NY Mirror

All the Downtown cuties have been getting gigunda showbiz breaks except for me, who screwed up an offer to guest star on a Kyra Sedgwick prime-time series because I suggested a few semantic changes in the script. When will I learn to stop being a really sexy male version of Norma Rae and just do what I'm told? More recently, I was advised (by friends) to say that Michael Cavadias—a/k/a drag performer Lily of the Valley—nabbed a part in Curtis Hanson's low-octane character study Wonder Boys, and this time I'm doing it. Cavadias is appealing as book editor Robert Downey Jr.'s newly found arm candy Miss Antonia Sloviak, about whom troubled academic Michael Douglasperceptively notes, "She's a transvestite!" And a smart one; when Frances McDormand's character wonders how she'll walk in uncomfortable shoes, Miss Sloviak remarks, "Practice."

Cavadias/Lily told me that after going through the arduous audition process—he practiced—he wanted the part really badly, "especially because Curtis made sure Antonia was portrayed as a real human being and not your stereotypical Hollywood transgender person." Flawless! For the onetime Mabou Mines resident artist, performing has been in his blood from his very first little drag steps in Santa Cruz, California. When I asked if his mother will now find out that he cross-dresses, Cavadias shrieked and said, "That was happening when I was 11, on the kitchen counter!" Skip ahead to the Wonder Boys years and Cavadias has managers that are breaking him out of the kitchen and into the casting office. Does the artsy club fixture worry about entering an overly commercial arena? "The laws of nature would preclude that problem from ever happening," he said, laughing.

Spike Jonze also finds himself at a funky juncture now that he's nabbed an Oscar nomination for directing Being John Malkovich, to the delight of those who thought the Academy might have a bigger stick up its ass. "The last few months have been pretty amazing," Jonze told me in a phoner, thrilled that so many people have dived into the head of the nuttily inspired fantasia with such gusto. "I read it four years ago," he said. "Charlie[Kaufman] had written it as a spec script, not expecting it to ever get made. I thought it was a funny title—though I didn't think it would have anything to do with John Malkovich."

As you know, it sure does—it's about a bunch of wily wackos who become validated by renting out the cult actor's noggin—though the film's Malky is as different from the real one as The Hurricaneis from the Hurricane. In fact, before Jonze and Kaufman met their subject, they compiled a list of all the things they thought their John Malkovich was and stuck to it, so they wouldn't be influenced by what he's really like. "Once we saw he has a great, sometimes perverse sense of humor," said Jonze, "we held on to our character and didn't incorporate that at all."

Whatever they did, it's made an impact to the point where the latest 'N Syncvideo has the boy group members prancing about as marionettes! But at this point in our interview, the sweetly shy Jonze seemed to get a bit puppetlike himself, only talking in reluctant half-sentences that made Malkovich—the real one—look forthright by comparison. Is he rightly considered an oddball? "I don't know," Jonze stammered. Will he win the Oscar? "I doubt it, but just being nominated is still . . . um, amazing." Are people lining up to kiss his ass now? "I don't know." Come on, he hasn't noticed any change in his life? "Going to awards ceremonies is pretty weird and surreal, but that's only been a couple of nights of wildness."

Here's what I know: The D.C.-born guy is married to Sofia Coppola, who's pulled off her own intelligent directing job (the upcoming The Virgin Suicides) and is even better known for saying, "Dad?" before keeling over in The Godfather Part III. What husband's doing next is coproducing a movie called Human Natureand working on another, as yet undetermined flick with Charlie Kaufman. But since he seemed pained at the prospect of having to expose any more of himself, I gave the man his greatest reward—his privacy. His head is clearly double-bolted from anyone trying to break in and exploit it, and that's such a rare showbiz phenomenon these days that it kind of excited me.

What's going on in lovable cable host Barry Z's cerebellum is a miniature tug-of-war with, of all people, Michael Feinstein. Barry-with-a-Z once interviewed Feinstein at the singer-pianist's book signing at A Different Light, and asked the guy how it feels to be an openly gay icon. Feinstein said he wasn't. Well, since then, says Z, Feinstein's been weird to him, not wanting to be interviewed, pulling Dr. Ruthaway from his camera's glare, and making dissy remarks over the mike at a MAC award nominations event. When a Feinstein rep recently asked Z for some favor, the host said, "But Michael's been so nasty to me!" "Well, he's mad that you outed him," replied the rep. (Contacted for a response, the front man had no comment.) Oh stop this pianist envy, guys, and kiss—deeply—and make the hell up. Practice!

Meanwhile, gonzo journalist Matt Drudgeis outed in Jeannette Walls's upcoming book, Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, as I told you last week, and now it's time for some details on this, the real Drudge Report. I hear that Walls—who feels rather sympathetically about Drudge—reveals that he was a lonely only child, a stutterer who performed puppet shows under the sheets (but not on the kitchen counter) and hosted imaginary talk shows into his tape recorder. Occasionally, he'd act up, throwing rocks at classmates, and he once had to be stitched up when one of them threw some back.

Years later, as a night manager at a 7-Eleven in Maryland, Drudge hung out with promiscuous gay men and had same-sex relationships himself. One old cohort says Drudge seemed open and comfortable about his sexuality, though they never actually talked about it. But Drudge still misbehaved at times, at one point throwing a pitcher of beer into the air and causing a hailstorm equal to President Clinton's eventual one on that dress. The portrait painted by Walls is that of an outcast-turned-unlikely-star who's vehement about unmasking others while poignantly (if hypocritically) clinging to his own veil of secrecy. What was left out of the book? According to an old beau, Drudge once cracked eggs over his head during sex. Better than rocks, right?

Finally, if you like 'em hard-boiled, the first of this season's two musicals called The Wild Party is a mild party brimming with talent and passion, but suffused with a little too much . . . I don't know, too much much. Still, Taye Diggsneeds to be the next pop superstar, and I loved Idina Menzel's song that starts, "I was born in a ditch in West Virginia." That part I could have played without changing a word.

musto@villagevoice.com

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