Landau lauds wooden ‘actor’

GOOD MORNING: “He has more expressions than a lot of wooden actors I’ve worked with,” said Martin Landau, Oscar winner for his Bela Lugosi portrayal in “Ed Wood,” now playing Geppetto in “Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio.” The puppet is the creation of the Jim Henson Creature Shop’s animatronics/puppets/creature effects team. Sometimes as many as nine members of those teams work Pinocchio in scenes with Landau. In Prague on the $ 25 million pic for Savoy (North America) and Kushner/Locke (international), Landau says, “The movie could not have been made five years ago — today’s mind-boggling technology will make this Italian version of the ‘Pinocchio’ story come to life.” Geppetto’s first meeting with the computerized puppet comes after he completes carving the puppet. Then, while taking a bath — and singing “Funiculi, Funicula” and reaching for the soap, Pinocchio hands it to Landau! “He looks like wood, complete with wood grain, but the subtlety of his every expression and movement is amazing. He walks down the street with me — we have conversations,” said Landau — who admits he’s getting his greatest salary for this role. He allows Lugosi was a challenge but Geppetto is “even more so.” Landau’s look is “Ben Franklin-ish” with long gray hair and period glasses –“But it’s clearly me,” he insists. The pic has been shooting on the Croatian coast as well as exteriors in Prague with interiors in the city’s venerable Barrandov Studios. His dressing room was formerly occupied by Tom Cruise during Par’s stand there for “Mission: Impossible”… Young Jonathan Taylor Thomas plays Pinocchio. He laid down tracks for all but his final “live” scene in the first week of the movie, as Thomas had to return for the start of his “Home Improvement” role. He’s no stranger to soundtracks — having done one as young Simba in “The Lion King.” Thomas segued to “Pinocchio” immediately after playing “Tom Sawyer.” Steve Barron is directing and Landau says “he has a vision” for the movie that is touching as well as exciting. Savoy’s prexy and CEO Robert Fried tells me the screening room here is packed every day when rushes are shown from Prague. “He (Landau) tugs at your heart with his relationship with the little wooden boy.”

MORE THAN A FEW TEARS were shed on another Czech set, this one “Fight for 13 .” Screenwriter Stephanie Liss reports several real-life survivors of this Polish WWII ghetto story visited the location outside Prague. They were unable to watch the reenactment of the story of a 13-year-old Polish girl’s attempts to save 13 Jews. The pic’s for Lifetime and Hearst Entertainment. Richard Colla directs. Marion Ross, who co-stars with Kellie Martin, completed her “Fight” scenes and then winged to Kansas City to legit “Steel Magnolias”… What’s a girl to do? Shirley Knight’s nominated for two Emmys, as guestar in ABC’s “NYPD Blue” and supporting actress in a miniseries or special in “The McMartin Trial.” The former Emmy is presented on Saturday, Sept. 9, and the latter at the Sunday soiree gala presentations. “So, I have to buy two gowns,” she laughed. She’s now working in the bigscreen “Diabolique” with Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani and Chazz Palminteri. Knight says she plays an eccentric. How eccentric? “Well, when I’m so busy singing along to (a record of ) Whitney Houston on ‘I Will Always Love You,’ I don’t hear Sharon and Isabelle committing murder!” Yes, Knight, a Tony, Oscar and Emmy nominee, is having a lot of fun with this role. And next she wants to exec produce “The Cleaning Lady” by Michael Hair. “And yes, there’s a wonderful part in it for me,” she laughed. Her husband, John Hopkins, will screenplay. They’re heading to France to see daughter Kaitlin in John Adams’ opera “I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky,” about the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Peter Sellars directs at Paris’ Bobigny Theater.

WEDDING BELLS FOR Meredith Baxter and screenwriter Michael Blodgett Oct. 21 at the Bel Air Hotel. Baxter’s also readying the midseason ABC sitcom “The Faculty,” in which she stars and exec produces with Gary Murphy and Neil Thompson … Here’s the invite you’ve been waiting for: The sixth annual “End Hunger Network No Show Ball.” You are cordially invited to enjoy a quiet evening at home and not listen to speeches, eat rubber chicken, etc. Just send in contributions for this worthy cause. You don’t even have to acknowledge your contribution!

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