August 11, 2003 12:00 PM

Image Is Everything

“I do write every day, but I feel pretentious calling myself a poet,” says Brittany Murphy, 25, who stars in the comedy Uptown Girls, due Aug. 15. “I call them stream-of-thought rants more than poems. In the middle of the night I’ll sneak off to a bathroom and write. I’m going to start recording an album, so a lot of that stuff will be incorporated.” The actress’s thoughts are clear when it comes to defending close friend Winona Ryder, who was on trial for shoplifting last year. “Nonie’s one of those people who soaks in every experience and learns from it,” says Murphy. “She should have won an Oscar for never cracking and never having a picture taken of her looking anything but fabulous. We’ll always remember her image during that time.”

Perfectly Suited

Conan O’Brien already knows what he’ll be wearing to the Emmy Awards on Sept. 21 in L.A. “Old Navy has offered to make me a tuxedo,” says the funnyman, 40, whose Late Night with Conan O’Brien nabbed two nominations, including one for outstanding variety, music or comedy series. If he does make it to the podium on the big night, O’Brien’s already got his speech prepared. “I think it’s a time to settle old scores,” he says. “Just read a long list of people who have gotten in my way over the years: interns that didn’t get my coffee quickly enough, people that failed to ask for my autograph.” And as a final flourish, says O’Brien, “I plan to announce that I am leaving comedy to become a stock analyst.”

Lip Service

Macaulay Culkin may be dating That ’70s Show‘s Mila Kunis, but it was Kunis’s costar Wilmer Valderrama who locked lips with Culkin in Party Monster, a true-life drama about Manhattan club-promoter-turned-killer Michael Alig due in September. “Mac and I ran around the block three times before that kiss,” says Valderrama, 23, of the same-sex smooch. “Then we jumped in this dumpster, all hot and sweaty, and got into it.” Culkin, 22, who plays Alig, practiced his technique on his own wrist before the scene. “Thankfully, we have a comfortable enough relationship that we could do it and not feel weird,” he says. “And Wilmer’s a wonderful kisser.”

Voice Over

Performing in front of thousands of concert fans doesn’t faze R&B singer Toni Braxton. Playing Broadway, however, is another story. “I was nervous, absolutely,” says Braxton, 36, who is currently starring in the musical Elton John & Tim Rice’s Aida through November. “I always forget lines. During a concert, if I forget the lyrics, I can say to the audience, ‘You sing!’ I can’t do that on Broadway.” But the Grammy winner faces her toughest audience at home. “He doesn’t really like my voice,” says Braxton of her 4-month-old son Diezel with music producer hubby Keri Lewis. “He doesn’t like my heavy, husky tone. It’s scary to him. I have to make it lighter. It’s all traditional lullabies and Elmo songs.”

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