February 12, 2001 12:00 PM

Bad Reaction to Action

Don’t look for Sean Penn in any mega-budget shoot-’em-up flicks anytime soon. While the actor, 40, is always hunting for parts with larger paychecks that will allow him the financial freedom to pursue pet projects like The Pledge, his latest directorial effort, he hasn’t found a worthy script. “I always go through the same process. I hear what the offer is for the mindless action movie, and I say a prayer: ‘Please, please don’t embarrass me,’ ” says Penn. “But I just read three scripts where between page 24 and 30 the girl, who is much too pretty and much too young for the job she’s doing, says to my character, ‘You’ve got to get out of your head. You’ve got to open up to someone.’ Each time I say, ‘Am I on Candid Camera? Is this a Saturday Night Live sketch?’ It’s beyond bad.”

Taylor Takes Her Cues

Jonathan Silverman’s first encounters with Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor—his costars in the comedy These Old Broads—went exactly as he expected. “Debbie came in singing, Shirley came in telling some fabulous story about a past life, Joan came in all sexy and air-kissing everybody, and when Elizabeth made her first appearance it was like the Queen came for a visit,” he says. In the film, airing Feb. 12 on ABC, he shares a scene with Taylor, who had her lines placed on cue cards, fearing that her 1997 operation to remove a benign brain tumor might have impaired her memory. “She apologized and said, ‘Darling, I hope that won’t affect your performance, but I had two inches of my brain removed,’ ” says Silverman, 34. “I said, ‘Elizabeth, most of us don’t have two inches of a brain to begin with, so please, do whatever you want.’ She was truly remarkable.”

Educating Mena

Mena Suvari had plenty to shout about while making her cheerleading comedy Sugar & Spice in the summer of 1999. She fell in love with the film’s cinematographer, Robert Brinkman. “We tried to keep it really, really professional on the set,” says Suvari. “Some of the girls were telling me later that they had no idea.” The couple wed last March. “Honestly, I never thought that I would be married or that it would happen so soon,” she says. “But now it’s the best thing in the world to me.” Even with a wedding ring, Suvari, who turns 22 on Feb. 13, can’t seem to graduate from high school, having enrolled in American Pie, American Beauty and now Sugar & Spice. “I still look like I’m 15,” she sighs, “so I don’t know if it will ever end.”

From First Lady to Slim Shady

Many actors are forced to choose between TV and film work, but Stockard Channing gets the best of both, thanks to her part-time role as the First Lady on NBC’s The West Wing. “I have the ultimate luxury because I can go whenever I want,” says Channing. “I get to do other stuff.” That includes brushing up on MTV with Julia Stiles, her costar in the upcoming thriller The Business of Strangers. “We’d be in these hotel rooms in New Jersey and would go right to the television. I became sort of an expert on Eminem,” says Channing, 56. “It definitely raised my cool factor.”

Pre-partum Depression

Anyone who thinks pregnancy is easier the second time around should check with Ricki Lake. “It feels worse,” says the talk show host, whose second child, a boy, is due in June (her son Milo, with artist husband Rob Sussman, is 3). “I’m sicker. I’m working harder than I ever worked because I’m doing [CBS’s] The King of Queens and my show. It’s all great stuff, but I didn’t realize I’d be getting pregnant so quickly.” Now Lake, 32, is eagerly hoping for a healthy bout of morning sickness. “I wish I could throw up,” she says. “My body will not give up a calorie, ever.”

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