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Will Smith Clears the Air

Will Smith Clears the Air | Melissa Leo Still Carries a Gun | Mario Batali's Cheese Wheel Rolls In

Will Smith Clears the Air

This column was the first to report that Will Smith donated money to the Church of Scientology’s LEAP program in 2006.

Then came lots of talk: Will and Jada hanging out with Tom Cruise, super Scientologist, didn’t help. The Smith kids were also getting home-schooled, which put them in line with Cruise, John Travolta and others.

This year, news broke that Will had funded a school in suburban Los Angeles that used one of Scientology’s study programs. It seemed like Will and Jada were making a statement. But they didn’t actually make a statement.

Monday night, I ran into Mr. and Mrs. Smith at the premiere of “Lakeview Terrace,” which Will has produced with partner James Lassiter. Jada was there, too. And here’s the thing about Will and Jada: they are immensely likable. They are incredibly gracious. Even when Will’s overzealous security guard, the size of the Cleopatra column, attempted to block and neutralize me, Smith intervened quickly.

I told him I’d heard he’d given a press conference to the group called Anonymous, which protests Scientology.

“Not exactly a press conference, but I did talk to them,” he said. Mind you, Will had just gone to the buffet and was carrying a plate of food. This was up at the swanky new Empire Hotel rooftop following the premiere of “Lakeview,” which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington.

So, what’s the story? Is Will a Scientologist? “I am not,” he told me. The school is using one of Scientology's teaching tools, but Will said, “You can take different parts of things you like and put them all together.”

This is similar to what he told the Anonymous people (who remain, I presume, unknown). In their recent press release, the group said, "We appreciate Will's interest in our efforts and his openness in speaking with us directly. It shows his concern both as a parent and educator.

"Anonymous is hopeful that NVLA will take the great strides necessary to correct for the deficiencies in Scientology's Study Tech, or abandon them altogether. We will be keeping an eye on the situation to make sure that NVLA lives up to the goals Will Smith has for it, which include keeping the Church of Scientology out of the classrooms."

More importantly: Jada wore a short-waisted vintage dress, with the bust covered in a silver mylar sort of thing. It was very cool. She told me she was thrilled “The Women” had made $10 million in its first weekend, since it only cost $16 million. “We’re in the clear whatever happens now,” she said.

Melissa Leo Still Carries a Gun

Melissa Leo was feisty cop Kay Howard on the great Tom Fontana-Barry Levinson TV series, “Homicide.” So you’d think she’d be tired of carrying a gun. But as Ray Eddy, the indefatigable single mom-turned-smuggler in the movie, “Frozen River,” she packs heat once again.

“Frozen River,” made for about two cents on location on the New York/Canada border, has just crossed the $1 million line. It’s a real indie hit. Forget the Oscars — Courtney Hunt’s directorial debut should be a finalist in most categories for the Independent Spirit Award next February, and Leo may find herself short-listed by a lot of critics’ groups for Best Actress.

Monday night, Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, who fell in love with “Frozen River” when she was a Sundance juror last winter, hosted a dinner and screening for this gem of a drama up at the Sony club.

Playwright Israel Horovitz, famed network journalist Bob Jamieson and even legendary Marni Nixon were in the crowd. Marni Nixon was the singing voice of Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn in the movies and on the soundtracks of "The King and I," "An Affair to Remember," "West Side Story" and "My Fair Lady."

And yes, in “Frozen River,” Ray Eddy carries a gun, and shoots it. A lot. She’s a single mother living hand to mouth in a very rural, down and dirty northern border town. “Frozen River” is inspired by true stories of people driving back and forth across the order on the solidly iced St. Lawrence River between Quebec and a Mohawk Reservation in New York State. An actress named Misty Upham gives a subtle performance as Ray Eddy’s smuggling tutor.

How about a little gossip? New Yorkers may recall that during the “Homicide” years, Melissa Leo was in a constant custody battle with actor John Heard over their little boy. I can report that the boy is now 21 and a college student in California. Melissa was never married to Heard, she informed me. “I’m proud of that,” she said.

This was such a big headline 15 years ago. See what happens? And now Melissa Leo, a wise, red-haired beauty, has about 12 movies coming over the next year. Bravo!

By the way, when you see “Frozen River,” you’ll wonder how they protected 5-year-old actor James Reilly — cute as a button — from all the bad stuff in the script. Hunt tells me: “I made sure when we shot the film that he didn’t know what it was about. Anytime there was bad language, we kept it away from him. Then we went to Sundance and he saw the film!” Hunt shook her head in disbelief. At least she tried…

Mario Batali's Cheese Wheel Rolls In

Famed chef Mario Batali — of New York City's Babbo and other fine dining establishments — brought a big wheel of cheese Monday night to the celebration of the Bon Appetit Awards at Del Posto restaurant.

Bon Appetit Editor in chief Barbara Fairchild was one of those who got a taste of the mouth-watering aged Parmigianino. Batali tells me he gets about a dozen of these huge hunks of cheese sent over from Italy every year. The guests, including even Drew Nieporent of Nobu fame, nibbled like happy mice while Batali regaled me with stories of adventures he’s had all over the world.

There were many awards this year, including Chef of the Year to Michael Psilakis, who’s made Greek food all the rage at his New York restaurants; and Best Food Writer to Michael Pollan, the great essayist and son of former New York Magazine Best Bets columnist Corky Pollan.

Barbara Fairchild is so popular as Bon Appetit’s editor in chief by the way, that she actually lives half of the week in Los Angeles and half in New York. She’s just published The Bon Appetit Fast Easy and Fresh Cookbook, which experts on such matters tell me is a definitive work. It must be — it weighs about 20 pounds!