December 14, 1998 12:00 PM

Let’s get small

Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce says it wasn’t difficult to find his inner bug to voice the character of Slim in Disney’s new animated feature A Bug’s Life. “I just felt an itching,” says Pierce, 39, whose walkingstick bug does battle with Kevin Spacey’s evil grasshopper. “I guess you need to have an active imagination.” The actor’s portrayal has made him more sympathetic to the multilegged masses. “When I see individual bugs, I feel more familiar and friendly toward them,” says Pierce. “But I haven’t extended that to any actual feeling of animosity toward the Orkin man or the Black Flag company. I won’t be out protesting.”

A Gold mine

Peter Fonda admits that he doesn’t actually talk to big sis Jane much these days. “E-mail is how Jane and I stay in touch,” says Fonda, who stars in a Civil War-era interpretation of Shakespeare’s Tempest, airing Dec. 13 on NBC. “That way I don’t need to call her office and go through a whole bunch of people before I can get to her. I just plug in and write. And she likes it better because I don’t talk so much when I have to write it down. She still calls me the little brother with the big mouth.” Even so, the onetime youth hero is finally, at 58, a contender for more mature roles. “It’s all thanks to Ulee,” Fonda says, referring to his Oscar-nominated turn as a beekeeper in last year’s drama Ulee’s Gold. “People used to ask me what I’d do when I get old and can’t get roles. But now I can expect a full career in motion pictures. Just let me know when Sean [Connery] and Clint [Eastwood] are gone.”

Just a guy named Gwyneth

In the period comedy Shakespeare In Love, opening in limited release Dec. 11, Gwyneth Paltrow portrays an aspiring Elizabethan actress who cross-dresses to audition for a play. “Suddenly I was this boy with a mustache,” marvels Paltrow, 26, who costars with Joseph Fiennes (Ralph’s younger brother) and her real-life leading man, Ben Affleck. “It was interesting to see the change in all the other boys on the set. It was a very different energy from when I came in as this frail, pale blonde girl. I was treated more like an equal.” Having previously appeared in the period films Jefferson in Paris and Emma, does Paltrow feel like she was born in the wrong time? “No,” she says. “I can’t see myself in any age before there were some modern conveniences. I need plumbing.”

Past interference

Dawson’s Creek dreamboat James Van Der Beek hopes to score on the big screen with his high school football drama Varsity Blues, due Jan. 15. In fact, if fate hadn’t intercepted, the actor might have pursued a career on the gridiron. “Right before high school, I got a concussion playing football,” says Van Der Beek, 21. “So that season I ended up doing a play and fell in love with the theater.” Still, being a teen heartthrob, Van Der Beek sometimes has to run for cover. “I can’t really go to the mall anymore,” he says. “But I’m not complaining. You won’t hear me saying, ‘Oh, I’m so famous, I just can’t stand it.’ ”

Still Pretty

“It’s like old home week,” says Hector Elizondo of reuniting with the Pretty Woman team of Richard Gere, Julia Roberts and director Garry Marshall for Runaway Bride, the romantic comedy they’re currently filming. The Chicago Hope actor, who played Roberts’s hotel-managing fairy godfather in 1990’s Pretty Woman, now plays Gere’s best friend. “I’m somewhat of a matchmaker since I instigate the two getting together,” reports Elizondo, 61. “So again I’m a little bit of connective tissue. Except for one difference: My hairpiece is thinner. That’s the good thing about being bald—you can change your look.”

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