GOOD MORNING:A bombing in Tel Aviv with one American killed — that’s the storyline on which the “West Wing” troupe had just done a cold reading for the fourth seg of the new season. The company emerged from the reading to be told of the suicide bombing in Jerusalem in which an American had been killed. “It was mind-blowing,” said Richard Schiff (he plays Toby Ziegler), one of the series’ eight Emmy-nominated thesps (that tally includes guest actor Oliver Platt). “Hopefully,” Schiff told me, “this is the last time our nonfiction reflects the fiction.” But he praised Aaron Sorkin’s “profound understanding of the foibles of humans — that people sometimes force themselves into thinking certain things. His understanding of that phenomenon is amazing!” Sorkin, who also chronicled his own foibles that led to his drug arrest (and resulting probation) “is in good spirits,” Schiff said. “I’ve never seen him better. To create the way he does each week — it’s like he has a conduit from some divine power.” Schiff admitted he’d also given Sorkin some of his own story ideas. “He might discard them — or give them to somebody else — but I’m very happy. I’ve even told him I don’t mind not talking; I could use a couple of days off.” Schiff was one of the group of four who signed “the very expensive indentured servitude” new (seven-year ) “West Wing” deal. Before returning, he also completed feature “I Am Sam” with Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer, and a legit outing at Vassar in Joanna Murray Smith’s “Nightfall,” a “nonstop 97 minutes on stage, when halfway through I’d ask myself, ‘Why can’t I be in the Caribbean?’ ” His wife, Sheila Kelley, has been equally busy, with a stint at Vassar while winding the feature “Dancing at the Blue Iguana,” which she wrote, produced and stars in as one of the strippers — along with the also disrobing Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly and Sandra Oh. Kelley, a former ballet dancer, had been exploring strip clubs for 10 years. Schiff accompanied her on all these investigative forays. After seeing his wife nude on stage/screen, Schiff said, “It was not offensive to me. After all, I get to take her home.”
THE BUBBLE IS SET TO BURST TODAY as Touchstone’s “Bubble Boy” filmmakers-stars face the press for the first time at the Four Seasons junket. “Be sure you say ‘Touchstone’ and not ‘Disney,’ ” “Bubble Boy” director Blair Hayes asked me. The word “boycott” was already in the air and on the Web. Hayes checked the chat-room site as we talked and noted that comments were equally pro and con about treating the subject of immune deficiency as a cartoon movie. The trailer promises a no-holds-barred caricature of a boy battered about in his home — a plastic bubble. “It (the trailer) only tells the visual part of the movie,” Hayes says. “The movie really centers on an innocent out in the world for the first time. We all identify with him because of his innocence.” Hayes claims comparisons with “Me, Myself and Irene,” as well as the character of Forrest Gump. However, he insists his “Bubble Boy” is a “total cartoon.” It differs from the 1976 Spelling-Goldberg telepic “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” starring the very young John Travolta. I looked at it once again this week and was reminded what a real tear-jerker it was — with a riding-into-the-sunset finale. Sadly, the real “bubble boy” story ended for David Vetter, who was born without a functioning immune system. He died in 1984 at age 12. His parents and other members of the Immune Deficiency Foundation claim the new pic is insulting “to patients suffering the disease.” Hayes told me, “I am sorry if it (the movie) offends them,” but reiterated, “This is a cartoon; it’s a kooky movie. I suggested Touchstone show it to the IDF.” The “bubble boy” is portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal; Hayes says he plays it “very child-like, as John Travolta did.” Yes, Hayes had seen the Travolta starrer many times. Hayes says Touchstone thought about asking Travolta to cameo in the pic. Would you believe they wanted him to play the leader of a cult called “Bright and Shiny.” P.S. Fabio got the part. Hayes says, “You’ll laugh a lot — and you’ll cry. We’re not poking fun at the disease.” “Bubble Boy” is commercials director Hayes’ first feature. He wanted to do the commercials for his pic, but says his company, the Hayes Office (!) didn’t get the job — even thought his banner does American Express commercials and the most popular aired P.S.A., for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, starring Denzel Washington … You recall the added real-life drama for “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”: John Travolta’s first love, Diana Hyland, who co-starred with him in the TVersion and won an Emmy, died in his arms of cancer the year after “Bubble” aired.
AARON SPELLING IS RECUPERATING at home and continuing to work, having undergone successful radiation for a lesion on his throat … It was a new role for Jimmy Caan: Tuesday he was the father of “American Outlaws” co-star Scott Caan, and Wednesday, Caan pere and wife Linda were hosts for a discussion on women’s cancer by UCLA’s gynecological oncologist Dr. Robin Farias-Eisner at Il Sole on the Sunset Strip. The doctor told of successful cloning and cancer prevention through gene therapy research via the Joan English Foundation Fund. He also was the medic for the birth of Caan’s two youngest children. Jimmy had returned from Cambodia and “Under the Banyan Tree.” He said the location was so tough, “The mosquitoes were the size of Buicks.”