What is happening in Connecticut?

<b>Liz Smith: In New York</b>

WITH NO offense to any of the films that have screened so far at the Tribeca Film Festival, the hottest action surrounding this event is hearing the shrieks of laughter coming out of Jane Rosenthal’s office as dailies of Robert De Niro’s movie, “What Just Happened?” are screened. De Niro, who is juggling a full schedule already and overseeing his Tribeca cinema-thon, commutes daily by helicopter to Connecticut to act in this comedy. This is one of those movie-within-a-movie things, directed by Barry Levinson from director/producer Art Linson’s semi-autobiographical book. De Niro is playing Art, seen here as trying to make a movie while his life falls apart. Linson is an old pal to De Niro. Sean Penn plays a brilliant but temperamental leading man, Catherine Keener is the tough and chic head of a movie studio, John Turturro is a nervous agent with dry heaves whenever negotiations get stressful, Bruce Willis appears as — Bruce Willis — slightly gone to seed and refusing to shave his beard for the movie and Robin Wright is on hand as the divorced wife of De Niro, sleeping with screenwriter Stanley Tucci. De Niro, Art Linson, Jane Rosenthal and Todd Wagner’s 29/29 Company are producing “What Just Happened?” Levinson is also editing the movie in his Connecticut home. The Nutmeg State is wildly popular these days. Because of new tax incentives, 10 productions are under way.

THE BIDDING on the Andre Agassi memoir went skyhigh — $5 million — All but unheard of in publishing these days. The tennis ace went with the distinguished Sonny Mehta of Knopf because he is buddies with former President Clinton and Knopf did Bill’s bestseller. HarperCollins won rights to the book in the United Kingdom. Somebody up there thinks Agassi has quite a tale to tell, possibly because of his wedlock and break-up with Brooke Shields. (And his brief but celebrated affair with Barbra Streisand.) Andre and Brooke divorced in 1999 and Agassi went on to marry tennis champ Steffi Graf. Agassi is happy because John McEnroe got only $1 million for his book. McEnroe’s book went No. 1 on the New York Times list the minute it was published; Agassi hopes to do even better.

THERE I was backstage at Carnegie Hall getting ready to emcee the fabulous New York Pops Orchestra when who came to give me a squeeze but that errant knight of a firefighter, Denis Leary, the star of FX’s “Rescue Me.” Denis has personally raised over $2 million for firefighters across America. He is a real prince. When I asked, “What’s it like to be a sex symbol to millions of women?” — Denis laughed. “You have to ask George Clooney that.” I said I had asked George and he said, “Ask Denis Leary.” Denis went onstage then and slew the audience with charm and candor. He reminded us of the aftermath of 9/11 when women went into firehouses with flowers, food and the chance to flirt to remind us who we owed and why we were thankful to be alive.

WILL SMITH practically became a New Yorker during the filming of “I Am Legend,” throughout the five boroughs. (“Legend” was one of the longest New York location shoots ever.) Will had a special trainer keeping him fit on all sorts of medieval-looking muscle-machines from NYC’s the Gym Source. … If I say Connie Britton, I know you will recognize her as Tami Taylor, the coach’s wife and guidance counselor, on the NBC series “Friday Night Lights.” Connie has just made a documentary in Ethiopia. Once edited and released, the movie will raise funds for the Mehen Orphans Relief Effort. And I might as well get this off my chest about “Friday Night Lights.” It’s one of the best looking, best written and most authentic looks at Texas and football I’ve ever seen. A true dramatic hit.

(Email Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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