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Entertainment Today: Showbiz News

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International   |   May 23, 2003 at 3:00 AM
PORTNOW: WOODY'S STAGE, FILM STYLES DIFFER

Richard Portnow of TV's "The Sopranos" is one of the few actors directed by Woody Allen on both stage and film.

Known to many TV fans as Uncle Junior's lawyer on "The Sopranos," Portnow appeared in Allen's films "Everybody Says I Love You" and "Radio Days," and now co-stars in Allen's theatrical directorial debut, "Writer's Block."

Asked if Allen's styles differed between the two media, Portnow told United Press International there was a lot more interaction with the playwright/filmmaker in the theater than there was on his movie sets.

"My experience on the movie sets was one in which (Allen) said very little," said the 50-year-old Brooklyn native, noting that even though he spent six weeks on the set of "Radio Days" Allen rarely spoke to him or the other cast members.

"I remember on the first day -- that was my very first movie -- after we finished, I went up to him and asked him if I was in the ballpark, if I should add different colors to the character, play him this way or that way and he said: 'No. No. Just do what you're doing and we get to the meaty part of the scene, that's when I'll nitpick,'" he said.

Portnow recalled that when they got to that scene, Allen really only gave him one piece of specific direction: "He said when you're with Dianne (Wiest, who played his girlfriend,) be more affectionate."

The actor said Allen was a lot better at communicating with his cast in the play, however.

"When you're directing a play, you have to talk because your actors are going to ask you questions," Portnow explained. "You're rehearsing everyday... And there's going to be give and take. That's the nature of the beast. I don't know if he knew what he was getting into because, from my experience, he doesn't really like to have a lot of talking with his actors, but he seemed to be having a ball. He seemed to enjoy himself and the results of that can be seen on stage because we're all having a ball."

The sold-out Atlantic Theater Co. production of "Writer's Block" also stars Paul Reiser (TV's "Mad About You,") Bebe Neuwirth (Broadway's "Chicago")and Jay Thomas (TV's "Cheers.")


COMEDIES TO BATTLE 'MATRIX' AT BOX OFFICE

Two new comedies will battle "The Matrix Reloaded" at the box office this weekend.

"Bruce Almighty" stars Jim Carrey as a television reporter who begs God to explain why his life is so disappointing. God, played by Morgan Freeman, decides to let Bruce fill in for him while he takes a little vacation. Jennifer Aniston plays Bruce's perky girlfriend.

Also opening this weekend is "The In-Laws," a remake of the 1979 Peter Falk-Alan Arkin comedy. This outing, which has the same basic premise as the original, stars Michael Douglas as a thrill-loving CIA agent and Albert Brooks as a podiatrist trying to get along for the sake of the kids.


AL ROKER ON BROADWAY

Al Roker was the planned mystery guest star in the hit comedy "The Play What I Wrote" Thursday.

Roker's appearance in the Broadway play marks the first time a non-actor will fill the rotating mystery guest spot. The popular television weatherman is in excellent company, however. The guest roster includes Alan Alda, Jason Biggs, Glenn Close, John Lithgow and Roger Moore. Stars also flocked to the play when it was produced in London's West End.

"The Play What I Wrote" is about a comedy team struggling to put on a "serious" play starring a celebrity. The celebrity changes almost nightly and the show is tailored for the visiting star.

Roker's one-night-only performance is expected to appear on Friday's "Today" show.


PIERCE WANTS HAPPY ENDING FOR TV'S NILES

David Hyde Pierce says he wants a happy ending for his character Niles when "Frasier" ends next season.

Talking to reporters in New York about his new romantic comedy "Down With Love," Pierce said he is glad Niles finally married Daphne (Jane Leeves,) the woman of his dreams, and said he hopes the neurotic shrink stays as happy as he has been the past few seasons.

"He's got the love of his life. So, he's pretty happy. I'll let the writers go where it wants to go," said 44-year-old actor.

The actor, who often lends his distinctive voice to animated features like "Treasure Planet" and "A Bug's Life," said the decision to end the show next season had nothing to do with falling ratings as some media have reported.

"That has nothing to do with it," Pierce insisted. "This is the show saying that we feel next year is going to be the last year as opposed to the network saying, 'Hey, guess what, the show is over,' and I suspect that the network would be happy (to keep us) and our ratings relatively to the night we're on, our ratings may not be what they were five years ago, but we're doing quite well actually."

Asked what he will miss about the long-running sit-com, Pierce replied: "Oh, I can't talk about it. I really can't talk about it. It's too upsetting. It's my family and everything."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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