SARAH IS definitely the hardest part I’ve ever had to play” says Kate Winslet, who arrived at the 14th Street Balducci grocery with a stroller attached, as if part of her outfit. She discussed “Little Children” at length. “The emotional journey the character Sarah goes on is epic — epic for a woman. … Sarah is isolated, depressed. She feels she lost herself through having a child and marrying the wrong man. She resents the child and has made terrible errors of judgment. The challenge was to embrace playing someone so weak.” … The British-to-the-core Kate is living in Greenwich Village with her two young children and husband Sam Mendes, who is directing David Hare’s “The Vertical Hour.” She is taking a year off from acting.

THE TONY-WINNING Thomas Meehan (involved with “Annie,” “The Producers” and “Hairspray” to name just three hits) is luring us to a new version of “The Tempest.” The idea came from composer-lyricist Daniel Neiden, the man who did “Welcome to Tourettaville.” Together these talents run Dec. 2-23 at the Cherry Lane. They have added alternative rock, gospel and the old soft shoe to the Bard’s final play. Call Smarttix.com or 212-868-4444 if you like Old Will with a twist. Meehan is also working on the stage version of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” and John Waters’ “Cry Baby.” … That was the divine Spanish sensation Penelope Cruz embracing the divine all-American sensation Jessica Lange in the St. Regis. Penelope was burbling to Lange: “I can die happy. Now, in New York, all in one day I have seen two of the women I admire most – you and Susan Sarandon.”

FILM FANS will have a devilish time deciding between three screenings today. Time’s Richard Stengel hosts Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men,” starring Clive Owen at MOMA … Ed Burns presides over “The Last Picture Show,” the Peter Bogdanovich 1971 classic that propelled Cybill Shepherd to stardom and won an Oscar for Cloris Leachman. That’s at Soho House … David Yurman the Cinema Society and Vanity Fair screen Marilyn Monroe at her best in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” (Jane Russell, playing MM’s sidekick, gives the best performance opposite Marilyn of all her many co-stars, male or female.) That’s at Tribeca Grand.

THE NEW YORK Jets-Chicago Bears game was awash with food mavens. Steve Millington of Michael’s, Drew Nieporent of Nobu, Marco Maccioni of Circo, Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque, Rocco Sacramone of Trattoria L’Incontro, Susan Paolercio of Raos, and others. They joined Jets owner Woody Johnson and Jets prexy Jay Cross in deluxe suites. Nieporent flew in from Dublin where he’d been traveling with Bruce Springsteen on tour. Stars on hand included Paul Rudd, Kevin James, Adam Sandler, Kyra Sedgwick, and Julian Casablancas of the Strokes. … Paris Hilton is rumored to command $60,000 to decorate an event, but for New Year’s Eve, Paris is ready to show up anywhere for $150,000. Perhaps several places. … Fergie, the fun-loving Duchess of York, says she wants to tango on “Dancing with the Stars.” She was in Buenos Aires recently and picked up a few moves. … Phyllis George’s presence at the recent annual Rita Hayworth Gala raised a whopping $3 million to help fight Alzheimer’s disease.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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