By Ericka Souter
February 11, 2002 12:00 PM

Praise Be!

It takes a TV special on your life to really know who your friends are, according to Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon, 35, the subject of a Lifetime Intimate Portrait premiering Feb. 4. “I have to admit that it’s kind of exciting,” says Nixon, who lives in Manhattan with her longtime beau Danny Mozes, a photo-studio owner, and their 5-year-old daughter Samantha. “It’s like a wake or a funeral without having to die. They assemble your friends and have them say how great you are.”

Not Another Teen Movie Star

Her peers, such as Natalie Portman and Julia Stiles, headed to the Ivy Leagues, but Jena Malone is opting for a down-to-earth approach to higher education. “I’m not interested in trying to go to a school to prove that I’m smart,” says Malone, 17, who will attend a community college in Northern California next fall. “I’m going to be a hermit up north for a year and study photography.” But don’t expect Malone, who reunites with her Contact costar Jodie Foster in the new drama The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, to disappear: “I won’t be able to stay away from acting for long.”

Act I, Sing Too

With a white-hot acting career and the rising popularity of his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, Russell Crowe has the best of both worlds. Just don’t ask him to choose one. “I don’t think in terms of rock star and movie star,” says Crowe, 37, who was at the Sundance Film Festival to promote Texas, a documentary about his band, three nights before he won a best actor award for A Beautiful Mind at the Golden Globes. “I happen to play music, and I happen to love doing it. If I were to give up my music, my acting would be less informed.” According to Crowe, the combo is a natural one in another way. “Songwriting is the same level of storytelling as acting,” he says. “A three-minute pop song is an absolutely valid way of expressing yourself. But my work as an actor is totally separate. I’m not going to do a rock and roll biopic.” Don’t look for Crowe to record the soundtrack to any of his upcoming films, either. “If I ever do that,” he says, “just shoot me, man.”

Washington’s Crossing

“I had never gotten a bad-guy role,” says Denzel Washington, the villain in Training Day now playing a good guy who does the wrong thing in John Q, a thriller, due Feb. 15. “I get so few good scripts, it’s not like I get five and try to pick.” All that drama now has the Oscar winner itching to show his softer side. “It’s time to do a romance,” says Washington, 47, who might take a page from his real-life love story. “The first professional job I got was in a TV movie about runner Wilma Rudolph, and my wife [Paulette Pearson] was in it,” he says. “I met her and didn’t see her for a year. Then I ran into her at a party. The next night I went to see a play. I am convinced to this day that I must have told her I was going, because when the lights came up at intermission, there she was. She set me up,” says a smiling Washington. “We went for coffee, and that was 24 years ago.”

The Naked Truth

“It’s truly awful doing these love scenes, because I am very prone to getting embarrassed,” says British actor Ben Chaplin, 31, who currently plays Nicole Kidman‘s love interest in the romantic drama Birthday Girl. “We were just sitting around for days, sort of naked.” But the thread-bare actors were never at a loss for words. “Between takes Nicole and I would look at each other and say the most god-awful, stupid things like, ‘Can you believe this weather?’ ‘Do you think they’ll serve the good fish for lunch?’ It’s almost like being at the doctor’s office. You can’t wait until it’s over, even if it is Nicole Kidman across a bed from you.”