Six Feet Without Rachel Griffiths

Rachel Griffiths | Brooke Shields | Janet and Michael Jackson

Six Feet Without Rachel Griffiths

HBO's multiple Emmy-nominated Six Feet Under will start its third season without Golden Globe-winning Best Actress Rachel Griffiths. Even though Griffiths' Brenda is one of the lynchpins of the show, the season will go at least four episodes before Brenda makes an appearance.

The reason, according to Six Feet insiders, is that Griffiths, who is Australian, was "very homesick." She was "very tired," they said, and that makes sense. Since making a splash in the feature film Hilary and Jackie, Griffiths has worked nonstop, and mostly with an American accent, which is probably exhausting. (She's like the reverse Gwyneth Paltrow!)

Last year, in addition to Six Feet Under -- in which Brenda is a sex addict with incestuous feelings toward her brother and a fragile personality -- Griffiths also co-starred with Dennis Quaid in The Rookie. She also has three more projects in the can, including a mini-series.

So what will happen to Six's Nate, played by Peter Krause? Apparently, we will see a lot of the great actress Lili Taylor, who gave birth last season to Nate's child. (Rent I Shot Andy Warhol or Julie Johnson to see just how good she is.) Taylor is signed for most of the new season's 13 episodes, guaranteeing her Emmy consideration next September. Six Feet Under goes into production this week and starts airing new shows next winter.

Brooke Shields on 'Suicide' Mission

In a little alley theatre in Greenwich Village last night, two dozen or more stars came out for Sept.11.

"The 24 Hour Plays" -- which gained notoriety last year when they were given a few days after the World Trade Center disaster -- kicked off New York's week of memorial activities.

Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei, plus actor/director Griffin Dunne, Billy Crudup, Kate Burton, Mariska Hargitay, Brooke Shields, Rosie Perez, Fisher Stevens, (the aforementioned) Lili Taylor, Liev Schreiber, Saturday Night Live's Rachel Dratch, Jennifer Esposito and Actors Studio owner Anna Strasberg were among those who pooled their talent for the worthy cause. Details magazine underwrote the evening.

And this is the way "The 24 Hour Plays" work: The writers meet with the actors from 10 to 11 p.m. the night before the show, with no material sketched out. Then they write all night, and the plays go into rehearsal at 9 a.m. the next morning. By 5 p.m. they're ready to be staged, and at 8 p.m. it's lights, curtain, go.

The material -- especially in the first half of the evening -- was funnier and stronger than what you see on average Saturday Night Live.

The very first entry, Happy for You, written by Warren Leight and directed by Frank Pugliese, concerned a bunch of friends including Stephen Spinella, Gaby Hoffman, Matt McGrath and Mariska Hargitay, at home on Oscar night rooting for -- and against -- a pal who was up for Best Screenplay. It hit just the right note of catty-ness and included references to someone named "Harvey." Sharp memories recall that Leight once wrote and directed a charming little comedy for Miramax's Harvey Weinstein called The Night We Never Met that had a better life on video than in theatres.

In Three Years Later by Eduardo Machado, Brooke Shields, Rosie Perez, and Hazelle Goodman, all played the bereaved friends of a female playwright who'd committed suicide and asked that her final note be read three years later. For Shields, whose friend David Strickland took his own life while they were doing her sitcom Suddenly Susan, the material was a brave choice. She held her own pretty well with the other actors.

It turns out that the play was based on the real life of British playwright Sarah Kane, who killed herself in 1999 at age 28, and has since -- as Machado's play implied -- gained a cult following a la Sylvia Plath.

But it was Schreiber who stole the evening in a sketch by Jerome Hairston that featured Esposito as a gun moll dressing for her boyfriend's funeral. Schreiber, Fisher Stevens, and Jesse L. Martin from Law & Order, dressed in black suits, were all supposed to be the boyfriend's associates, each practicing their eulogies. I thought the deceased was a Tony Soprano type, but later Stevens told me they imagined during rehearsals it could have been Sam Waksal, the slippery indicted chief of ImClone Systems, the company that's gotten Martha Stewart so much trouble.

"It's not like I know him," Stevens said. "It's just from reading about him."

Some other notes from the "24 Hour Plays": Hargitay, who's made a terrific career for herself on one of those Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, seems to be dating castmate Peter Hermann. The actress-daughter of the late movie star Jayne Mansfield (the Pam Anderson of her day), was surprised to learn that in a previous job, as an evil doctor on Guiding Light, Hermann cloned a human being.

"You did?" she said, a little taken aback. "I never mentioned that, did I?" Hermann responded. That will take some explaining...Gaby Hoffman, for a time a big child actress who did a lot of excellent work, is in college and on hiatus from acting completely. "I'm studying to be an environment activist!" she said... and finally, don't think that even the most talented actors don't flub lines. When Kate Burton got lost in some complicated dialogue during Hallelujah Anyway playing a woman who sees angels, Frank Whaley jumped right in and saved her with an on the spot cue.

"The 24 Hour Plays" is part of the "Brave New World" series you'll be hearing about in other media this week. That series continues tonight at Town Hall in Manhattan.

Janet Jackson Helping Michael?

It seems Michael Jackson's sister Janet may be partially responsible for helping Mikey with a new recording contract. Janet is pretty much the only bright spot over at foundering Virgin/EMI Records, the company that paid out $50 million to make Mariah Carey go away last year. Janet and Michael share an unofficial "manager" -- John McClain, who despite being a DreamWorks Records executive still draws a hefty percentage from the Jacko siblings. Now word is that McClain may be leveraging Janet's success to cut Mike a deal at Virgin too. If so, Tommy Mottola will laugh that all his cast-offs head for Virgin next once they're dropped by Sony. How possible is all this? Tea leaf readers will recall that during Michael's crazy acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, he thanked "the marketing genius of John McClain."

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