January 15, 1996 12:00 PM

MAN OF MOODS

You would think the story of a man determined to drink himself to death would be a major downer, but Leaving Las Vegas, the dark drama starring Nicolas Cage, has been described as strangely exhilarating. Vegas recently won four Golden Globe nominations, and both the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association have anointed it best picture and Cage best actor. Oddly, Cage has been trying to move away from dark roles such as the killer he played in Wild at Heart. “Becoming a father made me interested in scripts where I could present a positive image,” says Cage, 32, who is married to Patricia Arquette and has a 5-year-old son, Weston, with his former companion Christina Fulton. Yet Leaving Las Vegas presents a counterpoint to his 1992 comedy Honeymoon in Vegas, and Cage admits such shifts suit his moods as well as his work. “I like to write [in a journal],” he says, “but sometimes it comes out angry. So I decided to have a dark and a light journal. I exorcise demons in the dark journal.”

IMPURE THOUGHTS

When English actress Emma Thompson, 36, turned her comic sensibility to screenwriting, she made Jane Austen’s 19th-century novel Sense and Sensibility into a rollicking good time. “It’s a story about love, betrayal and despair, yet it’s packed with comedy,” says Thompson, who stars in the film and wrote “at least 14 drafts of the screenplay.” Her movie’s a hit, but the backlash from Austen purists has begun. “I met this woman on a plane who asked me, ‘Do you have the basket scene?’ ‘What the hell is the basket scene?’ I said to myself, because the book has left my brain. She said, ‘You know, the basket scene with Anne.’ I said, ‘Oh! I cut Anne out.’ She didn’t say another word. I’ll understand if I get bloody artifacts sent through the post from people who want me dead.”

BREEDING LESSONS

Madeleine Stowe’s performance as a psychiatrist who treats Bruce Willis in the sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys is winning rave reviews, but she and her husband, actor Brian Benben (Dream On), are looking forward to a bigger debut: the birth of their first child. “I have a little girl on the way, due in June,” says Stowe, 37. “We’ll live on our Texas ranch because it’s far away from the Hollywood machine. Los Angeles is ridiculous. People there are worried about which preschools their unborn children will go to. Is this breeding better kids?” As for the pedigree of her costars, Stowe was impressed by Willis: “I think his main objective in life is to have fun,” she says. “I liked to tease him and say, ‘It’s good to be Bruce, isn’t it?’ And he’d say, ‘Bruce likes being Bruce.’ ”

YOU KNOW ME, AL?

The fallout from the 1994 blockbuster Forrest Gump led Mykelti Williamson—who played Tom Hanks’s Army buddy Bubba—to find Al Pacino among his fans. “Al just loves Forrest Gump,” says Williamson, 37, who now plays Pacino’s partner in the thriller Heat. “[Director] Michael Mann called, saying, ‘Al wants to meet you.’ I didn’t believe it, but I went, and in walks Pacino! I kept telling myself, ‘Be cool, brother, be cool.’ ” He won the role, but doesn’t Williamson, who stands over 6’3″, think he’s an odd match for the diminutive (5’7″) star? “No, Al’s 6’3″,” cracks Mykelti, adding, “He wanted a big brother for his partner.” And, perhaps, a new cap. “Al had a Bubba Gump hat, but it was a second run, not an original. So I gave him one that I signed and he wears it every day.”

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