IF YOU WERE TRYING to win your client an Oscar, what would you do? Go to People magazine, ask this column to burble on, take ads in Variety, slip it into Page Six in the guise of sexual innuendo, approach Vanity Fair? None of the above. What you should do is get James Lipton to set your star for one of his interviews on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” No kidding. Bravo’s showing of these Q&As has won 12 Emmy nominations in just a dozen years. It’s now the big thing to sit down with the man who knows more about the stars than they remember about themselves. Lipton is an actor himself and a writer of a well-loved kind of literary underground book called “An Exhaltation of Larks,” listing the genre of various species — “a pride of lions” to name the most obvious. That he should find himself famous overnight and in demand as an interviewer of the stars is fantastic in itself. He is these days on the pinnacle of personal success, being to showbiz what Charlie Rose is in seriousness and what Larry King may be in popularity. Now Lipton has delivered two books. The first is a representation of “An Exhaltation of Larks,” with many new terms,coming out in the fall from Viking/Penguin. On the same day we’ll get Mr. Lipton’s own memoir of his 13 years in the inquisitor’s chair — “Inside Inside” will be the history of his years asking famous questions at the Actors Studio. He will include all notable moments, including Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino and where they answer back, “But how in the world did you know to ask that?” (He has 100 major stars on his list.) Lipton’s show is a kind of advertisement for the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace U., where he has been a founding dean for 10 years. Students have just auditioned for the January class. People like to josh that Mr. Lipton is “pompous.” We should all be so pompous, so dedicated, we should all do such substantive research, we should all want to improve everything from literature to acting, we should all be able to publish two books in one day.

WHO WOULDN’T WANT to sit down with a silver-haired he-man who is 6’4″, looks to be in sensational shape, has starred in a number of big ongoing TV series, played both Clark Gable and Ronald Reagan on the screen and is wed to one of pop culture’s most fabulous divas? Well, I wanted to. James Brolin is such a straightforward kind of mystery. He is amazing in his down-to-earth commonsensical attitude about where he resides in the showbiz firmament. In New York promoting a little TV movie starring someone else (John Stamos) — Mr. Brolin is frank that he enlisted in A&E’s telepic “Wedding Wars” to repay a debt to two producers he admires — Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. When I asked this star of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Hotel” how he felt playing the King — Clark Gable — some years ago, he laughed. “I didn’t connect, even though Jill Clayburgh was playing Carole Lombard. I sat down and watched all of Gable’s films. On the fourth day I told producer Sidney Fury, ‘I’m beginning to absorb something.’ It turned out to be the most fun shoot of my career, playing Gable. Then when Craig and Neil wanted me to play Ronald Reagan a few years ago, I just said, ‘No, I can’t. Stupidest idea I’ve ever heard of.’ But they knew I was kind of well-known for doing an imitation of the Cabbage Patch doll that says: “Welllll…Nancy,’ so after I read the script, I gave in. It was controversial, but that’s what life is about — the philosophical joke of existence. We are all living these days in a kind of cartoon.” Brolin is a real Hollywood success story. He fell into doing movies as a California kid. He has never yearned to be a stage actor. And he is charming, good-natured, realistic. He’d do more directing and producing if only the times weren’t so horrible for financing. He loves his children, his daughter-in-law, the glamorous actress Diane Lane, whom he describes like this: “Oh my God. This is a blue-jeaned, barefooted fabulous girl.” He doesn’t have too much to say about his wife who is a famous singer. But this is what he does say about that. “Since I married Barbra, I have turned down jobs that I couldn’t be proud of. I’m associated now with somebody with very good taste. I want her to be proud of what I do. Of course, I need to develop my own projects. So what I don’t do is more important than what I do.”

ETERNALLY YOUTHFUL John Stamos is currently cutting a swath through the hearts of “ER” audiences as the new hunk on NBC’s long-running series. But Stamos might have another trick up the sleeves of his hospital greens. John is known to tango his co-stars into a few deft dance steps between takes. It relieves the tension. The actor confessed he’s had some private dance lessons. So stay tuned — John Stamos on “Dancing With the Stars.” You heard it here first … Eternally shirtless Matthew McConaughey is Down Under with Kate Hudson. Relax. They’re just making a movie called “Fool’s Gold.” The other day, Matthew, a compulsive surfer, went out to Queensland’s Gold Coast to play. Another surfer’s board accidentally hit him upside the head. The actor staggered out of the water and asked some Aussie beach dudes for help to get home — to Malibu. “Do you know where you are, mate?” said one of them. Matthew’s noggin cleared, “I thought I was in California. I forgot I was in Australia until you guys talked to me.” Where is Lance Armstrong when you need him?

FORGET ALL THE NOISE about how many musicals are playing in London at the moment. Over there the big news is Broadway’s Frank Langella’s performance as Richard Nixon in Peter Morgan’s play “Frost/Nixon.” It sold out at the Donmar Warehouse and transferred to the West End, where critics are comparing Langella to the legendary Laurence Olivier. What’s best about this news is that “Frost/Nixon,” an edge-of-your-seat, behind-the-scenes look at the historic David Frost interviews, is coming to Broadway this spring. So polish up yet another Tony award. Frank’s new film, “Starting Out in the Evening” is in competition at Sundance next month and looks like a winner. If you can’t wait to see Langella, you can catch him in the DVD release of “Superman Returns,” where he plays Clark Kent’s boss Perry White. Hey. Super times for a super guy… Also getting raves in London is Sharon Gless. She appears on the BBC America miniseries “The State Within,” playing the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Sharon’s powerhouse performance — “Madeleine Albright crossed with Donald Rumsfeld” — will be seen in the states beginning in January. Gless, ever busy, has also been cast in “Burn Notice,” a 90-minute pilot for the USA Network. And next year marks the 25th anniversary of Sharon and Tyne Daly’s fabled “Cagney & Lacey” series. To celebrate, DVDs of the show will be released at last.

(Email Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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