill Cosby took a fall into infamy, and George Clooney got married. What in the world could be in store for the new year? It’s time to dust off our trusty celebrity crystal ball and make fearless predictions about the entertainment world and its stars in 2015.

With Garth Brooks and Christine McVie out of retirement, the next AARP-aged music superstar retiree to return to the spotlight will be Steve Perry — who already teased the idea in 2014, appearing with the Eels in May and leading the crowd in “Don’t Stop Believin'” at a San Francisco Giants playoff game. And they won the World Series. It was a sign.

Given her dramatic change of appearance, the media will have a field day with the title of Renee Zellweger’s first film in four years, “Same Kind of Different As Me” — “Kind of the Same As Me,” “Kind of Different Me,” etc.

Critics will feel obligated to mention Meg Ryan’s and Melanie Griffith’s dramatic changes of appearance in reviews for Ryan’s directorial debut, “Ithaca,” based on the 1943 novel “The Human Comedy” by William Saroyan. Yes, excessive cosmetic surgery is, in fact, a sad human comedy.

Despite the most over-reported and picked-apart advance news bites of any film in history, J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will rule the movie-going universe upon its release Dec. 18.

A new generation of Clooneys will be on the way before year’s end, courtesy George Clooney and his “Most Fascinating Person” bride, human rights attorney Amal Alamuddin. Sure, George said he’ll never have children, but he also said he’d never wed again.Come on! You’ll make pretty babies.

In answer to the unprecedented popularity of exposed celebrity buttocks in 2014, look for the launch of a new line of fashion dolls called Back by Popular Demand — with backsides that put Barbie’s dainty derriere to shame. Included will be the Nicki doll, with a gyrating wonder of a wind-up butt, dancing to “Anaconda”; the Kim doll, with her oiled bottom accessorized with an iPad to break the internet; the Jenny doll, exciting the interest of onlookers as she parades her bountiful “Booty” down the block; and the Beyootiful doll who comes complete with a stage and a costume featuring cut out glutes and a halo.

Speaking of that particular part of the anatomy, there’s “Real Housewife” Teresa Giudice. She recently noted in a TV interview about New Year’s resolutions that she’d like to stop eating “bad carbs” because she wants to get her “ass back” — but she never mentioned that she’s about to go serve 15 months for fraud. In fact, as the cookbook author will note before 2015 is through, she has found the ultimate restricted diet: prison. Come out of the big house looking like a brick house.

The “Ghost Hunters” on SyFy will at long last capture unequivocal proof of post-mortem activity when they stumble onto the ghostly visage of Lindsay Lohan’s career.

Meryl Streep will make it 19 Academy Award nominations with her “Into the Woods” performance as the witch — but she won’t win Oscar No. 4. Patricia Arquette will take home Best Supporting Actress honors for “Boyhood.”

Tyler Perry will make a movie in which he’s wearing a dress.

Neil Patrick Harris will make it a sweep with his upcoming Oscar show emceeing success rounding out his run of awards show hosting achievements. Oh, wait. There’s still the Grammys.

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey will skewer North Korea in their Golden Globes opener Jan. 11 — and their lines will be way funnier than just calling someone a monkey.

Happy new year, everyone!

Dec 05

jay thomas and david lettermanJay Thomas admits “there may be tears” when he does his annual Yuletide turn on “The Late Show with David Letterman” this year — knocking a meatball off the top of Dave’s tree and telling his Lone Ranger story again — because, with Dave retiring, this is going to be the last time for that oddball tradition.

“I don’t know what year it started — 1998 maybe?  Wow.  I guess the genius of it is that Letterman thought of doing it every year,” says Jay.  “It’s nerve wracking, there’s no doubt about it.  The damn thing looks pretty small up there.”

As a football devotee, he loves having a football-related claim to fame — but even more, he gets to be “the guy,” that recurring guest who always pumps up the crowd like Don Rickles or George Gobel  when Jay watched talk shows as a kid.

But although his Letterman finale may be bittersweet, Jay certainly has other irons in the fire to think about.  The veteran actor and radio talk show host is in his 10 year with Sirius Satellite, doing his daily talk show that runs 3-6 p.m. Eastern time.  And he has his recurring gig on “Ray Donovan” as a tabloid TV producer named Marty Grossman who bears more than a little resemblance to TMZ’s Harvey Levin.

“Harvey’s not interested in it,” Jay lets us know.

Or at least, whatever interest he may have had seems to have subsided.  “I was getting out of a car at a mall and there’s this TMZ guy there, and I said, ‘Oh, this is great.’  I made fun of the fact they were following me around.  Harvey doesn’t like that.  The kid was laughing and I was laughing, and I acted shocked and all that, and pretended I cared.  I don’t even know if they ever ran it or not, but you know, Harvey tends to take himself a little seriously,” Jay opines.

Jay had envisioned his character on the gritty series about a tough Hollywood fixer ending badly, “Ray Donovan” style:  “They’d have me having sex with a man and get killed with a baseball bat.”  However, Marty lives on.  “I was talking to one of the producers and asked if they’d thought about killig him off, and he said yeah.  I suggested that it would be interesting for Ray to need him.  I mean, he’s always doing stuff and Ray is always getting mad at him, but it looks like they know each other.  So the writer says, ‘I never thought of something like that,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, okay.  Just trying to keep my job, basically.’

“So I was in the second to last episode of the season, and in the last episode he hands this DVD to his assistant and says, ‘Get this to Marty,’ the name of my character.  My wife turns to me in bed and slaps me five and says, ‘Well, I guess you’re back.'”  I’m back.  Marty ran something for Ray and now he owes Marty something.”

He enjoys playing Marty, who tends to be surrounded by gay bodyguards.  “I have my muscle shirt on.  I worked out for it.  It’s gotten me into good shape, so it’s very good,” Jay notes.

He says he hasn’t acted as much as he would have liked to through the years, but what he has done has had focus.  He has a way of being memorable on memorable shows.  On “Cheers” he was Eddie LeBec, hockey player husband of Carla (Rhea Perlman).  On “Murphy Brown,” he was Murphy’s boyfriend, the Morton Downey-esque Jerry Gold — and won two Emmys for it.  He was the Easter Bunny in two “Santa Clause” movies and the football coach in “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

Jay did an onstage turn recently that was particularly close to his heart — his son’s musical, Somewhere With You.  Country song writer JT Harding is Jay’s eldest son, “my biological son that I gave up for adoption many years ago.  And then about 20 years ago, he came back to us and I became friends with his mother and father. Sadly, they both passed away in the last few years.”

Jay was close enough to his son’s adoptive family to have flown to Grosse Pointe for his brother’s wedding.  Harding “is the big brother to my other sons,” he says.  Jay and his wife had everyone over for Thanksgiving.

The musical features Harding songs made famous by Kenny Chesney (as in the show’s title, the Number One song “Somewhere With You”), Uncle Kracker, Jake Owen and JTX.  Jay performed in it at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre in New York last summer.  It’s described as a “coming-of-age love story centered around a new generation of Southerners, confronted by the methamphetamine epidemic, the war in Iraq, and other post-9/11 challenges in the rural South.”

According to Jay, the producers are taking it “all over the country.  That’s what it takes to get these shows done — perseverance.”

He’s looking forward to more family time during the holidays.  But first, he has a meatball to topple.


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Nov 27

JoBethWilliamsPhotoAt a time in life when many consider slowing down, JoBeth Williams has never been busier. She’s currently balancing roles on two series, has work on a third and has two movies in the can. Not so long ago, she found herself going from one series set to work on another on the same day. She admits there have been times she’s been “at one studio thinking, ‘Now wait a minute. Where do I go from here?’ I get lost.”

Not that she is complaining.

Long embraced by the movie-going and TV-watching public for her honest portrayals — in dozens of films including “Poltergeist,” “The Big Chill” and “American Dreamer” and television productions from “I Am Bill W” to “Dexter” — the down-to-earth, all-American actress says she can’t imagine ever retiring. “I like being busy.”

She’s charmed by the team on “Marry Me,” the NBC show on which she plays Ken Marino’s controlling mom, Myrna. Her other series, TBS’s forthcoming “Your Family or Mine” (both from “Friends” producer Jamie Tarses) has JoBeth working opposite long-time friend Richard Dreyfuss.

“It’s based on an Israeli show that is hugely successful over there,” she says. “The idea of it is that each episode takes place at one set of in-laws’ house. So one week it’s set at our house — me and Richard — and the next week it’s at Ed Begley Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson’s house. We are the parents of the son, they’re the parents of the daughter. It’s about how hard it is to get along with your spouse’s family. And it’s very good and very real and very true, I think. So we’ve had a lot of fun, Richard and I.”

They met more than 30 years ago, as founders of a group called L.A. Classic Theatre Works — the precursor of today’s L.A. Theatre Works — that was comprised of “movie, television and theater actors who had all been trained in the theater and wanted to do plays.” JoBeth worked with Richard on radio plays and on a reading of “Babbitt,” but “Your Family or Mine” marks “the first time we’ve actually played husband and wife.”

She laughs when asked how she likes Dreyfuss as a mate. “Oh, he is one of the most imaginative people! He’s a character and he’s fun and the audience loves him. He’s a hambone like the rest of us. I think he’s having a great time. The writing on the show is really good and the other actors are terrific, so we’re really enjoying ourselves.”

With that going on, is it hard to get back into the “Marry Me” mindset? “Sometimes, yeah,” JoBeth responds. “But because it’s a different format. It’s one camera, and you shoot it like a movie. ‘Your Family Or Mine’ is done before an audience, and I love that because it reminds me of theater. It has that live response which really, particularly in a comedy, feeds you and is so gratifying for an actor — although you do get to go back and redo stuff, which you don’t get to do in play,” she adds, smiling.

“With ‘Marry Me,’ what is really fun, the writer/creator David Caspe — who is married to the leading lady, Casey Wilson — he’s often on the set, and he and the directors love to have the actors try a lot of different things.”

TV pundits have duly noted that the network chose to pick up only five episodes of “Marry Me” rather than a full back nine for the second part of its season order, leading to speculation about the show’s future being short.

She points out Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” began with a 13 episode order, then a pickupfor five more — then more episodes were added. Now that show, produced and directed by JoBeth’s husband, the highly regarded film and television director John Pasquin, is in its fourth season.JoBeth, however, says, “It’s got a following and I think it’s a terrific show. I think these young actors are so funny, so good and so clever. I think NBC is behind it because they don’t have a lot of comedies that are working, and this one they have has a lot of promise.”

The Pasquins have been married since 1982 and have two sons. “They’ve both finished college and are out in the work world going ‘well, hell,'” as she puts it.

As for her own career, the affable star says “I’m just happy to be working.” Thinking again, she adds, “It’s exciting because it gives me hope for the future of actresses. As long as I’ve been an actress we’ve been saying, ‘Surely the numbers will improve of roles written for women, and surely the number of roles written for older women will improve. And they haven’t very much unless you’re Meryl Streep. Now I think maybe what we’re seeing, with the quality of television being done and the types of material, that maybe the roles for women over 50 are starting to expand. I hope that’s true.”

Are there still items on her career bucket list?

“I’ve never done a Broadway show and I would love to do a Broadway show,” she says. “I’d love to do another lead in a movie; it’s been quite a while. I was nominated for an Oscar for directing a short film, then I directed for a couple of years — but then I became very busy acting, and my directing was forgotten. People don’t think of me as director anymore. I’m always looking for scripts to do a little independent movie to direct.”

JoBeth, who also finds time to serve as president of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, also feels she’s improved with the years. “I think I’m much smarter than I was when I was a younger woman. I think I have a better attitude toward things. I think I feel a little more connected to my life, and not like it’s this kind of frenzy of trying to achieve.” Now, says JoBeth, “It’s more about being able to do work I love to do, to be able to do it throughout my life, to maintain my health so that I can do it, and to take care of my family — to make sure that those relationships are nurtured and fed. It’s more important to me to enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it.”

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