Educating the flying public

Do you find that air travel has become a complex game of numerous airline rules, growing restrictions, oversold flights and never-ending fees? Do you feel knowledgeable enough and prepared to navigate that labyrinth before, during and even after a trip?

I often compare booking travel to a science — with so many different booking codes, fares, upgrade requirements, penalties and other conditions for changes and cancellations, it’s almost impossible for fliers to keep track of it all. That makes them heavily dependent on airline agents, and it’s well known that you can hear different answers to the same question…

Screen, please, doctor

Noah Wyle has never heard of the “Carter scale”, a phrase coined by University of Edinburgh medical students addicted to “ER” — the highly rated US TV drama that has made Wyle a star — as a gauge of male attractiveness. He is certainly aware of the international fame that the role of the sweet and earnest Dr John Carter has brought him, and admits that it has changed his life on every level. But he comes across as the most unlikely Hollywood luminary, still striving to reconcile his shyness and the rewards of celebrity.

We’ve been talking for 15 minutes, Wyle having driven for two hours to Los Angeles from his 45-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, California, which he bought from actress Bo Derek last year for a reported $2.5m (£1.7m). Simply but elegantly dressed, in a stylish brown jacket and blue jeans, the 6ft 2in Wyle clearly anticipates my comment on his beard, which made a brief but controversial appearance on “ER” a couple of years ago…

Action man gives peace a chance

John Woo is concerned that he will go down in cinema history only as an action film director, albeit one of the masters. So the man who made his name in Hong Kong with the distinctive balletic style of his blood-soaked movies, and then conquered Hollywood with “Face/Off” and “Mission: Impossible 2”, has decided to move away from what he does best and try his hand at drama and — maybe even a musical.

“I want to do a film without violence,” he says in his office at the MGM complex in Santa Monica, California, “and a musical is one of my biggest dreams. There is so much confusion in the world today, so much hatred and lack of understanding, and I’d love to make noble and spiritual films”…

A life seriously damaged by smoking

Jeffrey Wigand still can’t believe he is the main character in a Hollywood blockbuster. “Are you kidding me? I didn’t think I’d survive.”

It has been more than five years since the man now known as the first tobacco industry whistleblower became the most senior executive to break ranks. But neither “The Insider”, the Oscar-nominated film starring Al Pacino, nor the publicity that surrounded Wigand’s crusade against big tobacco companies has bestowed on him even the slightest touch of celebrity.

I expected to meet a bitter and emotionally withered man who, after an infamous 1995 interview with CBS’s Mike Wallace, would carefully measure every word he uttered to a reporter. But I couldn’t have been more wrong…

Stories about Sharon Stone

Just after 3 pm on an unseasonably hot spring day, an elegant, black sports car pulls up in front of a posh, downtown hotel in San Francisco, and out steps Sharon Stone. Sporting a stylish red scarf, she takes off her sunglasses and walks towards a virile-looking man in a dark suit and cowboy boots. This is Phil Bronstein, her husband of two years and executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

Stone and Bronstein then sit down for their first interview together since their wedding on Valentine’s Day, 1998. At the time, gossip columnists were quick to give their marriage no more than a year. They were wrong, but the couple acknowledge the difficulties of a marriage involving two of the most fickle of all professions.

“You work really, really hard at it, because that’s what’s required for a successful relationship,” Stone says, once the waiters in the hotel’s restaurant finally retire, having assured her of the pleasure of her presence…

Specs, fame and satisfaction

James Spader calmly challenges the “mystery man” image he’s had among film audiences since playing a sexually troubled youth in “Sex, Lies and Videotape” more than 13 years ago, and he does it with the simplest, facts-of-life arguments.

His choice of roles, he explains, has never been determined by a need to “manage” his career or build himself up as a particular “type”, but rather by how a certain project fits into the rest of his life — sometimes it’s “my being out of money”, sometimes it’s “my children being out of school”. So he would “take whatever I can find at that time” and “try to make the best of it”.

“Every few years I do a film I’m really excited about, and the rest of the time I’m finding a way to make a living, still doing something that interests me,” he says in a characteristically soft manner. “I’m able to do that, and it works out great for me. I like making films, but I’m not going to connect my entire life to it”…

Player power

Tim Robbins seems a man of contrasts at first, but what appear to be conflicting sides of his personality actually complement each other in a character of the rarest type. He has the ability to engage in the most profound conversation while provoking a genuine and contaminating laughter. On screen, he has been naively stupid (in “Bull Durham” and “The Hudsucker Proxy”) as well as shrewdly slick (in “The Player” and “The Shawshank Redemption”). And, of course, his dimpled babyish face tops a nearly 6’5” body.

So no wonder the actor-writer-director-producer Robbins is crusading against labels and stereotypes, the most common of which in his case have been “political” and “liberal”. He says he doesn’t “buy the liberal thing”, but appreciates progressivism and libertarianism. He also notes that he has a hard time distinguishing between Democrats and Republicans.

“The great illusion in America is that we have a choice, because if we don’t have that illusion, we don’t have a democracy,” he says…

Seeing John Malkovich

John Malkovich fails all attempts to describe him, even though he is not necessarily an enigma. The moment you utter a word supposed to illustrate a certain part of his character, you realise that another one, with quite a different meaning, would suit him much better. The most common adjective people use to express their opinions of him — both complimentary and dismissive — is “weird”, but, with a little imagination, most of what he says and does makes sense.

In fact, imagination and creativity are key to understanding an actor who has starred in nearly 40 films over only 18 years, including “Empire of the Sun”, “The Glass Menagerie”, “Of Mice and Men” and “Being John Malkovich”, and just directed his first, “The Dancer Upstairs”, yet still claims to have “no knowledge of what a real movie is”…

Must be talking to an Anjel

Anjelica Huston has already come to terms with the fact that her first half-century will soon be behind her, but the prospect of joining the ranks of Hollywood’s much-pitied unemployed middle-aged actresses has yet to make her list of immediate concerns. With three films scheduled for release this year, another one having just started production and a script she’s writing to direct, Huston is now busier than she was in her early thirties.

She claims that one can “always find jobs” in show business, or “create jobs if one can’t find them”, although she says that her turning to writing and directing “certainly wasn’t as a result of not getting any work”.

“Most young actors aren’t being offered parts, either, so what’s the point of harping on a negative when you can create something?” she demands. “Go to a class, learn to dance, do something with your life but don’t sit complaining about what you haven’t got. I don’t have $100m — it’s too bad. But I can go and figure something that will get me my next $10m”…

Natural-born misfit

Milos Forman has never rebelled against his films being labelled “quintessentially American” — he is just not a revolutionary type, he says — but the Czech-born director passionately dismisses such categorisation every time he is asked about it.

“For me, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is a Czech film, because when you are young in a communist country, all you dream about is breaking free,” he says of his 1975 film set in a psychiatric hospital, which earned him his first Oscar and established him as one of the world’s most prominent film-makers.

“Hair” (1979), another Forman movie now considered a classic, “was about young people rising up against the status quo — something we all dreamt about under communism but didn’t dare to do,” says the 70-year-old director…