Are You A Cyber Trickster Or A Cyber Treat?

Kathryn Lord

Anyone who has done any online dating or listened to other singles knows that dating horror stories abound. You hear less about the successes, and there are plenty, believe me. I'm one of them -- I met my husband online. If people like me weren't finding love online, Internet dating sites would have gone out of business years ago.
But if there is ever a time for horror, it's Halloween. If you need a few lessons on how to scare the willies out of your cyber sweetheart, try some of these Trickster Tips. You won't even need to yell "Boo!"
How to be a Cyber Trickster:

1. Lie -- about your age, weight, height or marital status.

2. Post an old or deceptive photo. (Most men have learned how far a "glamour shot" is from reality, but not all...).

3. Start writing/talking about sex in the second email or first phone call.

4. Neglect your personal hygiene. Do not have your teeth cleaned in recent memory. Or take a bath. Or clean your nails. Or have your hair cut. Or your gray roots dyed.

5. Treat your first date like a trip to the laundromat. Dress accordingly.

6. Expect the worst and make it happen.

7. Take your time. Be late. Very late.

8. Forget your wallet.

9. Show up drunk or high, or proceed to get that way.

10. Say that you will call or email and then don't.
Scary, huh? Well, if you'd like to be more of a treat and less of a trick, avoid the boo-boos that so many others have made before you. Take some of these hints on being a Cyber Treat.

How to be a Cyber Treat:

1. Look like your photo.

2. Tell the truth, especially about things a potential mate would want to know (relationship histories, children and families, disease or disabilities, or financial difficulties, for instance). If you have a secret that keeps you from dating, you need my article "Do you have a secret? How to tell your sweetheart your worst"

3. Be polite, kind, responsible and prompt in your communications. Kindness and courtesy cost nothing.

4. If you are not interested in pursuing contact, say so in an email. Be tactful. This process is hard enough on everyone. Rude and nasty need to take a hike.

5. Do not continue contact or date if you know that this person is not for you, just because you don't know how to say "no" or don't want to hurt the other's feelings. It is cowardly, not kind. Exit graciously and free your date up to find someone who will appreciate them.

6. Take your share of the responsibility in keeping communications going and building a relationship. Dare to initiate contact, offer plans for meeting, and be ready to share expenses.

7. Show by your behavior that you treat the possible relationship as important. Groom and dress for meetings -- neat and clean go a long way, as does freshly barbered or hair-styled. Show up when you said you would. Offer to help pay.

8. Try to relax and don't push yourself in an attempt to impress. If you are interested in your date and ask questions, that will help you feel less in the spotlight.

9. Avoid alcohol and drugs -- one drink at the most. You need your senses totally sharp so that you can decide whether you want to see this person again. And no one is more attractive drunk or high.

10. Expect and insist on the same respect and honesty from your date as you are willing to provide for them. If your date misbehaves or you find that you have been lied to or misled, you are not obligated to see this person again or even endure the rest of the date.
Despite the "trick or treat" of Halloween, most of us want the treat part and would just as soon skip the trick. No one likes feeling tricked. If you'd like the option of a second date, improve your chances dramatically: make yourself into a treat.

P.S. If you are unsure if you are a "trick or treat" you could use my book "Find a Sweetheart Soon!" It will take you through all the ways that singles undermine themselves in their search for love, and help you design your solutions. There is nothing like being ready when the right person shows up. "Find a Sweetheart Soon!" will get you readier than you can imagine.

Kathryn Lord, romance coach and author, met her now husband Drew online. Out of the dating world for years, Kathryn conquered her fears, found her perfect mate and built a solid relationship. She put what she has learned into writing in "Find A Sweetheart Soon! Your Love Trip Planner for Women." A psychotherapist, Kathryn has been helping singles and couples for more than 25 years. She is on the web at

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The UPs And Downs Of Dating

David Wygant

Dating is a process a lot of us really can live without. It's an emotional rollercoaster that can drive you to drink four year-old bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade from the back of your refrigerator.
Here's my list of the top ups and downs of dating -- and how to feel better about them:

1. Stop the mental post-date recap abuse. You went out with somebody with whom you thought you had a connection, and it turns out you didn't. So now you're going to mentally torture yourself for the next four days trying to figure out what you said wrong. You'll even torture all your friends asking them what you could have done differently. The post-date recap is a form of mental torture. You will never know what that other person is thinking unless they call you. If they don't call, it really does mean that he or she is just not that into you (which is about the only good advice from that ridiculously stupid book).

2. We made out in the parking lot and they never called again. Making out is fun! You needed it. They needed it. Don't beat yourself up that you did it, just realize you did it. Be okay with it. It was a great date. You were in the moment, and you experienced something that you wanted to do.

3. I texted them the next morning and said, "I had a great time last night," and they never texted back. So what? You had a great time last night. So did they. They just woke up, and their post-date recap was different from yours. They probably had a good time, but when they thought about it, the chemistry and the "it" factor wasn't there. It's not about you. At least you were honest. So you did all you can do.

4. Should I have said something different in my voicemail message? You left a voicemail message and now you're replaying it in your head a thousand times. "Should I have said 'Last night was fun' with more enthusiasm? Is that why she's not calling me back?" When it comes to voicemail messages, the shorter the better. From an old sales technique, I always prefer to say, "Last night was fun. I have something really funny to share with you the next time we speak." That's it -- it creates a little bit of intrigue, a little bit of mystery and no mental torture.

5. Who cares what they think? You left the above voicemail message without knowing if you'll ever see them again, and they don't call you back. You start to think, "Now they know that I like them, and they don't like me." So what? Is it better to just sit there and hope and pray they call? I always believe in being honest. You've got to do what feels right for you.

6. Stop giving your power away to one person. If a two-hour date can cause you to give away all your power and confidence, then you need to learn to embrace yourself and love yourself more. This is just one person you went out with for two hours. They don't know what an amazing person you are. The only thing they know is the person they sat across from at the table. Whether they choose to hang with you again isn't the issue. The issue is that one person does not determine your worthiness. You've got to toughen your skin. Rejection is what dating is all about; you can't take it personally. If I go out with someone and I have a great time but they never want to see me again, I'm still a great person the next day.
Want some tips about dealing with dating rejection? See them here

7. In order to feel better about dating, you need to think abundance. Just because you think you like somebody and they don't call you back, this is not the last person in the world you're going to meet. In order to be a successful dater, you need to practice abundance. The power of abundance is training your mind to realize that if it doesn't work out with one person (or 10 people), there are plenty of other people out there who do want to hang out with a fantastic person like you.

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Sparking Online Conversations With Appropriate Questions

Rad Dewey

Want to start and email conversation with someone who flirted back when you sent them an Icebreaker?
The best interviewers on television, on radio or in print share a couple of sure-fire techniques for getting their subjects to open up and reveal themselves. First, they ask great questions. They put themselves in the place of the members of their audience. What would they want to know? And rarely, if ever, can the answer just be a "Yes" or a "No."
Second, the best interviewers listen to their subjects. If a question prompts an intriguing answer, the interviewer pursues it. And, because they're such attentive listeners, they put their interview subjects at ease. They change their interviews into conversations.
Use the same techniques yourself
You can apply the same techniques to start great conversations through email or by IM. All you need are some sparkling questions. To get you started, we've supplied several questions that attracted interesting responses when they've been used by one of our team members. Be prepared with a good answer of your own for any of the questions you ask.

* If our moms were setting us up on a blind date, what three things would your mom tell mine about you?
* What's your favorite beach in the world?
* What's the next country you want to visit?
* What one thing are you craving today?
* What music is in your car or home stereo right now?
* What are three of your guilty pleasures?
* What was the last book you read? Did you enjoy it?
* What is must-see TV for you?
* If you met the right person, how many children would you have?

Readers told us their best questions

* If you could live in any time period in history, when would it be? -- Hacklefish
* 1) What was one of your most memorable jobs? (I like this 'cuz I mowed cemeteries and dug graves with my family.) 2) Do you endure, like, or absolutely LOVE your job? 3) If asked, would you dance in the middle of a grocery aisle? -- Cindy
* What are your passions? What moves you? (You'll always get a great response because people don't expect that kind of realness in conversation right from the beginning.) -- Kenneth
* When you meet someone, do you concentrate on their physical appearance or the way they act towards you? -- Nadia
* If you won $1 million in a lottery, how would you spend it? -- Ludi
* What is the craziest thing you've done lately? -- Emily
* What turns you on, specifically what physical or emotional features? -- Lizmet
* If you could invite any five people to your birthday party, who would they be? -- Roberto
* 1) If time and money were not an obstacle, to what causes would you dedicate your time? 2) What are three things that you dislike the most in a person? (I believe it is important to know not only what the other person likes, but also what he/she does not like.) -- Luzmarie
* If we were to hit it off on our first date, what emotions would that set off in you? -- Becky
* What's your favorite color? -- Judy
* Do you as a man enjoy having a woman take care of you? (Some men like to have the control of taking care of the women.) -- Theresa
* Are you listening to music or watching TV at this moment? What are you listening to or watching? -- D.W.
* If you could be an animated superhero, which one would you be and why? -- Cooper
* If you were a candy bar, which one would you be, and why? -- Desiree
* 1) What was one of your most embarrassing moments? 2) What was your proudest moment? 3) What are the three most important qualities you are looking for in that significant other and why? 4) Who is your hero and why? 5) If you could talk to one famous person (dead or alive), who would it be and what one question would you ask him or her? -- Kamara
* If you went in to work and learned you had an unexpected day off, what would you do with your day? -- Kandis
* 1) What is your favorite food? 2) What is your "comfort" meal? 3) Do you practice a faith? 4) Where do you attend church? 5) Do you believe in God/ a higher power? -- Anna
* What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? (Get some good feedback with that question.) -- Tony
* 1) If you could spend the day with one person (living or deceased) who would it be and why? 2) Money no object, describe your dream vacation... 3) What is your fondest memory from childhood? 4) Who is your hero? 5) What is the one thing that you couldn't live without? 6) East Coast or West? -- Rachael
* What do you like best about being single? (The answer tells me a lot, mostly if they are happy with themselves or bitter over past issues.) -- Carol
* What was your favorite vacation? Where would you like to go on the next one? -- Linda
* What are six adjectives that describe yourself? -- Teri ?
* If you were suddenly queen of the world, what would be your first new rule? -- Bill K.
* I ask them to explain the meaning behind their screen name (unless it is obvious). I have been told that people rarely ask that question. -- Reed M.
* Toilet paper over or under? -- Tara P.
* Ask - what are your three best qualities, what are your three worst? Also, what is your favorite part of your body, then - what is your least favorite? -- Alistair K.
* I will usually ask a guy, "What are the little things in life than you enjoy?" I'm not talking about major hobbies or anything like that, but just those little everyday things that will make you smile. I then give a couple of examples of the type of little things I mean. For instance, I happen to love just dozing on my bed in the late afternoon/early evening when the sun is streaming in the window directly on my face. I'm not sleeping, but just enjoying the rest with the sun on my face. It's a very warm feeling and one can only think happy thoughts then. I think you find out quite a bit about a person this way. Also, it's not something they're used to thinking about so seldom do you get a "canned" response. -- Kristyne H.
* If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be? -- Becky D.
* What defines compatibility between two individuals? And when do you personally know if you are compatible with someone? Also, thinking about the people who you most admire in your life, what attributes do they hold that makes them attractive and admirable to you? -- Christi U.
* If you could pick just one it would be: attractive, intelligent or rich? -- Sandra
* If you were a light bulb, what kind would you be and why? --Jason H.
* For older singles, ask the other person to tell you about his or her family. If the man I'm communicating with doesn't want to brag about his kids, it's a bad sign! -- Kandi G.
* What makes your heart pound? What makes your skin crawl? -- Belinda K.
* What was the last movie you saw that made you cry? If she asks me the same question, I answer it (truthfully). This shows that I am emotional, and it will also tell me about what situations she can relate to. It's difficult to cry during a movie where you don't feel a personal connection. -- Chuck R.
* What are three of your faults that you would like to change? Are you working on them now? -- Nancy
* How was your day? (I ask because I really want to know and also because it helps me get to know a person better when they describe what they have been doing that day.) -- Cindy C.
* When they make the movie about your life, what actor should portray you? -- Leslie R.
* What's a nice person like you doing in a place like this? -- C.G.
* If talent, ability and money were not factors, what job would you do? -- Ellen R.
* What are your wants, dreams and desires? No cheating now. Think about them before you answer. -- Mark B.
* (1) What was your favorite cereal as a kid? (2) What was your favorite cartoon as a kid? These questions have always worked for me -- they bring out the playfulness in a person and the subject matter is not too heavy. -- Vanessa M.
* What does it take to keep your attention? -- Montgomery
* The only way a relationship will stand is by having a solid foundation. Your list should be reduced to just one question: Where do you stand in "religious" beliefs? Solid relationships are the relationships that are held together by an external force, mainly God. Not just any god, but the god of the scriptures. If your relationship does not have that the foundation it is currently based on is soon to crumble. -- Andre

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The Secret Of A Perfect First Date

David Wygant

Throughout the years, men have always asked me, "How do I make that first date as perfect as she expects it to be?"
I've come up with a checklist of some of my favorite first-date tactics that will leave her glowing at the end of the night. In fact, these are so good, she'll be texting or calling you within the next 24 hours expecting more of the same!

1. It's OK to suggest a drink instead of dinner for a first date. She dreads a potentially boring, four-course ordeal, too!

2. Always call her by early evening on Tuesday to confirm a Wednesday get-together -- it's the polite thing to do and it lets her know you're already thinking about her.

3. Be sure to leave both your home and work phone numbers. If you don't leave your home number, she might assume you have a wife or girlfriend. If you don't leave any number, she'll wonder what game you're playing.

4. If you want to keep the plans a surprise, at least clue her in as to what to wear. You do not want an overdressed, overstressed woman navigating in high heels on a sunset beach walk.

5. Always listen to what she has to say, and make sure you wait until she's done talking before responding.

6. Don't assume that just because you're out with a beautiful woman, she knows how pretty she looks -- she wants to hear it from you. Don't go overboard, though, or she might think you're insincere.

7. Men judge women according to whether they can picture having sex with them; women judge men by whether they can imagine kissing them. White teeth, fresh breath, great shoes, cell phone turned off, and unchapped lips make her more apt to lock lips with you that night.

8. Do not ask her, "So, what kind of music do you like?" The last 10 guys asked that. Be original and instead fill your iPod with a great mix of music that expresses your style.

9. Tip well. Believe me, she'll be watching.

10. Reading body language is simple: If she touches your arm, she's interested. If she touches your leg, she's interested tonight. If she leans away from you the whole night, she is not interested at all.

11. Very small gestures go a long way and show her you're a gentleman. When you drop her off at her house, be sure to wait the extra 30 seconds while she gets inside (and next time you might be going in with her!).

12. Women need momentum. Without it, they lose interest or wonder if you have lost it, too. Follow up with a phone call the next night. Even more important, ask her out at the end of the date. Don't play games or wait.

13. Never look at another woman when you are on a date. If she catches your wandering eye, you are done.

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10 Keys To Charming Smart Women

David Wygant
Modern society thrusts men and women into each other’s worlds more than ever before, and it is becoming increasingly necessary for people of both genders to know how to have appropriate, friendly relationships with each other. But some times for no obvious reasons charming a women is daunting task, do you feel this way too? Then consider these.

Do they like a daily check-in phone call? Does she secretly wish you'd text her in the middle of the day for no reason but to make her smile? Do they prefer expensive dinners to home-cooked meals? Rock-hard abs? Flowers for no reason?

Identifying women's turn-ons is complicated, because they all react differently. Some women you wish came with owner's manuals so you knew exactly how they were wired. Luckily, I've done most of the legwork for you and am happy to pass this knowledge on to you.

1. Be aware. This means cracking open more than the sports section on the daily paper. Be up on current events and learn the difference between feelings, emotions and thoughts. Women are emotional beings and tend to think things through. They are attracted to men who are as smart or smarter than them, and your knowledge of worldly matters will demonstrate your intelligence.

2. Demonstrate humor. Women love a man who can make them laugh. Now don't fret here if you're not a stand-up comedian. We all have a certain type of humor. You can be dry, sarcastic, hilariously funny, quick-witted or dark. Being able to poke fun at yourself and just plain old being goofy is a turn-on for women. Keep in mind that all women are not attracted to the same type of humor, so if you don't vibe, just walk away and try someone else.

3. Have passion. A guy who lives his life with gusto is incredibly appealing. When you speak to a woman about your life, your travels, your job, your interests, speak with passion. That passion about who you are will turn her on instantly. She will start to imagine what it will be like when you are involved with her and how passionate you will speak about her.

4. Be considerate. Pay attention to the little things and look for opportunities to make small gestures that show you care. A simple "How was your day?" and being able to listen to her when she wants to discuss something are huge. So many men forget about simple things like holding the door, paying for her valet or just thanking her for a great time last night. Women are all about a guy with manners -- she is not attracted to the dope who acts like a caveman.

5. Be honest. Share who you are by telling her something personal. Maybe share one of your favorite childhood memories or some personal growth that you have been going through. Something that will show her that you are a trusting and honest person. It also shows that you are a confident but vulnerable man. Women love to see the vulnerable side of you. Note: Don't talk about an ex in a bad way here. If you have to talk about an ex, do so in a positive manner and share what you learned and how you grew from the relationship.

6. Be flexibile. Be open to her plans but surprise her with your flexibility. Take charge and surprise her with a fun night out. Instead of being the typical guy who makes a reservation, think about how you can be the guy who listens to her and plans a great date that she did not expect. If you can pull this off, she will be open to all sorts of advances from you.

7. Be positive. If you are positive about life, it shows in your actions. I always tell men to be extra nice to waiters, bartenders and other service people. Be a courteous driver when she's in the car. When you are in line at the movies, don't complain. Look for the humor and try to have fun with people all around you. Be positive about everything, and she will find you to be very sexy and alluring. No one wants to be with a negative hothead.

8. Be balanced. Women love a successful, ambitious man. They love that you work hard, but if you constantly put work ahead of her she will become turned off. She will start to imagine what life with you will be like with her needs being ignored. If you are out meeting women to date, you need to balance your life between work and play. This will be a major turn-on for her.

9. Have ambition. Men who are ambitious about what they do are a turn-on to women. It doesn't matter if you choose to be a rich stock trader or a painter, as long as you are passionate about who you are and what you do. If you don't love what you do, find something that really turns you on. You can't attract the woman you want with a negative ambition. Women love a man who is the best at what he does.

10. Be attentive. You are out with her for the very first time, and she tells you she loves a certain type of music. On the next date take her to a lounge that plays that type of music. It is all about paying attention to the details and working on your listening skills.

This list of 10 things will work in most cases. Keep in mind there is always the woman who you just can't seem to please. If you happen to cross paths with this type of woman, ask yourself, "Why would I want to be with a woman who is so difficult?"
I tend to avoid the difficult, judgmental women. Knowing women's turn-ons and putting them into practice will help you identify women who may be relationship material. You need to realize that you want to attract and turn on the women that are attracted to you on an equal level!

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Is VIVA LAUGHLIN The Worst TV Show Ever Made?

Greg Hassall
Is VIVA LAUGHLIN the worst TV show ever made? That's a big call, but the program is certainly one of the most ill-conceived.

The first big project from Hugh Jackman's production company, Seed, has been attracting all the wrong kind of headlines since premiering in the US last week.

It was hardly the buzz Nine was looking for before last night's Australian premiere.

Based on the six-part BBC series Blackpool, which aired on the ABC in 2005, it follows Ripley Holden's quest to open a casino. Viewers might have been surprised to find Holden is not played by Jackman but by the British actor Lloyd Owen, a name conspicuously absent from Nine's publicity. Jackman's minor role is as a rival casino owner.

The other thing missing from Nine's publicity was the dreaded M-word: musical. As in Blackpool, the characters break into song. However, they do so with an astonishing lack of conviction.

Like very bad karaoke, they warble along apologetically as the original songs play loudly in the background. Owen's casting is inexplicable. Not only is his American accent poor, he has a very ordinary singing voice. And the less said about Melanie Griffith's performance the better.

How did the US network CBS get this so wrong? One can only imagine its executives were looking for something quirky, in keeping with the trend for offbeat dramas (think Heroes, Ugly Betty, Life, Desperate Housewives). But they clearly lacked the courage of their convictions. Viva Laughlin has the fingerprints of nervous network executives all over it. In recent articles, those involved with the show played down its musical aspect. Their embarrassment flows through to the performances. If you're going to try something different, you've got to commit to it. In Blackpool the songs were attacked with such spirit that you were swept along for the ride. Here, they have no context. They seem to belong to an entirely different show and the actors seem relieved when they're over.

Channel Nine just can't take a trick. While its rivals enjoy the success of Bionic Woman, Heroes and House, it's stuck with this - a bad episode of Las Vegas, with songs. Nine's best hope last night was that viewers tuned in out of morbid curiosity. You have to work with what you've got and "the worst show on TV" is at least a talking point.

Viva Laughlin … may well be the worst new show of the season, but is it the worst show in the history of television?

The New York Times

Let us count the number of ways it bombs.

Laughlin is merely cheap and leaden, like a deflated balloon.

Weep … for Jackman's reputation, for all of us who have spent an hour gawking at a train wreck.


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Sex- Tainted Television Programmes, Destroying American Society

Roberto Carlos Alvarez-galloso

“Once we turned it on, we watched whatever was on, one thing after another,” said Haruna. “We wouldn’t turn it off until we were ready to go to bed.” Some say: “I just can’t keep my eyes off it,” and others, “I don’t want to watch TV as much as I do, but I can’t help it.” Do you watch too much television? Are you concerned about the effect TV may be having on your family?

TV Programmes in US are full of sexual innuendos; the Hollywood conglomerates believe that sex, drugs and violence are money-spinners. Love for family or for that matter, life for life takes a backseat. The soaps of US Latin TV stations are no better.

Current television programs in America are full of sexual innuendos either by design or by accident. The conglomerates of Hollywood claim that sex, drugs and violence are moneymakers. The people who watch television hour after hour swallow the garbage that comes out of it and imitates it.

The television programmes of the Twenty First Century do almost nothing to promote love for family or love for life. It is always sex, sex and sex in America. Who can forget a certain episode in "Desperate Housewives" [which is a show promoting adultery] where the housewife asks of the plumber, "are you here to fix my pipes?” The same programme also shows the housewives Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria complaining that their husbands “do not give it to them"; it also shows them hopping from man to man like prostitutes.

On the few occasions I have seen television in America [except for certain stations and even then I prefer the computer and the short wave radio for better in-formation and entertainment], I gained the impression that the women in America are like the ones you see on TV.

Regardless of the language spoken, almost all of US TV spits out pornography and sex. This also includes the US Latin TV stations whose soap operas are good at promoting adultery.

I am reminded of the experience of a friend of mine who acts in US Latin soap operas as well as US Anglo-Saxon soap operas. The director wanted her to do a nude scene behind a curtain. She refused, so a compromise was reached - she would do a love scene in a bathtub full of water, wearing wet white T-shirt, wet blue jeans and showing her bare feet. Personally, I preferred that to the nude scene, which she felt, was degrading.

At the rate we are going, there is always going to be sex on US TV. What I ask of the viewers is to boycott stations that refuse to listen to us so that there could be more family-oriented programmes. I have turned off US TV myself so I can listen to TV and radio via the Internet, such as programmes from India, Great Britain, Costa Rica, Estonia, Portugal and other countries in South Asia.

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Brad Pitt In "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford"

Helen Barlow

For a long time Brad Pitt was not a film-festival kind of guy, but this year he has gone into overdrive. Whether he was skylarking with his good friend George Clooney and his Ocean's 13 buddies in Cannes, supporting his beloved Angelina Jolie as the producer of A Mighty Heart or presenting his own serious turn in Venice as the infamous outlaw in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he was grinning from ear-to-ear, perhaps pleased that after years of making films he is finally being taken more seriously.

And, yes, at 43 he looks good, too - positively dapper in his vintage-style cream linen suit. Maybe that growing brood of kids has given him direction.

"It's the most fun I've ever had; it's also the biggest pain in the ass I've ever experienced," he says of being the father of the adopted Maddox, six, Pax, three, and Zahara, two, as well as his birth child, Shiloh, one, who is a stunning mix of himself and Jolie.

"I love it and can't recommend it any more highly but when I do have time to work then I really have to focus, because I know there's a short window to get something done. Actually, I've become much more efficient; I'm quite pleased by it all."

If Ben Affleck complains that "Bennifer", his relationship with Jennifer Lopez, was the cause of his career undoing, Pitt has thrived in the so-called "Brangelina", the term given to his relationship with Jolie,?whom he met on Mr & Mrs Smith.

He has become surprisingly more articulate when dealing with the press, has taken on greater challenges behind and in front of the camera and shares Jolie's passion for humanitarian causes.

Professionally, Pitt has found inspiration in his friendship with Clooney, who has long had his own production outfit to make adventurous movies. Pitt originally formed Plan B with his former wife Jennifer Aniston and Brad Grey. Plan B has produced big-budget films such as Troy, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and the Oscar-winning The Departed, as well as the adventurous flop Running with Scissors, starring Pitt's former fiancee, Gwyneth Paltrow.

With Aniston long out of the company and Jolie constantly by his side, Pitt has developed a more hands-on approach with A Mighty Heart, based on Mariane Pearl's book, and Jesse James, by New Zealand-born Australian director Andrew Dominik (Chopper). Interestingly, there are also Australian links to his recent Plan B productions: Shantaram, which stars Johnny Depp, is about the astounding life of former Australian heroin addict and underworld figure Gregory David Roberts, who sets up free clinics in India, while The Time Traveler's Wife stars Eric Bana.

"I got into it [producing movies] to be a part of stories that I wouldn't normally be right for as an actor," Pitt says.

"I got into it after seeing how films can go off the rails and thinking I have something to offer there, to help support directors I want to work with. Our simple edict has been just great storytellers and great stories and it's proven to be rewarding for us."

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford represents Pitt's greatest achievement. He nurtured the well-received film, which is based on Ron Hansen's novel, from its inception. When he took out the Venice acting prize for his brooding portrayal of Jesse James, that was the icing on the cake.

(Interestingly, both Pitt and James spent their formative years in Missouri.)

"This is a very complex, slow-burning style of film that is not part of the current zeitgeist of filmmaking - it's more a throwback to some of the great films of the '70s," Pitt says of the project, which went through about 40?edits before arriving at its current 150-minute incarnation.

"I actually liked the first cut, which was four-and-a-half hours long, but we didn't think people would have a lot of tolerance for it. I think it's a delicious film that sits and breathes like good wine. It's my favourite kind of storytelling."

The story follows the doomed outlaw in the final year of his life just after the American Civil War has ended. Paranoid that someone is going to kill him, he lashes out and shoots men who were once his friends. Eventually he becomes resigned to his fate, meted out by Robert Ford (Casey Affleck, who is the younger brother of Ben and a favourite for the Venice acting award). Not only was Ford after the huge reward but he also yearned for the fame it would bring. Much has been made of this theme in terms of Pitt's?own?celebrity.

"I don't think it's the main point of the story, but I can certainly understand his feelings of having a bounty on his head to some degree. Fortunately, nobody's pointing guns at me," he?laughs.

"In the movie, Jesse James was certainly caught up in his own celebrity - he was weary of living an alias and had really lost himself in this perpetuation of his outlaw life. Robert Ford represents another aspect of celebrity here with his blind want for fame without really understanding the consequences."

Pitt, who considers the film more a gangster tale than a Western, hand-picked Dominik, who had made another?movie about a wanted man, Chopper Read.

"When I saw Chopper I was really blown away by it. I thought it was a very important film, and very authentic, original storytelling. Andrew understands the undercurrents that propel people to behave the way they do and in ways that don't always make sense. Through the whole lengthy process of making our film, he stayed true to his vision."

Now it seems that the 39-year-old director is a new member of Pitt's extended cinematic family. So, too, is Affleck, a close friend of Matt Damon, who appeared in Ocean's 13.

Sam Rockwell, who plays Ford's older brother, Charley, has long been championed by Clooney since he was the star of Clooney's directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which Pitt and Damon had cameo roles.

As Pitt's clout is increasing, it doesn't hurt having friends such as Clooney. A frequent visitor to Clooney's plush pad in Lake Como, Italy, Pitt is often the brunt of Clooney's humour.

After Clooney won People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive for the second time in 2006, he famously quipped, "Brad's going to be upset." Pitt was the first to win the award twice. Currently they are appearing together in the Coen Brothers' comedy Burn After Reading.

Pitt has joined his Fight Club director David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in a tale about a man who ages in reverse, where he joins his Babel co-star Cate Blanchett. He rejoins Ed Norton for State of Play, in which he will play the former campaign manager of Norton's congressman. And it has just been announced that he will replace Damon in The Fighter, which stars Mark Wahlberg as one-time world champion boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward.

There's no doubting that Pitt, who first made his mark seducing Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise and later delivered gnarly performances in Twelve Monkeys, Snatch and Fight Club, remains eclectic in his choices.

"My decision to take on a film is not calculated in terms of its potential success," he says.

"I just go with the story that speaks to me, that I feel strongly about, and more importantly with the people I'm surrounded by. I don't even think about aiming for a bigger audience. My main concern is quality and I think there's quality in all categories of filmmaking."

Director Andrew Dominik
Stars Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell
Rated MA15+.
Opens November 1.

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Heather Mills Gets A Divorce Settlement Of $57 Million From Paul McCartney

Former Beatle Paul McCartney has offered his estranged wife Heather Mills a divorce settlement of £25 million ($57 million), the Daily Mirror reported today.

Quoting unnamed sources, the tabloid said that McCartney initially offered Mills between £3 million and £5 million, but Mills's legal team had negotiated that up to the current offer, with one source saying "it's the closest they have been" on settlement sums.

"There has been serious wrangling going on behind the scenes for months and months and months and he [Mills's lawyer Anthony Julius] has finally managed to get them to hike the package up to about £25 million," a well-placed source told the paper.

"There is no guarantee they will settle but it's the closest they have been."

The pair's legal teams were still negotiating the details of the deal, including a confidentiality clause that McCartney had insisted Mills sign, the paper said.

Media reports have suggested that Mills was seeking up to £60 million from McCartney's reported £825 million fortune to end their marriage, which collapsed last year.

McCartney, 65, and Mills, 39, a former model who lost a leg in a 1993 road accident, married in 2002, four years after the musician's first wife, Linda, died of breast cancer.

Since they split last year, the couple's divorce has been played out acrimoniously in the public eye, with Mills saying in March that securing a divorce deal was like "getting blood out of a stone".

On the £25 million offer, an unidentified source close to McCartney told the Mirror: "His [McCartney's] legal team knows a judge is unlikely to award Heather a package of much more than about £25 million so he has offered that and now all he has to do is sit and wait.

"It's now in Heather's hands. Paul has always been prepared to go all the way, but if it can be sorted out before then, he's not going to stand in the way."

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Is George Clooney Double Dealing ?

David Michael

George Clooney is no stranger to a crisis of conscience. Two years ago he was sitting alongside Bono and Bob Geldof at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, throwing his weight behind the cause of lobbying the then leader of the Word Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, to wipe out Third World debt.

Only a matter of hours before the meeting it had been announced that a consortium fronted by Clooney (including Brad Pitt) was planning to open a behemoth Las Vegas casino complex called Las Ramblas.

"The casino had been something we'd been working on for years and that announcement was unfortunate," admits Clooney, with hindsight. "I told my partners, we can't do it this way, we have to evolve and participate, let's give 25 per cent of anything that we make to the Make Poverty History campaign. Then at least you can justify the idea."

Crisis over, Clooney was spared further accusations of double standards when the rapid increase in the cost of construction and the spiralling fortunes of Vegas casinos caused a U-turn in the billion-dollar project, although Clooney, Pitt and Co made good on the sale of their land.

At the Venice Film Festival last month to promote his latest film Michael Clayton Clooney was again wobbling on a tightrope of apparent hypocrisy when it was suggested at the film's press conference that his appearance in advertisements for Nestle coffee brand Nespresso was perhaps at odds with a film that directly questioned multinational corruption.

Nestle was much maligned in the late 1970s for its unethical marketing of formula baby milk in developing countries.

Not amused, Clooney abruptly dismissed the question but the next day, speaking to a smaller gathering of press, decided on a little damage limitation.

"It's irritating because I'm doing the best I can to bring attention to things," he sighed.

"Every major corporation in the world has been picketed and I'm not sure what the specific agenda was on that one. Those are the moments where you want to go: 'What are you doing to help the world'?" With the veneer of his customary charm scratched, it was soon business as usual in Venice as his Cary Grant smile and warm familiarity went into overdrive.

Within minutes the assembled press were again laughing at his jokes, not caring if they'd heard his self-deprecating remarks about playing Batman before.

There's no doubt Clooney is the most charismatic and likeable of the Hollywood A-list and, as is par for the course with his attendance at these events, people fall over themselves to get a piece of him.

To get some time alone with him I literally have to tear him away from a gaggle of feverish Italian girls swarming round him in a hotel hallway, wanting pictures taken with him on their mobile phones.

With an Italian residence in Lake Como, Clooney has always been a favourite in this part of the world.

Having been twice voted sexiest man alive by People magazine, his demand is justified. However, he has long risen above such frivolity of being a Hollywood star. As his casino dalliance demonstrates, he's now a high roller.

This year Clooney was ranked 27 in Variety magazine's top 100 Most Powerful and Influential People list. The scale of the accolade is not immediately apparent, but when you consider he ranks higher than Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with only the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates above him, it's a clear indication Gorgeous George is more than just a pretty face.

Sporting a salt-and-pepper beard and wearing his regulation dark jacket and shirt combo, Clooney admits to me he often wrestles with his "Irish-Catholic guilt" since his success.

"I have some money and a nice house in Italy, but when you're out there saying we should raise some money for the poor or making these films that ask questions, you kind of look like a schmuck.

"So it's a weird situation: you don't want to give up all those things you've worked hard for and enjoy, but I think you have to participate in one way or another."

Despite his recent spate of politically charged films such as Syriana, Good Night, And Good Luck and now Michael Clayton, Clooney has done more than just let his films do the talking.

He has been an advocate in campaigning for the Sudanese Government to stop the genocide in Darfur, lobbying both the UN and US Senate in the process. Plus, as part of his contract with Omega watches, he's working with them on the development of a fuel cell, not to mention presenting himself as the pin-up boy for eco-friendly electric cars.

"I can't do a film about oil corruption and consumption and drive a big Bronco," he says. "I can point to my life 10 years ago when I excitedly bought a Bronco. I'm evolving too."

The young Clooney grew up in Kentucky on the television sets of his father, news anchorman Nick Clooney. The spark to begin acting came when his California-based uncle, actor Jose Ferrer, visited town on a film and suggested his nephew should move to Los Angeles to take a shot at acting.

From the age of 21 Clooney spent a decade making a mediocre living off low-profile TV parts. While the quantity was there, quality was another matter.

"I did a series called Sunset Beat where I played an undercover cop on a Harley during the day and a rock star at night," he laughs. "I've done some really bad television."

In hindsight it may have been his now pal and co-star on the Ocean's films, Brad Pitt, who initially stunted his film career. Clooney had auditioned several times for Ridley Scott for the part of J.D. in Thelma & Louise (1991), a role that ultimately went to Pitt and catapulted him to heart-throb stardom.

"It was pretty embarrassing," joked Clooney in front of Pitt, while doing press for Ocean's Thirteen. "They brought Brad and me in and they just made us take our shirts off and stand there for a while, and then they picked Brad."

Clooney had to be patient, waiting until he was 33 years old to land his big break as Dr Doug Ross in ER, with a transition into film swiftly following. Coming to success later in life has provided Clooney with a sobering outlook on his lot in life.

"I saw how little it has to do with you," he says of his journey. "It's all about luck. The problem with famous people in general is that they actually think they're geniuses. You get famous and you think, 'Yes, of course I should be famous and I've earned it all'. You haven't, you got lucky. I got lucky, I was in a TV show that got a Thursday night-time slot at 10pm and it was a massive hit, and as a result I get to do movies I want to do." Such a grounded perspective fuels an all-round-good-guy persona, which according to his Michael Clayton writer-director Tony Gilroy is the genuine Clooney. "I would say, of all the actors and movie stars I've dealt with over the years, George has the least amount of filter between the way he presents public and private. He doesn't act. The guy: that's him."

But does Clooney find it difficult to flick on that movie star switch? "I'm at that point, in my life and my career, where very few things rattle me. I'm not sick of being 'on'. It doesn't bother me. There are times, but not often."

Perhaps the biggest test of his temperament came during last year's Oscar race, when Clooney's smile may as well have been fixed as he did the rounds to support not only his directorial effort for Good Night, And Good Luck, but also Syriana. In the latter he eventually took best supporting actor for his role as a conflicted CIA agent.

"It was an interesting time," he reflects. "I was going through the whole Oscar campaign . . . where you kiss babies and stuff. You go to all these different events and you can convince yourself you're doing it for the film, but in a way you start to feel unclean about yourself."

He admits to feeling "really beat up" during the experience. He was filming Michael Clayton, in which he plays the eponymous "fixer" for a New York law firm who is coming to terms with the morality of his work while trying to hold together his fraying personal life.

Adding to his dishevelled appearance in Syriana, his Michael Clayton role shows he has no interest in playing the pristine Hollywood leading man, that he could still easily pull off even at 46 years old (he is, after all, currently dating a 28-year-old, ex-Vegas waitress Sarah Larson). The best of examples of his lack of vanity on screen come with his work with the Coen Brothers - O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty and Burn After Reading.

"The end part in my trilogy of idiots with them", Clooney labels it. "They seem to find I make a good knucklehead."

Of course the reality is far from that. If the private jets, advertising endorsements and multimillion-dollar pay cheques of his day job have unavoidably made the ground less then firm when he campaigns and acts on burning issues, it's also compromised any political ambitions.

"I've always been involved in social and political things my whole life," says the instinctively political animal.

"I campaigned for a guy for governor when I was 13 years old. The truth is that, at this time in history, being an actor, unless you're a Republican helping out a Republican, you can't show up as you do damage.

"When my father ran for Congress in the last election I couldn't campaign for him because it was Hollywood verses the heartland. Likewise with John Kerry, whose request I had to turn down."

Ultimately, he concludes, running for office himself is the only thing about which he does have a clear conscience. "In politics you have to make a tremendous amount of compromises in everything and I'm not built like that. I'm more stubborn than that. I'd be a horrible politician. No, I would run from office."

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10 Biggest Hollywood's Divorce Battles

Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney likened his bitter divorce battle with Heather Mills to "going through hell" this week.

But the songwriter is faring surprisingly well compared to some of his celebrity comrades.

We trawled through the archives to countdown the ten most acrimonious celebrity divorces...

10. Shanna Moakler & Travis Barker

Former beauty queen Shanna Moakler divorced Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker in November last year, celebrating the occasion with a very public "divorce party" in Las Vegas.

While Barker refrained from entering a public slanging match with his ex-wife, he sought revenge by hooking up with Moakler's sworn enemy, Paris Hilton.

Indeed, Moakler reportedly attacked Hilton in an Los Angeles nightclub over the incident.

Despite their differences, the couple reunited in March this year, but separated again in July.

9. Kid Rock & Pamela Anderson

It may only have lasted four short months, but it was long enough to leave Kid Rock bitter and twisted.

Earlier this month, the singer publicly accused Anderson of lying about a miscarriage in a bid to guilt trip her then-husband.

The former Baywatch star shot back, saying that Rock was bitter and desperate.

8. Anne Heche & Coley Laffoon

After five years of marriage, actress Anne Heche left husband Coley Laffoon for her Men in Trees co-star James Tupper last year.

Since separating, the divorce has become increasingly heated, with Laffoon publicly criticising the actress' parenting skills and Heche's "bizarre and delusional behavior".

Heche then fought back accusing the cameraman of frequenting strip clubs, playing poker and ping-pong and watching online porn while they were together.

Last month, Laffoon accused Heche of entering their former home while he was away and removing furniture. He also claimed she entered his closet and ripped the buttons off several of his shirts.

Heche denied the allegations. Legal proceedings are still underway.

7. Whitney Houston & Bobby Brown

Whitney Houston showed just how cold a diva she can be when she kicked ex-husband Bobby Brown to the curb.

According to court documents, Brown lived in his car following the separation, while paying for Houston and daughter Bobbi Kristo to stay in a plush hotel.

Brown also claimed that Houston blocked his phone number and banned their daughter from receiving phone calls from her father.

After 14 years of marriage, the couple's divorce was finalised this year, with Houston getting sole custody of their child.

Houston told the judge she did not need spousal or child support and that 14-year-old Bobbi Kristina could not depend on Brown.

"He's unreliable. If he says he's going to come, sometimes he does. Usually he doesn't."

6. Eminem & Kim Mathers

Some people just don't learn...

When rapper Eminem divorced Kim Mathers in 2001, he said: "I'd rather have a baby through my penis than get married again."

She said: "I can't stand him. He's an absolutely horrible person, and he gets worse every day. I vomit in my mouth whenever I'm around him or I hear his name."

Despite such bitter sentiments, the couple reunited in 2005 and remarried in January 2006, before the rapper filed for divorce less than 90 days later.

5. Gary Oldman & Donya Fiorentino

Harry Potter star Gary Oldman may play the role of caring godfather Sirius Black in the film franchise but according to his ex Donya Fiorentino, he is a drunken bully.

Fiorentino made the allegations in court documents, claiming Oldman accidentally burned their four-year-old son Charlie with a cigarette and failed to notice when he had broken his foot.

She also claimed Oldman is a drunk and a drug addict, who once packed painkillers in their sons' overnight bags.

Oldman denies the allegations.

4. Liza Minnelli & David Gest

The claws came out during Liza Minnelli and David Gest's divorce in May last year.

During the proceedings, Gest told the court Minnelli had herpes and did not tell him until after they were married in 2002.

If Minnelli had herpes before March 2002, that would constitute fraud and their prenuptial agreement would be void.

Minnelli hit back, accusing Gest of trying to "poison her with drugs".

3. David Hasselhoff & Pamela Bach

After 16 years of marriage there is no love lost between former Baywatch star David Hasselhoff and Pamela Bach.

He says she is a stalker who broke into his house and hid in his closet.

She says he emotionally and physically abused her.

In court documents she said: "He grabbed me and pushed me hard into a car. In the past, he has also broken my nose and called me 'whore,' 'bitch,' 'slut' and 'drug addict' in front of our children."

He then said, she is nuts (perhaps not in so many words...)

Both deny the allegations.

2. Kim Basinger & Alec Baldwin

Since divorcing in 2001, Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin continue to have one of the most acrimonious relationships in Hollywood.

Lowlights of the ongoing feud include Baldwin leaving an abusive voicemail on his daughter Ireland's cell phone, calling her "rude, thoughtless little pig".

Baldwin then accused Basinger of leaking the voicemail to media.

Over the years, Baldwin's family have stepped into the fray, with Billy Baldwin calling Basinger a "black widow" and "a nutcase".

Baldwin himself has claimed Basinger is a manipulative liar, who taught their daughter to "function as a spy".

Basinger once compared her ex to Saddam Hussein.

1. Charlie Sheen & Denise Richards

It started off amicably enough but soon became one of the most bitter divorce proceedings in Hollywood history.

Despite settling their divorce in November last year, Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards continue to wage a war of words on one other.

Richards recently filed court papers seeking to limit Sheen's visitations with their daughters, following a spate of abusive emails allegedly sent by Sheen to Richards.

On August 22, this year Sheen wrote: "You are a pig. A sad, jobless pig who is sad and talentless and, um, oh yeah, sad and jobless and evil and a bad mom, so go [expletive] yourself, sad, jobless pig."

In another email, Sheen refers to Richard's mother, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, saying: "Go cry to your bald mom, you [expletive] loser."

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Australian Pop Diva Kylie Minogue And Taiwanese Singer Jolin Tsai Record A Duet

Australian pop diva Kylie Minogue has recorded a duet with top Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai that will be included in an Asian edition of her upcoming album.

EMI Taiwan said on its website that the singers had joined forces on an English language song called In My Arms which will appear on Minogue's new album X due out November 26.

It is 39-year-old Minogue's 10th studio album but her first studio album in four years and the first since she battled breast cancer in 2005.

The album release will be preceded by the new single 2 Hearts that will be released digitally on November 5.

Tsai, 27, who is one of the most successful and popular singer in the Mandarin music market, described Minogue in a statement as a "goddess."

In June, Tsai was named best female singer and most favorite female artist at Taiwan's 18th Annual Golden Melody Awards.

In addition to the new album, Minogue is the subject of the documentary White Diamond, which chronicles her return to performing after her 2005 surgery for cancer.

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Brad Pitt Cut Down On Alcohol Intake To Be A Good Dad

Brad Pitt thinks drinking beer made him a neglectful dad.

The Ocean's Thirteen star decided to massively cut down his alcohol intake after seeing his adopted daughter Zahara, two, choke on an ice cube.

He said: "It's not easy to be a good father when you've had a few drinks.

"About a year ago I'd had a couple of beers and my daughter Zahara had this piece of ice that had been dropped on the floor, and she was putting it in her mouth and began to choke on it, and that was it.

"You have to be absolutely on top of every situation. The other s**t doesn't work anymore. When they wake up in the middle of the night you have to be there.

"And you can't deal with children when you have a hangover - that's just a misery!"

Brad and his long-term partner Angelina Jolie have three adopted children, six-year-old Maddox, three-year-old Pax, and two year-old Zahara, as well as a 16-month-old biological daughter, Shiloh.

The 43-year-old actor insists his kids find it difficult to cope with having famous parents.

He explained to Total Film magazine: "It's odd for my children, man. They have this idea that there's this sea of people with cameras. This is their idea of the world they live in."

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Westlife Plan To Destroy Spice Girls In Upcoming Chart Battle

Westlife have slammed the Spice Girls for living in the past, and insist they will destroy the girl group in their upcoming chart battle.

The Irish boy band - made up of Shane Filan, Mark Feehily, Nicky Byrne and Kian Egan - have dismissed Mel C for boasting, "Seriously, who would you put your money on", when asked about the two group's upcoming chart battle, insisting past success counts for nothing.

"No one could compete with the Spice Girls 10 years ago," Mark said. "But actually we competed with them eight years ago and we won! We are not living in the past."

Shane added: "Yeah, we put our album out at the same time and we beat them. When they were first around no one could compete with them. But that's not true now.

"Mel C obviously has some issues with us."

Mel C has said the competition does not worry her.

"I personally don't like Westlife," she said. "We've just sold out 17 nights at the 02 Centre...we've got nothing to prove!"

The last time both groups released albums simultaneously, Westlife's Coast To Coast sold 160,000 copies more than the girl's Forever LP.

Nicky has warned Mel C to stop attacking Westlife - before it gets too "personal".

He fumed: "You get a lot of tired old has beens, and I am not referring to the Spice Girls now, saying, 'Oh it was different when I was in the business.' Nostalgia is a big thing and it will work for the Spice Girls.

"I don't have anything against them personally. But if Mel C wants to start opening her mouth and picking on us individually or our families then it is going to become personal. It should be a good chart battle."

Both acts were due to release their new albums on November 5, but the Spice Girls reportedly delayed their greatest hits collection by a week to avoid directly clashing with Westlife's new album Back Home.

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Author J.K Rowling Given A Treat In Los Angeles

Harry Potter might have waved his wand and cast a spell, but author J.K. Rowling sat down and cheerfully signed 1,600 books for schoolkids as she launched her first US book tour in seven years.

"This is an amazing treat for me," Rowling said of the mass book signing and reading for cheering Harry Potter fans who gave her a pop star welcome in Los Angeles.

"I really miss being able to interact directly with the readers. Everyone keeps saying, 'it must be so onerous. Doesn't it hurt your hand?' But, honestly, that's the bit I really enjoy," Rowling told reporters.

The 42-year-old British author said that after 10 years of writing to a deadline, she now felt as if she was on vacation and has not yet started writing the promised Harry Potter encyclopedia that fans around the world are awaiting.

She gave no clues as to her next project, but told an audience of 1,600 children that Harry Potter would be a hard act to follow.

"I want to fall in love with someone the way I fell in love with Harry. I never think about a particular genre. It is all about the story and the characters, but it has to be something I adore," she said.

Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- the seventh and final book in the boy wizard series -- became the fastest-selling book in history when it was released in July. More than 11 million copies were sold in the first 24 hours in the United States and Britain.

Seated on an oversized red and gold throne in the Kodak Theatre -- home to the annual Oscar ceremony -- Rowling read a chapter to a spellbound audience and answered questions from 12 Los Angeles children about her inspiration as a writer and about characters in the series.

She will hold similar readings and book signings in New Orleans and New York this month.

"I was super excited. I have been looking forward to this day for weeks," said Hannah Nelson, 12, one of the lucky few who got to pose a question.

"I really idolize her, and to be able to meet her was a great experience," Nelson said.

Despite widespread praise from teachers and parents for boosting interest in reading in children, the Harry Potter books have regularly been banned by schools and libraries in parts of the United States and Britain because of their focus on wizardry.

But Rowling said she was in good company with other acclaimed writers. "I take my inclusion on the banned book list as a massive compliment."

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Aussie Channel Seven Lost Olympics Broadcast Rights To Channel Nine

Anthony Stavrinos & Jeff Turnbull

Channel Seven will lose the Olympic broadcast rights to arch-rival Channel Nine after next year's Beijing Games.

Nine, in conjunction with pay television provider Foxtel, had secured rights to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said yesterday.

The coup - understood to be costing $US100 million - is a major blow for Seven, which has had a stranglehold on Olympic broadcasting since 1992.

It will be the first time the summer Olympics have been shown on Nine since Montreal in 1976, when it shared the rights with Seven and the ABC.

The IOC said Nine and Foxtel were chosen because they could reach the widest audience on a variety of broadcast platforms - terrestrial TV, subscription TV, mobile and internet.

Nine chief executive David Gyngell was buoyant. "London is a solid cultural fit with our viewing audience and it is likely to achieve strong ratings, particularly with the historical links in sporting and cultural terms between Australia and the United Kingdom," he said.

One insider at Nine said the rights win would be a fillip for staff morale, which has been rocked by its losing its No.1 rating ranking and since James Packer offloaded the majority of the station to private equity group CVC Asia Pacific.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said: "Our aim is to ensure that as many people as possible are able to enjoy the Olympic Games across the world and we look forward to working closely with the Nine Network and Foxtel to make this possible in Australia."

Australian IOC member and chair of its Press Commission, Kevan Gosper, last night rejected suggestions the IOC had overlooked Seven's solid Olympics broadcasting history.

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Kyle Sandilands And Jackie O, Aussie's Best Breakfast Radio Duo

Fans love controversial Sydney breakfast radio duo Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O, as proven by their recent ratings jump.

It seems their peers feel the same way after the high-profile TV and radio personalities were voted the best on-air team at the Australian Commercial Radio Awards in Melbourne.

Kyle and Jackie O, who lead the 2Day FM breakfast crew, beat other well-known pairings including Hamish Blake and Andy Lee (2Day FM drive) and Merrick Watts and Tim Ross (Nova 96.9 breakfast) to the award voted by industry figures.

It was the second consecutive year Kyle and Jackie O have won the award as they juggle their radio commitments with TV roles, Sandilands on Australian Idol and Jackie O with hosting roles on shows such as Australian Princess.

Melbourne's 3AW morning announcer Neil Mitchell was another back-to-back winner receiving the best talk presenter award at the gala ceremony in Melbourne's Crown Palladium.

Mitchell also won the best current affairs commentator award and, along with veteran Austereo programmer Greg Smith, was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

Retiring 2GB veteran John Brennan, already a Hall of Fame member, took out the award for best program director.

Hamish and Andy, who appear regularly on Network Ten's Rove program, won two awards for best music special and best networked program.

Television personalities Dylan Lewis (who used to host ABC television's Recovery) and Channel V presenter Jabba were rewarded for joining the radio ranks by winning the best newcomer on-air and best music personality respectively.

The commercial radio awards aren't just for the big city presenters, with awards presented across 32 categories for country and provincial areas for on-air and behind the scenes talent.

In a first for the awards, a tribute was made to the radio figures who had died in the past year after the high-profile losses of provocative talk host Stan Zemanek and rugby league commentator Frank Hyde.

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The Return Of Jimmy Barnes

Jimmy Barnes, the hard man of Oz rock, is back on stage. This year he recovered from heart surgery; six years ago he entered rehab. Now he's swapped whisky for water with honey and he's rocking even harder. Jimmy Barnes is alive and well - and yes, he'll even play some Chisel. David Astle got a ride in the tour van into deepest Queensland.

Oh my God," says the flight attendant. "Are you Jimmy Barnes, as in the rock star, Jimmy Barnes?" Barnes shrugs. Sure. It's 9am. Not a good time for icons. But the hostie can't let the moment rest. "Maybe if you sign your boarding pass..."

Landing in Rockhampton, the mania continues. Baggage handlers pause at the conveyor belt. Three women - a teen, her mum and grandma - flip open the family Nokia for an impromptu portrait. No matter the chapter - Cold Chisel from the late 1970s; the two solo decades; or the recent Choir Of Hard Knocks - Barnesy is a hero to each generation.

At 51, in purple T-shirt and with wire-brush hair, the man has covered some territory. Evoking the feints of his late father, champion boxer Jim Swan, Barnes ducks and weaves about the carousel, quipping in Glaswegian ocker. If fame isolates the famous, then the cliche hasn't reached Jimmy Barnes.

Outside, five musicians try to squeeze 13 cases into two vans. Backup singer Elly-May Barnes knows better than to give advice. At 18, Elly-May is Jimmy's youngest daughter. She's dressed in sunnies and polka dots, and says, "It's like watching Tetris. Bad Tetris."

Later tonight, across the Divide, the band is due to play to 5000 coalminers, the first touring show for Barnes since heart surgery in May. Off the table and onto the road - and the butterflies flutter. "I always get nervous before a gig," says Barnes, behind the wheel. "No matter where I am in the world, the heart starts racing a few hours before the show."

Even a rejigged heart: the first operation was in February. Surgeons at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital cracked open the singer's chest, draining his blood, clamping his artery - all to remove a faulty valve. "It had nothing to do with my lifestyle," he says. "I had a bicuspid valve that should have been tricuspid."

To operate, surgeons needed to stop the heart - putting the singer's life on hold to insert a new valve. Barnes woke up with a zipper scar - and photos. "Before going under, I gave my camera to the doctor and told him to take some snaps. A few days later, I'm looking through my camera and suddenly there's my chest wide open. They use this medieval-looking car-jack thing to split the breastbone. I'm looking at my own heart... It felt weird."

Maybe for Barnes but not for those who love his music. From the wild Chisel reign to the 17 albums since (actually 19 albums, if you include a best-of compilation and this year's box set of remasters), Barnes has been melting mikes for 35 years, selling more than eight million records, standing on stages from Pentridge to the Palais.

Barnes has five kids; four with his Thai-born wife, Jane Mahoney: Mahalia, 25; Eliza-Jane, 23; son Jackie, 21, and Elly-May. Jackie and Elly-May often perform with their dad. Barnes's oldest is singer David Campbell, 34, who was born when Jimmy was 16. (Campbell grew up in Adelaide, reared by his grandmother, for years unaware of his father's identity.)

We skirt Rockhampton Hospital. "That's where Mahalia was almost born." Jane was very pregnant in 1982 and Barnes thought a loll on Great Keppel Island was the remedy. "I dug her a hole in the sand so she could rest her stomach, but then her waters started breaking. I was 26 and Jane was 24. We went to the doctor, who said, 'Get the f--k off the island.' We grabbed a midwife from Rocky and flew with her back to Sydney. It was a very close thing."

Slaughteryards line the Capricorn Highway. We're escaping the Beef Capital of Oz, heading for Emerald, but Jimmy stays with the memory. "Having a family probably kept me alive."

Heart trouble is only one hurdle in the Barnes bio. Vodka, dope, speed - name a drug of dependence and the younger Barnes was there, depending.

"I spent 35 years abusing myself... part of that was genetic," he reckons. "I was drinking whisky, aged four. My father drank like a fish, my grandfather, my grandmother... I come from a long line of fish." The gravel laugh infects the van. "Maybe it's why I like fishing so much - I get to meet my ancestors."

The general cackle rises and Barnes can't resist an audience. "It's probably why I'm so good at scales and writing hooks." Elly-May groans. "Dad!" she squeals. "No more, OK? All puns are off the record."

Yet family secrets are open slather: "My mum left my dad when I was about 12 [eventually pairing with factory clerk Reg Barnes]. It was around then I worked hard to make people like me. Growing up, joining Chisel at 16, I'd always drink more than anybody else take more drugs than anybody else. As bad as that got, it also created who I was. If you want to be a singer, you don't have to be a compulsive-obsessive and an extreme show-off - but it helps."

Barnes's madness peaked six years ago when a burst stomach ulcer failed to curb the hell-raising.

"I got out of my hospital bed, a drip in my arm, and walked to the Albury Hotel outside St Vincent's, dressed in a gown, and ordered a double vodka."

If Barnes ignored the warning bells, then his family helped him to hear.

"The kids would tour with me all the time. Mahalia used to ring my room. If she got no answer, she'd get my key, thinking she'd find me dead. That was a horrible, horrible time."

It spurred the singer into rehab. He crossed the ocean in 2001 but not before taking "three grams of coke on the plane and drinking a couple of bottles of champagne along the way. I arrived in LA a mess. I spent thee days in detox". And then the hard part started. Cottonwood de Tucson is no "pop star place". It's hardcore rehab in the Arizona desert, where the only place to run is down "the corridors of healing".

Jimmy responded to treatment in a typical all-or-nothing manner. "I went to every class they had." He counts on the steering wheel. "Group therapy, family therapy, private psychiatrist, trauma group, acu-detox..." For Barnes, "the hard part wasn't stopping, but staying stopped." The man to emerge, says brother-in-law Mark Lizotte, alias Diesel, is "no rehab cliche with the whole resentment thing. He's still got that wild look in his eye. He's still encouraging - and incorrigible."

Wife Jane saw the suffering, and the healing, up close. "We learnt to understand that addiction was a sickness," she says. "Since Arizona he's essentially the same man - a kind and courageous man - but his choices aren't coming from a fear-place." Among those choices was to pick up a pen. Exiled to a bed for six months, the outpatient took to writing songs. Even a relapse of cardiac pain - known as Dressler's syndrome, where the body rejects initial surgery - didn't halt the project. "Major trauma helps you focus," says Barnes. "It felt like every emotional nerve ending was raw. And that started coming out in lyrics. Dare I say, it helped get stuff off my chest." Elly-May flashes a glare and her dad beams.

"Admittedly, there were a few songs where I felt sorry for myself... leave-me-here-to-die sort of thing, but they didn't make the cut." Was that a pun? Nobody twigs, as a roadhouse looms on the horizon and every stomach demands a refuel.

Fly zapper. Ceiling fan. This is Barnesy heartland - a replica of the grunge cafe captured in the Chisel video for Forever Now. ("We invented that place inside a Paddo pub," laughs Barnes.) Every soul in remote Duaringa wants to say hello to a man they feel they know. While Pete Satchell (of Dallas Crane), Tommy Boyce (the Casanovas), Yak Skerritt (the Injectors) and Dario Bortolin (INXS tour band) order burgers through the hatch, Barnes stalks the grocery aisle in search of a thermos cup. "These days, I drink hot water and honey before a show."

Keyboardist Tony Featherstone taps a tune on the table edge. "I'm having Khe Sanh nightmares," he whispers. "I've only been with Jimmy a couple of shows and if I stuff up a tune better-known than the national anthem then not just Jimmy will know."

His fingers keep busy.

Suddenly, three red-faced women burst in. "Barnesy!" shrills Kate, in her 20s, "you're a miracle worker: this is the first time I've run in my life!" The girls hail from the bone-dry golf course across the road, near enough to hear the murmur of a rock legend lobbing.

"If I have any phobias," says Barnes under his breath, hunching amid his flushed admirers, "then it's probably a fear of being alone." But before the camera clicks, the counter phone rings - a call for Mr Barnes. A local along the bush telegraph offers the singer and his crew a meal. "Thanks," says Jim down the blower, "but we got a show to do in Moura."

"Where?" eavesdrops the local cop, nursing a coffee. "Moura? You blokes are lost."

"Isn't this the road to Emerald?" asks Skerritt.

"Too right," says the cop. "But what you want is Dululu, excepting you turn off before Banana."

Two farmers escort the band along a red dirt road. "This is too Wolf Creek for me," quakes Elly-May.

Her dad blames Eliza-Jane, the middle daughter, who took his precious SatNav on her European holiday. "I'm lost without my gadgets."

On cue, the air fills with Elvis Presley's My Baby Left Me - the ringtone on Barnes's phone. The caller is Rick Szabo, the Queensland promoter awaiting sound checks, wanting to know where they are. "Surrounded by cows," says Jimmy, edging the Tarago tenderly amid a Brahman herd. "After my valve transplant," he tells us, "which is a bovine valve, I figure I owe cows big time."

Says great mate and industry guru Michael Gudinski, "If you do the right thing by Jimmy Barnes then he'll be there for you until you drop." The Brahman seem convinced; the herd ain't budging. And the sound check is shifted closer to curtain.

Alp-sized coal heaps fringe the town. We rattle over the railway line, past a "dragline bucket" in Rotary Park - a symbol of the town's mining industry - and into the Paul Young Reserve. "Gorgeous singer, Paul Young," jokes Barnes, and breaks into song, "Cos we're living in the love of the common people..."

Szabo, a former Meat Loaf impersonator, is waiting by the rodeo chute, Led Zeppelin logo on his belly and Bluetooth in his ear. "Mate, Jimmy, welcome." Thirty-two speakers hang from scaffolding like wasp nests. Barnes takes a swig of apple cider vinegar, gargles, spits in the dust. He grabs the mike on stage, staring at the empty showground, and blasts out Good Times with full rock backing to test the levels. I swear his wife at home in Mascot with the schnauzers could hear.

Back in town, Doc Neeson's Angels prowl the salmon-pink motel. Solemn and articulate, Neeson recalls, "I first met Jimmy in Townsville in 1422 BC. We were both on tour. He's always been irrepressible."

And next the Belfast-born Doc sings a traditional Scottish tune, "I'm only a common old working chap, as anyone here can see, but when I get a couple o' drinks on a Saturday, Glasgow belongs to me!" He smiles. "The man in that tune is Jimmy. He'll take on anyone - and that's without the drinks now."

"I'm not ambitious," says Jimmy, picking at Chinese food. "I'm competitive. I don't particularly want celebrity, but I want to be the best at what I do. Up against anybody and everybody - including myself." In room nine, Satchell and Boyce strum unplugged guitars in sync with Jimmy's master CD, issued by the agency - Flame Trees, I'd Die To Be With You Tonight, No Second Prize - to warm the fingers. The man himself is swallowing pills, including co-enzymes for the ticker, omega-3 capsules and multivitamins, washed down by honeyed water.

Elly-May enters the porch light, exhibiting her gothic chic for backup singing duties. A wary gait signals her mild cerebral palsy. "I was born three-and-a-half months premature. I weighed as much as 750 grams of butter and had a brain hemorrhage when I came out." Every three months, Elly needs a botox shot in her calf to ease the spasms.

She goes to tell us more when a DC-3 engine interrupts. At least, that's the first impression - the screech belongs to her father in a nearby room, opening with a rumble and building into a banshee shriek. Imagine the word "hey" stretched into infinity, climbing in pitch as you watch the force disappear through a shattered window.

The hour is here. A powdery night has fallen across the Dawson Valley and Jimmy Barnes is ready, dressed in purple silk and black jeans. Moura may seem a speck on the map but Barnes will give his all, swaying onstage ("my chained elephant dance") and living each tune, swamping his body in familiar sweat.

Deep in the list - as miners shuffle, women scream and kids with Spider-Man faces stand in awe - a flawless Khe Sanh is met with rapture.

Jimmy Barnes's album Out In The Blue is out November 24.

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Ashley Anderson Turned Noise To Music

Bernard Zuel

Ashley Anderson is only just coping with the construction noise outside his Sydney apartment. I suggest he stick a microphone out and sample some sounds. It may come in handy in his regular job as Katalyst, one of Australia's leading dance and hip-hop producers and a man whose reputation extends beyond Sydney and Melbourne.

"You never know," he says. "I could use those industrial sounds in some way, shape or form."

The chances are pretty good though, once sent through the filters Anderson would apply, those sounds would end up as something completely different in a funked-up bit of pop music. The evidence has been piling up in his various production jobs but never more so than on the new album under the Katalyst moniker, What's Happening, which adds some genuine songwriting to his undoubted ear for a great sound.

"I really wanted to push myself to write a more sophisticated and more song-based record and not just be categorised as the funky dancefloor guy," Anderson says. "To make a record that was a more broad producer record than just getting in 14 rappers to rap on different tunes."

To that end Anderson wrote songs with specific voices in mind, including the operatic pop voice of Katie Noonan, the rock tones of Adalita from Magic Dirt and American rapper J-Live.

"All the people on the record, I wanted them to feel like they wanted to be on the record, that it was something special."

It has worked, with What's Happening already being talked about in terms of ARIA awards (he has been nominated before) and even tempting commercial radio and TV programs looking for something fresh to play behind their edgy new dramas.

Which may make you wonder why we've had to wait five years for Anderson to follow-up his ARIA-nominated debut album, Manipulating Agent.

He will tell you he has been busy running his label, Invada (with friend and mentor Geoff Barrow, of British group Portishead), operating as his own booking agent and business manager and producing and remixing here and overseas. That's all true. But you could ask how much of the past five years Anderson has spent trawling the crates and boxes of record stores here and around the world.

"It's a passion really, the old records," he laughs. "I still really enjoy them. Someone like Geoff [Barrow], he's almost moved on [from records]. The new Portishead album will have very few samples on it. But I enjoy finding the diamond in the rough, the weirder and more wonderful the better. I've been exposed to a whole lot of European music that on the first record I didn't know even existed: Polish, Czech records, Russian records. And then there's some really interesting Indian music I've picked up lately.

"Of course some of the European stuff is hard to get in Australia as not a lot of that made it here. You do have to keep your eye out and become a seasoned record digger."

So what is the key, the lesson we can all take, when digging through crates of old records?

"Firstly, if I haven't seen them before. Then I pick it up and look at the sort of instruments being played," Anderson says. "If people are playing a lot of steel guitar and harmonica it's pretty safe to say that there's not going to be too much funk-oriented stuff on there. Then it would come down to where it's from, what the artwork looks like and the vibe of the record.

"But in the end I just listen to a lot of stuff. I'll take a massive pile to the listening facilities or I will have a little portable turntable with me and sit there for hours listening to stuff."

Not surprisingly, there isn't a lot of room to spare in the Anderson house.

"It's almost like the Tardis in here. You open up every cupboard, every nook and cranny, and there's stuff everywhere," he sighs. "It has reached critical mass, I think."

Does he know where everything is, at least?

"On that point, I opened the lid of a juice the other day and they have these little facts inside it and it said, 'A year of our life is spent looking for lost items'." Anderson chuckles at the aphorism. "I wondered whether I spent more time than most."

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At Vector Arena With Linkin Park And Chris Cornell

Rebecca Barry

Chris Cornell was selling out stadiums when Linkin Park were still at high school. But it makes sense the two should join forces for their sell-out New Zealand gigs. Both are heavy rockers with a sensitive side, love decibels as much as soaring melodies and share a bogan love of rock that doesn't discriminate against the softies.

Backed by his new band and standing tall in skinny jeans and white tee, Cornell was the picture of experience, a man who has rocked out so many stadiums he could do it with eyes closed.

His set borrowed heavily from his old repertoire: a grand rendition of Audioslave's Like a Stone, a frantic metal version of Soundgarden's Rusty Cage and, cheekiest of all, a lumbering version of Black Hole Sun. If Spoonman wasn't quite so thrilling he might not have got away with it.

Linkin Park upped the intensity through volume, effects and sheer manpower. Opening with a visceral One Step Closer set to pulsing back-lighting, and standing wide-legged on a set that resembled a construction site, their set was frosty yet exhilarating.

Much of it hinged on third album Minutes to Midnight and a solid backlog of hits from their previous two, Meteora and Hybrid Theory. Singer Chester Bennington stripped off his black suit to reveal his tattooed, cut torso, while sharing ringman status and verbal interplay with MC Mike Shinoda, the rhythm section focusing on keeping the groove, particularly the military-style beats from drummer Rob Bourdon.

It was a distant yet engaging performance that proved rap-rock isn't dead - it's reconfigured through drum'n'bass (Breaking the Habit), brazen funk (highlight Bleed It Out) and emotional angst (Crawling).

LP also flexed plenty of decibel-heavy muscle on Given Up, in which singer Chester Bennington proved his lung capacity matches Axl Rose when it comes to singing about "Misereeeeeeeeeeey".

They lost their momentum when Bennington was accompanied on keys for the soft-rock ballads Leave Out All the Rest and the saccharine anthem, Pushing Me Away. It was also a pretty standard performance of Numb.

But with enough big hits and playtime with the dynamics, fans went home feeling anything but.

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George Clooney Still Cruising The Film Industry

Helen Barlow

If you're hoping that George Clooney might do action roles again, it will never happen. That's the word from the actor-director, who is now more famous for serious work such as Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck. He has hardly had any great success in action movies and, in typical Clooney style, those roles have become part of his comedy routine when dealing with the press.

"The first time I cried in a movie was at the premiere of Batman & Robin; Peacemaker II? Nah. I'm too old to do action films. It's no good now; I could fall apart. I think they're made for people of a certain age and I'm not of that age any more."

At 46, Clooney looks lean, leaner even than before he stacked on 14 kilos to play an overweight CIA agent in Syriana. That film could have led to his undoing; he had an accident performing his own stunt during the torture scene so that spinal fluid came dripping out of his nose.

Today, talking up his thriller Michael Clayton at the Venice Film Festival, he is effectively launching his first extensive publicity campaign since his 2006 Oscar win as best supporting actor for Syriana: he was likewise nominated as director and co-writer for Good Night, and Good Luck.

He is also determined to show that he is as fit as a fiddle.

"I am fine now," he says. "I have just finished a movie called Leatherheads which I wrote, directed and starred in. I had to play football with a bunch of 21-year-olds. I must have been stupid, but I felt OK."

He co-stars in the 1920s romantic comedy with Renee Zellweger, whom he once dated, but he doesn't mention that. Nor does he mention his current girlfriend, Sarah Larson, a cocktail waitress he met at the premiere for Ocean's 13 and with whom he had a subsequent motorcycle accident.

Larson did not make it onto the Venice red carpet for the Michael Clayton premiere, but accompanied her beau to the film's lavish party, where Clooney allowed himself to be photographed as he bent over to kiss her at the dinner table. In Toronto when interrogated by the Americans, he deflected questions about his "new love".

"Have I ever talked about my private life?" he responded with that ever-present grin.

He does, however, open up about the passing of his pet pig, Max. Has he been able to replace him?

"You can't replace a good pig like that. He has not been replaced. I have not been home to Los Angeles since I left on January 3 to go to the Carolinas to shoot the movie. You cannot get a pig on the road. Well, you can, but people will talk."

Like Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck, Michael Clayton is a production from Section Eight, the company Clooney established with Steven Soderbergh to make films that Hollywood studios would generally pass on - stories that raise the intellectual bar and that are intended to resonate with an audience well after being viewed. This smart thriller about corporate greed is directed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for the Bourne trilogy.

Clooney plays the title character, a tough-minded corporate fixer for a high-profile Manhattan law firm that is being taken over by a British conglomerate headed by Tilda Swinton. As the film opens, the firm's top litigator (Tom Wilkinson) has been working against a high-profile class action that recalls Erin Brockovich, but he has lost his nerve and is having a breakdown.

Clooney's Clayton is tough in the workplace, but is divorced and has mounting gambling debts; while Swinton's corporate CEO chooses the wrong path for the corporate good. All three characters have lost their way and are at their wit's end.

For Clooney, the film is not political.

"It's more a genre film, a well-made thriller like films from the '70s [such as] The Parallax View or The Candidate. You could take these characters and you could supplant them in the health care system or politics or virtually anywhere that corruption exists," he says.

Still carrying the extra weight from Syriana and sporting stubble and his naturally grey hair in the film, Clooney didn't have to conjure his character's exhaustion - he had just come from his 2006 Oscar campaign.

"It is a campaign where you actually kiss babies, but Academy members mostly," he frowns.

"You are trying to convince yourself you are doing it for the film, but you start to feel unclean about yourself. It was press screenings every night, flying to London for the BAFTAs. I felt beat up. I still could not exercise because of this injury. It did not take much to look like that."

The day after Michael Clayton wrapped and the Oscars were done and dusted, Clooney was on a plane to Darfur with his dad.

"There was something inside of me which made me want to go out and do something else. There is this weird thing that happens. It [the Oscars] stops being about promoting a film, more like comparing art. Once you start saying that David Strathairn is better than Philip Seymour Hoffman ... that is something which makes you want to go and stand in Chad for 10 days."

Now, after directing a comedy, he is happily retaining his upbeat mood by re-teaming with the Coen Brothers for Burn After Reading.

"It's one of the reasons I am growing this beard," he notes, rubbing his stubble. "Do you like it? There is a lot of testosterone in my family.

"The Coens' film has nothing to do with politics. It's as wrong as it can be. I wish I could understand it. I tell them I don't understand it. They go: 'Yeah ... heh, heh, heh.' In the story I'm having an affair with Tilda - I need a stepladder! [Swinton jokes how Clooney thinks she's a man!] I play my third idiot for the Coens after O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty. They seem to find knucklehead funny with me."

Brad Pitt, Clooney's close friend since the Ocean's movies, also stars in the film. Together with Don Cheadle and Matt Damon they have raised about $US10 million ($11 million) at their Darfur Not On Our Watch fund-raisers. A family that plays together, raises funds together. Clooney likes the idea of an extended creative family. He came to showbusiness via his famous aunt, the singer Rosemary Clooney, but it was his TV anchorman dad Nick who instilled in him his resolve.

"There are just certain moments when you ask yourself, 'What you are doing to help the world?' I grew up around famous people. My father was a big star for a time. My aunt Rosemary was a big star. I saw it and I saw how little it has to do with you. The problem with famous people is that they actually start to think of themselves as geniuses. They think: 'Of course I am famous - I have earned it all.'

"You have to capitalise on it. You have to be available for it. It came to me later in life, at age 33, so I do not take it for granted."

So what of that matinee idol, that gorgeous guy with all the girls? Clooney remains a confirmed bachelor since his early failed marriage to actress Talia Balsam, but steps out with an array of younger beauties.

"Settle down? I settle down nicely with a good glass of wine," Clooney said in our previous Venice interview. "A good glass of wine and a painkiller."

The guy popping champagne with girls and living the sweet life as depicted in his Martini ads is for real, Gilroy confirms.

"Yes, he's definitely got that going on, too. I've never seen anything like it. I don't know if anyone's ever been better at the job of movie star than George is."

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Paul McCartney And Heather Mills Bring Their Divorce To A Finish

A Thick fog enveloping London added to the air of secrecy as Paul McCartney and Heather Mills arrived separately to hammer out a deal in the most celebrated and potentially most costly divorce battle in British legal history.

The estranged couple arrived at the judge's entrance to the Royal Courts of Justice in Holborn yesterday for negotiations to finalise the agreement.

Amid a clamour of media interest in the case, neither the judge nor the exact venue had been disclosed and Mills was led from her car with a blanket covering her head.

The aim of the hearing, which comes after months of acrimony and accusations, is to agree a financial settlement and avoid the dispute going to further costly and public hearings.

McCartney, 65, has reportedly offered £20 million ($45 million), but Mills, 39, is said to be seeking closer to £50 million.

Divorce lawyers following the case believe the couple will be keen to reach a settlement as they are anxious to shield their three-year-old daughter Beatrice from a lengthy legal process. Some divorce specialists have predicted McCartney - worth an estimated £825 million - faces a total payout approaching £70 million.

The deal is expected to outstrip the £48 million that insurance broker John Charman, 53, was ordered to pay his former wife Beverley in May this year, in Britain's biggest contested divorce settlement to date.

The former Beatle married Mills, an ex-model, in June 2002, four years after his first wife Linda died of breast cancer. They met at a charity event in 1999 and their early relationship was characterised by newspaper headlines claiming that McCartney's three grown-up children disapproved of the match.

The pair seemed united by their love of charity work and campaigning but Mills, who lost a leg in a road accident in 1993, remained unpopular with the public and the press.

Since their union broke down last year, the couple's divorce has been played out acrimoniously in the public eye, with Mills saying in March that securing a divorce deal was like "getting blood out of a stone". Sir Paul has mostly kept quiet during the proceedings.

Mills also appeared on the US television show Dancing With the Stars, where she won fans for her determination to master the tricky dance routines.

Relations between Mills and McCartney appear to be thawing. They have been pictured in public together and are said to be making an effort to get along for the sake of their daughter.

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