GOOD MORNING: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are phoning/faxing each other London-N.Y. deciding which roles each should play in their next, Castle Rock’s “Half Way House.” It’s based on stories pals told ’em about a home for the mentally impaired. While the duo were at first going to play workers in the facility, Damon now tells Affleck he wants to play one of the retarded residents. Also set to star is Affleck’s brother Casey. “It’s an ensemble piece,” says the Oscar-nominated (with Damon) writer, now in London for tonight’s preem of “Good Will Hunting. “I’m the only one here from the picture,” Affleck says. “Matt just wound ‘Rounders’ in N.Y.” Affleck’s also in London acting in “Shakespeare in Love,” the Tom Stoppard screenplay based on Marc Lawrence’s original. Joseph Fiennes plays Shakespeare in the 16th century-set story also starring Geoffrey Rush and Affleck’s friend Gwyneth Paltrow. Yes it’s appropriately costumed for the period and Affleck boasts, “I have the greatest codpiece ever — it puts ‘Batman’ and ‘Robin’ to shame!” His role: “the bombastic, raging, whoring, syphilitic actor, Ned Allyn.” Gwyneth plays Viola, who pretends to be a man (!) so she can be a member of the (all-male) acting troupe. Affleck says the period pic “mirrors politics of Hollywood today.” In the next Affleck-Damon joint acting venture, “Like a Rock,” for Miramax, Affleck says, “I’m the romantic lead — and Matt is the supporting, like I was in ‘Good Will Hunting.’ ” Affleck is also set for Miramax’s “Dogma,” to shoot in Pittsburgh. How does the young (25) Affleck judge which of the many offers to accept? “I gauge them when I read the script and say, ‘I wish I’d written that.’ ” He admits being overwhelmed by the Oscar nomination (he’ll also present) and by the plethora of pix presented and the hefty work sked. “But, I’ve known many a day in the (not so distant) past when I had nothing to do but go and look in the mailbox.”
SALES OF BOB DYLAN’S ALBUM, “Time Out of Mind,” have jumped 400% since winning the Grammy, Columbia told award show producer Ken Ehrlich. Ehrlich’s now readying to exec produce the March 10 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, which he describes as “a hybrid of music and movies.” Mariah Carey opens the show singing “My All.” The show, sans hosts, airs live on UPN from the Pantages. Ehrlich then produces the VH1 Awards April 14 from N.Y.’s Beacon theater. And then the Alma Awards April 19 on ABC … Meanwhile, the Oscar race heats up with the ballots out, and 50 Oscar statuettes will ship out here March 11 from R.S. Owens in Chi. They are accompanied by the Academy’s exec director Bruce Davis — plus Pinkerton guards accompanying ’em to and from a United flight with an Oscar image on the fuselage! P.S.: Oscar show performers will also fly United … Add transportation news: Jacques A. Nasser, president of Ford Automotive Operations and chairman of Ford of Europe, receives Variety Clubs Intl.’s Lifetime Award. Longtime supporters of Variety, the Children’s Charity, Ford donates two Sunshine Coaches to 35 Variety tents annually. Lifeline, founded by Joe Sinay and chaired by Salah Hassanein, has saved the lives of over 3,000 youngsters from 55 countries … Cadillac launches its STS car in So. Cal. with “Wishing on a Seville,” a benefit studded with supporting autograph- and picture-signing celebs benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It’s March 20 in L.A.’s California Plaza, where an estimated 10,000 are expected to participate in aiding children with life-threatening diseases … Celebs racing in the Toyota Grand Prix April 4 at Long Beach include Jim Belushi, Cameron Diaz, Queen Latifah, Daryl Mitchell, Catherine Bell, Joshua Morrow, Jim Moret and Carlos Amezcua.
FRESH FROM ADDRESSING the House of Lords, David Puttnam, a member since last August, has managed to complete producing “My Life So Far” for Miramax, again teamed with “Chariots of Fire” director Hugh Hudson. Puttnam, who attends House meetings three times a weekend, also serves on two government committees: one on education standards, the other a creative industry task force (copyrights, etc.). He says, “I’ve never been so busy in my life!” But he’s happy to have made this film, admitting, “I haven’t liked everything I’ve produced but this one makes me feel good.” Having seen “Good Will Hunting,” he volunteered, “It’s the kind of film I tried to make” … Roger Moore, in Moscow filming David McKenzie’s Associated TV Intl. “The Secret KGB UFO Files,” reports they were given complete cooperation by Russian military — including entry in army bases where tanks were on maneuvers. P.S. Moore was also mobbed for autographs … Following the preem-party of “The Man in the Iron Mask” at the N.Y. Public Library, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mira Sorvino and Claire Danes partied with Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein at Elaine’s — the site for Entertainment Weekly’s third annual Oscar party … Marlo Thomas, now on bigscreen in Tom DeCillo’s “The Real Blonde,” is here, with brother Tony, sister Terre and mother Rose Marie, to host the annual St. Jude’s Benefit at the BevHilton Thursday.