Big Screens Get Hot TV Stars

Paul Brownfield is a Times staff writer

Calista Flockhart is playing Helena in a film version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” while Jennifer Aniston is in Austin, Texas, shooting an offbeat comedy written and directed by Mike Judge, the man responsible for the wickedly funny animated hits “Beavis and Butt-head” and “King of the Hill.”

Meanwhile, the four co-stars from the WB’s envelope-pushing teen-sex-and-angst drama “Dawson’s Creek,” among the breakout hits of the 1997-98 TV season, have six films in the works among them.

The summer hiatus is here for network television series, which means the stars of these shows are off giving a jump-start to their feature film careers.

It’s an entertainment industry axiom that “TV creates stars, stars don’t create hit TV,” which is why actors routinely make the jump from TV shows to feature films while there’s much less traffic going the other way.


Aniston and Flockhart, for instance, were unknowns before their respective shows, Fox’s “Ally McBeal” and NBC’s “Friends,” became hit shows. Aniston, in particular, has traded directly on her TV identity in a slew of lead roles in romantic comedies, including “The Object of My Affection,” “Picture Perfect” and “She’s the One.”

Flockhart, arguably the hottest comedic actress going in any genre thanks to her eponymous role in “Ally McBeal,” is in Italy shooting “Midsummer,” directed by Michael Hoffman (“Restoration”) and co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett and Kevin Kline. For Flockhart, this is a return of sorts to her roots, since she came to television from roles in the theater, including Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” and Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.”

Michelle Williams, James Van der Beek and Katie Holmes of “Dawson’s Creek” are part of the wave of actors feeding the many high school-themed films in the works, along with Sarah Michelle Gellar of the WB’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the cast of Fox’s “Party of Five,” led by Neve Campbell.

Williams, who has a three-picture deal at Miramax, is doing “Halloween: H20,” a sequel to the John Carpenter horror classic with Jamie Lee Curtis and Adam Arkin, and “Dick,” co-starring with Kirsten Dunst as teenagers who wander into President Nixon’s life on a high school field trip to the White House. Directing is Andrew Fleming (“The Craft”). The movie also features Ryan Reynolds, of ABC’s “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place,” the network’s successful midseason sitcom entry that comes back for its first full season in September.


Van der Beek will be seen in “Varsity Blues,” about a Texas town’s obsession with high school football. Holmes, meanwhile, is shooting “Killing Mrs. Tingle,” a thriller co-starring Helen Mirren and “7th Heaven’s” Barry Watson, while “Disturbing Behavior,” a horror film, is due for an August release.

Gellar of the WB’s “Buffy” is in “Cruel Inventions,” a modernized “Dangerous Liaisons” set among rich New York high school students. Jennifer Love Hewitt (“Party of Five”) stars in a comedy due out June 12 called “Can’t Hardly Wait,” about an aspiring writer with a crush on the most popular girl in school.

Jenna Elfman, Dharma of ABC’s “Dharma and Greg,” will try to erase the memory of “Krippendorf’s Tribe” with her co-starring role in “edTV,” director Ron Howard’s media satire co-starring Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Ellen DeGeneris, which recently began production. Tentative release date for the film is early next year.

Aniston, working on the comedy “Office Space” with Judge, isn’t the only cast member on NBC’s “Friends” doing a movie this summer. Courteney Cox is in “Alien Love Triangle,” co-starring Kenneth Branagh and directed by Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “A Life Less Ordinary”), and Matthew Perry is in Toronto shooting the comedy “Three to Tango,” co-starring “Party of Five’s” Campbell. Perry can be seen onscreen with the late Chris Farley in the comedy “Almost Heroes,” while fellow cast member Lisa Kudrow has two films out, “Clockwatchers” and “The Opposite of Sex.”

Not so long ago, cable programming was nothing more than a mosquito bite of a concern to the broadcast networks. But the encroaching popularity of certain shows can’t be ignored; witness the runaway success of Comedy Central’s “South Park,” and the attendant feature film inroads for creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The duo star in David Zucker’s “BASEketball,” due July 31, while a “South Park” movie is also in the works.

For some in TV, the move to feature films is more permanent. Both Jimmy Smits (ABC’s “NYPD Blue”) and Andre Brauer (NBC’s “Homicide”) are leaving their respective series to pursue other projects, the second time Smits has done so. Brauer, seen most recently in “City of Angels” with Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage, is currently shooting “Thick as Thieves,” a dark comedy with Alec Baldwin.

Should either come back to TV after an underwhelming foray into feature films, expect the TV industry to welcome them back, as David Caruso discovered when he landed the cop drama “Michael Hayes” on CBS last year after bolting “NYPD Blue” several years ago to pursue film work full-time.

Of course, Caruso’s show was promptly canceled after one season, proving that sometimes, you can’t go home again.