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Offscreen publicity adds sizzle


Brad and Angelina,

Walkin' on a beach.


But we don't really know that. And they're saying it's not true. So all the tabloids must be wrong? It could happen.

The two actors have a movie out, the armed-and-dangerous divorce comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith. That's where the rumors started, during the filming.

Then, Brad Pitt's marriage to Jennifer Aniston broke up. Gossips went into overdrive.

"I see still-frames from the movie, where they're playing husband and wife, put on the cover of magazines and represented as vignettes from their real lives," said Akiva Goldsman, producer of Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

Besides, all of that infidelity buzz could hurt the movie. Or, as it turns out, help it. Pitt and Angelina Jolie and a sassy treatment of what could have been morbid material produced a $50-million-plus hit on its opening weekend. Maybe a few ticket buyers were intrigued by the thought of seeing on-screen the sparks that were flying off-screen.

Film history is rife with instances of movie stars taking their screen romances home with them. Julia Roberts took up with Liam Neeson, Kiefer Sutherland and Dylan McDermott earlier in her career.

But many fans say they pay no attention to tabloids and the offstage antics.

"I'd never let something I see or hear about a star make me decide on what I see," said Steve Compton, 32, of Longwood, Fla. Even Russell Crowe's latest arrest won't sway him one way or the other about Cinderella Man. "On the screen, it's acting. The guy may be a jerk in real life, but who cares?"

Then again, business for Cinderella Man plummeted its second week in release. Maybe nobody wants to see the jerk -- who tosses phones at hotel clerks -- throw right hooks in a movie.

Caroline Appleton, 18, of Orlando, Fla., said she ignores Tom Cruise's Oprah Winfrey Show antics or Crowe's hotel phone flinging.

"If the crime or whatever they do is funny, it might influence me," she said. "That guy they caught playing the bongos naked? If I knew his name, I'd see all of his movies!"

That's Matthew McConaughey. His Sahara is still in a few theaters. And we hear he has been dating, and might be engaged, to co-star Penelope Cruz.

When actors and actresses play intimate, the "work" can turn intense, and we're not just talking about Mickey Rourke ("realism" was rumored about his sex scenes with Carre Otis in Wild Orchid).

"These people are adults," Goldsman said. "Their personal lives are their personal lives, and they're not anybody's business but theirs."

But in this day and age, with Oprah promoting the Tom and Katies and scandal sheets serving up weekly Bennifer spats, or Matt Damon/Minnie Driver break-ups, or even romances seemingly invented by publicists (Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt on Pay It Forward), the fictional world gets confused with the real world. And that sits in the back of the viewer's mind when he or she watches J. Lo play an uninterested lesbian to Ben Affleck (Gigli) or Anne Heche unable to even feign the hots for Harrison Ford in Six Days, Seven Nights.

"You have to have chemistry between the actors, and with married couples that desire thing often isn't there," director Luis Mandoki said. "So you end up working with stars who aren't married to each other. They have to find a way to get that passion on the screen for you. And sometimes, that gets out of hand."

Can you stop it? Whatever the status of the old studio "morals clause" that forced stars to keep it clean or at least keep it quiet, is there a standard producer or director lecture about how hanky-panky could hurt the picture?

"I would never dream of talking to actors about that because grown-ups should get to do what they want to do," said Goldsman, an Oscar-winning screenwriter and producer. "I've had it happen on a couple of pictures I've worked on. But it's not a business for kids."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing Newspaper.

For film events, see Page 35.

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