December 29, 2003 12:00 PM

Secret Mission

Ben Affleck wings his way to the Mideast to unveil his new film, Paycheck, and brighten the holidays for troops away from home

Now headlining in Baghdad, all the way from the U.S.A., let’s have a big hand for…Ben Affleck? Yep, the actor is heading east to entertain the troops in the spirit of Bob Hope’s Christmas tours. For security reasons, at press time the USO would not confirm Affleck’s exact destination, but it’s believed to be Iraq. One thing is declassified, however: Affleck will take along his new action thriller Paycheck and give soldiers a sneak preview of the film. “Ben feels strongly about visiting the troops,” says a rep for Paramount, which is releasing the flick. “It’s a bump for morale, and he’s thrilled that he has the opportunity to go over and give them a little bit of home. His heart is in the right place.”

Don’t expect to see Jennifer Lopez by his side. Though the two were cozy during a visit to New York City on Dec. 15, the Persian Gulf trip is expected to be a solo mission. Affleck will follow his Good Will Hunting costar Robin Williams, who performed for soldiers on Dec. 16 at the Baghdad airport.

OTHER STAR TROUPERS

BRUCE’S MILLION-DOLLAR DEAL

September 2003: On his visit to Iraq Bruce Willis offered $1 million for Saddam’s capture. But don’t look for a payout. Says his rep: “That offer was based on an individual doing it outside the realm of the armed forces.”

The Olsen Twins: College Bound

The Olsen Twins can stop checking the mailbox: New York University has invited them to join the Class of ’08. “Like every other senior, they had been sweating out their acceptance and they are absolutely thrilled,” says their rep, Michael Pagnotta. “They have always taken academics very seriously. This is a major achievement for them.” Mary-Kate and Ashley, both 17, will be enrolled next fall at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, a college with approximately 900 undergraduates within NYU that allows students to tailor their own curriculum according to their needs and ambitions. The girls may have taken a shine to Manhattan after filming there earlier this year for their upcoming movie, New York Minute. The teen moguls join a long list of NYU celebrity alumni, including Will & Grace’s Debra Messing, model Christy Turlington and actresses Camryn Manheim and Marcia Gay Harden.

Christmas Jeer

Lauryn Hill startled the audience at a Dec. 13 Christmas concert in Vatican City by berating the Catholic Church. “God has been a witness to the corruption of His leadership, of the exploitation and abuses…by the clergy,” said Hill, 28, apparently alluding to the church’s recent sex scandals. Many of the 7,500 people attending the concert (Pope John Paul II was not among them) did not understand the former Fugee’s English rant, while some shouted basta!—enough. The speech will likely be cut from a Dec. 24 Italian broadcast of the show. “The outburst was an example of bad manners,” said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who attended the performance. “At least at Christmastime we should think of other things.”

CARTER FAMILY BLUES

Singer Aaron Carter has fired his manager mom, Jane, setting off a bitter financial dispute. “People started letting me know that bills weren’t being paid,” Carter, 16, told Scoop. “And I’m like, ‘That can’t be right’ ” The teen idol, whose parents are in the middle of a messy breakup, also accuses his mother of “putting me in the middle of her divorce with my dad…she sees me as her enemy. That’s really hard to deal with.” (Older brother Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys could not be reached for comment.) Carter, who now lives with his father, Robert, plans to file for legal emancipation from his mother by the end of the year. Jane Carter said she was heartbroken and saddened by the dispute, adding, “I am confident that the truth will come to light in a court of law.”

Real or Fake? The Fir Flies

Among the cherished traditions of the holiday season is the eternal dilemma: Buy a real tree or go faux? We asked some celebs to weigh in.

FAKE

LL Cool J

“I like the incredibly realistic fake one with a scent. You don’t have to clean up as much. There’s no mess, but it smells like Christmas.”

REAL

Pamela Anderson
“Real all the way. Real is better.” Really?

FAKE

Eva Mendes

“Fake. They have this nostalgia for me, because growing up I always had a fake one. We were poor, and they’re cheaper to keep year after year.”

REAL, BUT…

Thom Filicia (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy)

“Real, but if you are going to do fake, do really obviously fake. Go silver or white or Lucite, so it doesn’t look like you are trying to fool anyone.”

REAL

Jennifer Tilly

“Real. Absolutely. The fake ones last a lot longer, but they don’t smell as good. That goes for women too.”

Home at Last

Roy Horn is returning to Las Vegas. Mauled by a tiger Oct. 3, moved to an L.A. hospital Oct. 28, “he’s coming home for good,” says a source. Horn, who plans to leave L.A. before year’s end, will do his rehab in a hospital room that has been set up in his house. The performer, 59, cannot yet speak but is now able to write notes.

Love Euro Style

Luciano Pavarotti wed his longtime girlfriend, Nicoletta Mantovani, in his hometown of Modena, Italy on Dec. 13, in lavish style. A gospel choir sang “Here Comes the Sun” as the bride arrived half an hour late, dressed in pale pink Armani—just like the couple’s 11-month-old daughter, Alice. Among the 600 or so guests at the civil ceremony were Andrea Bocelli, who sang “Ave Maria,” and U2’s Bono and The Edge. Pavarotti, 68, and Mantovani, 34, became involved after she was hired as his secretary in 1993. Meanwhile, Elvis Costello and his bride, Diana Krall, honeymooned in Paris and Venice after a Dec. 5 wedding in Westminster, England, and according to Toronto’s The Globe and Mail, a second ceremony at Elton John’s place outside London.

POP QUIZ

Elijah Wood

As Frodo in the third Lord of the Rings film, The Return of the King, Elijah Wood teams with Sean Astin, playing Sam, to destroy the Ring. Scoop asked Wood, 22, about their relationship onscreen and off.

We spoke with Ian McKellen about Sam and Frodo’s chemistry. He said if he were directing, he might suggest that [they were gay].

There are a fair number of fans that see it as a homo-sexual relationship. But it wasn’t really how I saw it or how Sean saw it. I think it is just a very loving, caring, close relationship. It is still up for interpretation.

Off camera, are you and Sean Astin close?

Definitely. It transcends friendship. Sean became a real brother to me.

He said he gives you great advice on women.

I don’t know if it is such good advice. He is hilarious. We share a mutual love of film. We spend a lot of time together and talk a lot.

Did he help fix up your apartment in Manhattan?

He did, bless him. He went and stayed there. He wanted to fully furnish the place.

You turned 22 this year. What was that birthday like?

Pretty messy, actually. Considering that I don’t often go out and get drunk.

It’s always your buddies that corrupt you…

Which is exactly what happened. They were like, “Listen, just sit down. We are going to be feeding you drinks.”

Where do you hope to be at 30?

I would love to produce and direct. I would like to have a record label. I would like to take photography a little more seriously.

What about marriage and family?

Yeah. I can’t wait to have a family. I mean…I can wait, [laughs] I love kids, but I don’t think I want to have children until I am in my 30s. I want to reserve my 20s for traveling and experiencing new things. I look forward to being married one day.

To the right supermodel?

God no.

ON THE BLOCK

CAMP KELLY

PRICE: $1.6 million

PLACE: Los Angeles

SPECS: Kelly Osbourne is selling the 2,700-sq.-ft. Hollywood Hills home she purchased just eight months ago for $1.2 million. “She’s doing another year of the MTV show, so she’s decided to stay at her parents’ house,” says listing agent Joe Babajian. The 1926 Spanish-style hideaway is minutes from the Sunset Strip.

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