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DANCE IS DESCENDING TO THE TOP

Hundreds of feet below the city streets in some abandoned tunnels that sheltered thousands during the World War II bombings, Charles Dance is making a new thriller, “Hidden City.”

“It will,” says first-time director Stephen Poliakoff, “show a London few people have ever seen before.”

That it will. Forget about Big Ben, the Tower, Westminster Abbey. Welcome to the dank, dark world where so many Londoners spent their nights back in the ‘40s.

For that’s where much of the story takes place as Dance, playing a writer, takes on the dangerous task of helping a young woman (Cassie Stuart) search for some classified government information stored in the underground tunnels.

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“It’s certainly a different look at London,” said Dance, who, even at this level, cuts an imposing figure. “Here we are hundreds of feet below the people and the traffic. A lot of the beds are still here from the war. But, of course, it’s no longer open to the public.

“I wanted to do this because it’s Stephen’s debut as a director and he wrote it (Poliakoff is best known here as a playwright; his “Breaking the Silence” was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company) and I must say it’s looking good.

“The only trouble is we have only a six-week shoot, which isn’t nearly long enough. Film makers in this country work under such difficult circumstances. And that’s a shame because we have such talented people.”

(“Hidden City,” which has no distributor yet, is partly financed by Britain’s Channel 4 television network.)

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Dance, whose star has been in the ascendant since he made his mark as Guy Perron, the intelligence officer in the acclaimed TV series “The Jewel in the Crown,” and then went on to co-star with Meryl Streep in the movie “Plenty,” took this film because it intrigued him--not because he needed the money.

“There was hardly any money,” he said. But he does not have to worry. The last two years have been busy and fruitful ones for him.

He co-stars with Eddie Murphy in Paramount’s coming “Golden Child,” directed by Michael Ritchie. “What do I play? I play a high camp villain, Sardo. It wasn’t a great intellectual exercise, but it was great fun.” The movie opens Dec. 12. “Hopefully,” he said wryly, “to great acclaim.”

In January he’ll be seen playing Shirley MacLaine’s lover, Gerry Hampton, in producer Stan Margulies’ miniseries based on her book, “Out on a Limb.” This ABC production, among other things, highlights MacLaine’s claim to have had an out-of-body experience in Peru.

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Did MacLaine’s story convince Dance? “I try to keep an open mind,” he said diplomatically. “I had lots of discussions with Shirley, but most of them went ‘round in circles. She’s almost a theologian now, you know. She’s read her Bible and her Koran and she can back up everything she says with data. It’s quite hard to have a rational conversation. Personally I think it’s quite brave of her to have done this. She is laying herself on the line.”

Next year, too, Dance will be seen as D.W. Griffith in Vittorio and Paolo Taviani’s film, “Good Morning Babylon,” an Edward R. Pressman production that Vestron will release. The story concerns two Italian brothers who come to America and wind up working for Griffith on “Intolerance.”

“Now there was a wonderful role,” Dance said. “And I got to put on those wide-brimmed hats that Griffith always wore. Apparently he thought his nose was too big for his face so he wore those hats to balance it up. I suspect it will be a remarkable film, a great evocation of Hollywood in its early years.”

Clearly Dance, who is 40, is on a roll.

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“Yes, it’s a good time,” he said. “I just hope it lasts. I want to try to have a career both here and in America, to be an actor in demand. I’ve lost a couple of things recently simply because I didn’t have enough clout. But perhaps that will come. I’m not yet in a position where I can do what I want to do, but at least I’m in a position where I need not do something I don’t want to do.

“And that’s encouraging,” he added, preparing once again to plunge off into the labyrinth.

LIGHTS OUT: With Timothy Dalton now going through his paces as the new 007, producer Cubby Broccoli and the James Bond team expect--and they’re getting--a lot of attention from reporters and photographers on the set of the latest adventure, “The Living Daylights.”

But what they are not at all keen on publicizing is the fact that the dashing Dalton is a chain smoker. So when there are photographers about, “Cubby” and company have the no-smoking signs out.

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After all, James Bond as a nervous chain smoker? Can’t have that.

QUOTE: From Glenda Jackson, whose son Daniel is 17: “He gets terribly embarrassed by me. Not because I’m well known but because I’m prone to singing in the street. . . .”


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