Chuck Arnold
October 18, 1999 12:00 PM

The Sheen Era

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: “I am not [playing] Bill Clinton,” says Martin Sheen, 59, who assumes leadership as President Josiah Bartlet in the new NBC Oval Office drama The West Wing. “This President is fictional.” Even so, the show’s producers have assembled their own team of advisers to present an accurate portrayal of the Commander-in-Chief. “[Former White House press secretary] Dee Dee Myers is one of our consultants,” says Sheen, whose costars include Rob Lowe as the deputy communications director. “She keeps an eye on us and makes sure I’m presidential.” Not that the actor is expecting any feedback from the Big Guy himself. “I do know the Clintons have seen the show,” Sheen says, adding with a laugh, “but I hate to think that the real President would have time to watch a TV show.”

Witch’s Brew

“I am in no hurry to grow up right now, but at the same time I am not going to hold myself back,” says Sabrina, The Teenage Witch star Melissa Joan Hart, 23, responding to criticism of her recent appearances on the covers of two men’s magazines—Maxim and Bikini—wearing barely a stitch. The actress was even zapped by Michael Silberkleit, executive producer of Archie Comic Publications, which owns the Sabrina character, for tarnishing the witch’s wholesome image. Hart admits, though, that being a TV witch does have its obligations. “Being a role model comes with the job,” says Hart, who also stars in the new big-screen teen comedy Drive Me Crazy. “There are certain fine lines you have to walk about what you do, what you say and who you are seen with.” Well, she adds with a laugh, “not who you are seen with, but what you do with them.”

Collecting Research

To play a bedridden, quadriplegic ex-police detective in the thriller The Bone Collector, due Nov. 5, Denzel Washington met with Christopher Reeve, himself a quadriplegic. “I spoke to a lot of people—Chris was one of my last stops,” says Washington, 44. “Actually, Queen Latifah [who plays Washington’s nurse] went with me to Chris’s house to talk to his caretakers and docs. And Chris was very helpful by allowing her to move him around and help stretch him out. But when Chris and I were alone, we basically just talked about movies. We didn’t really talk too much about his injuries. I had to learn about that for myself.” And so he did, lying in bed on the set for some 12 hours every day. “It was one of my biggest challenges, to lie immobile for hours on end,” he says. “It was actually painful.”

A Stiff Upper Lip

In the new comedy Happy, Texas, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam costar as escaped cons who are mistaken for gay organizers of kiddie beauty pageants. Zahn (Forces of Nature) hopes the film will show that people from small towns are not necessarily small-minded. “I think it’s cool that in our movie we have these people accepting these two guys who they think are gay. I’m tired of seeing Midwesterners and Southerners portrayed as boobs,” says the Marshall, Minn., native. “I come from [a town of] farmers, and they might not be cool, but they’re genuine, giving, honest people.” As for the secret to his southern twang in Happy, Texas, the actor says it’s all in the embouchure. “If you don’t move your upper lip,” Zahn, 31, says, “you automatically sound like you’re from the South.”

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