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As a cocky fighter pilot in the new sci-fi thriller Independence Day, Will Smith has his share of close encounters, one of which lands him aboard an alien spacecraft with a computer whiz played by Jeff Goldblum. Theirs is a simple mission: Save the world. “We got into this laughing jag that doubled us over,” Smith, 27, says of trying to film the pivotal scene. “It was just so hilarious that life as we know it depended on Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith! I turned to Jeff and said, ‘Man, this planet is in trouble. Give up now! Surrender!’ ” No wonder, then, that Smith’s plans for celebrating the Fourth of July were limited to a backyard barbecue. “The only thing I’ll be saving,” he says, “is the hot dog from falling into the flames.”


Englishman Sir George Martin, who produced all of the Beatles records, has done something that surviving Beatles Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr haven’t: become a knight, an honor that Queen Elizabeth bestowed on Martin last month. “Paul was the first to ring me,” says Martin, 70. “He was just over the moon. So was George, who has always been the quietest of the three. Ringo rang me and said, ‘You’ll be king one day!’ ” Other than fielding all the congratulatory calls, Martin says, life continues apace. “Anybody that called me George before calls me George now,” he says. “Silly to put on airs and graces.” But will he at least rate a better table at restaurants? “Ha! I guess I’ve got that to look forward to. It would be rather nice.”


Actress Elizabeth Peña, who plays a Mexican-American schoolteacher in Lone Star, director John Sayles’s latest movie, is of Cuban descent. Although she was born in Elizabeth, N.J. (for which she is named), she spent her first eight years in Cuba and still carries strong memories from her days there. “When it rains in Cuba, the earth gets wet and aromas linger in the air,” says Peña, 36. “Coffee can be overpowering. A mango smell can fill a room.” She recently tried to go home again by buying mangoes at a market in Seattle, near where she lives with her carpenter-contractor husband Hans Rolla. But, she says, “I had to bring them right up to my face and sniff very hard to get that yummy mango smell. It wasn’t the same.”


“I grew up wanting to be a triple-threat performer like Shirley MacLaine,” says Vanessa Williams, 33, who stars opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser. Her résumé already boasts three Grammy nominations and a starring role in the Broadway musical Kiss of the Spider Woman. Her three children with husband and former manager Ramon Hervey have apparently inherited some of Mom’s talent. “My oldest [Melanie, 9] has been bitten by the bug. She played the princess in The Princess and the Pea at school,” brags Williams. “The youngest [Devin, 3] really got into Bye Bye Birdie after I did the TV version last year. He twists around the house singing ‘One Last Kiss.’ The middle one [Jillian, 7] is an artist. She sold her drawings out of my trailer on Eraser. She’d sketch Arnold and then sell it to him for a quarter.”