IT Movie Improver

AGE 55
WHY HER? It took a now-infamous hot tub scene in About Schmidt to convince some people of what many of us already knew: When Bates enters a film, it's better for her presence; when she exits, it's never quite as good again. She's also an inspired director (Six Feet Under, Oz, the A&E movie Dash and Lilly).
ON FULL-FRONTAL NUDITY (OTHERS', NOT HERS) ''Directing Oz was totally surreal. I remember thinking, What the hell have I gotten myself into? In one episode a character had to touch another's penis. I said to [creator] Tom Fontana, 'Can you really show this on HBO?'''
BEST OSCAR STORY After not winning for Best Supporting Actress this year, fellow nominee (and loser) ''Meryl Streep sailed by, grabbed my arm, and said, 'Let's go have a drink.' We slammed our bags onto the bar and she said, 'Two vodkas.' It was a real Bette Davis/Joan Crawford moment -- it just took the sting out of losing. It's hard to sit and lose in front of millions. I think we both wanted it -- you want it a lot.''
NEXT Playing an eccentric marquesa (yes, really) in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, due in 2004.

IT Dead Guy

AGE Dead
WHY HIM? The general who conquered the Persian Empire is conquering megaplexes with two big-budget biopics: one starring Colin Farrell for 2004, the other with Leonardo DiCaprio.
DOUBLE TAKE This showdown may seem like Hollywood myopia (Wyatt Earp vs. Tombstone) but Alexander's past is interesting enough for a trilogy. He was schooled by Aristotle, marched his army from Gibraltar to the Punjab, considered himself divine, and bought the farm at 32.

IT Elf

AGE 26
WHY HIM? As The Lord of the Rings' flowy-haired archer elf Legolas, he managed to spear the hearts of thousands of teenage maidens around the world...even though he was sharing most of his scenes with babe magnet Viggo Mortensen. And although his breakthrough role came just two years ago, he's already had the opportunity to work with such heavyweights as Peter O'Toole, Julie Christie, and Geoffrey Rush. (Did we mention that fabulous hair?)
INFLUENCES Paul Newman, Daniel Day-Lewis, and his Pirates of the Caribbean costar Johnny Depp. ''They raise the bar, do you know what I mean?'' says Bloom. ''I admire how they've developed their careers.''
IF HE WEREN'T ACTING, HE'D BE... Sculpting. Sculpting? ''I did better in sculpture exams for A-levels than I did in theater studies,'' he says. ''My mum is always going, 'Just keep up the sculpture, darling' -- she's convinced she's gonna have a little shop somewhere and sell my sculptures someday.''
AND WHEN HE ISN'T SCULPTING OR ACTING, HE'S... Indulging his inner news junkie. ''You go into a bit of a cocoon when you work and you kind of forget about the world outside.''
WORST JOB ''I was a clay [pigeon] trapper,'' he says. ''You know when you go shooting and the ceramic disks fly out and you shoot them? I was the guy who pulled the trap and let it go...I always wanted to be the shooter.''
NEXT This summer Bloom is featured in Pirates of the Caribbean; next year he'll work opposite Heath Ledger and Rush in the Australian crime drama Ned Kelly and with Brad Pitt in Wolfgang Petersen's Troy.

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