Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2004 / 20 Teves, 5764

Lloyd Grove

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Busting on the "cult buster"; Sarsgaard thinks globally; one angry woman; more | NEW YORK — Self-styled "cult buster" Rick Ross stirred up a hornet's nest last week with his warning to Madonna's favorite presidential candidate, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, to keep his distance from Madonna's spiritual home, the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles.

One apparent supporter of Kabbalah Centre founder Philip Berg e-mailed me Monday to describe Ross — who runs a New Jersey-based nonprofit institute that describes its mission as the study of cults — as "disreputable."

The e-mailer then recounted the 51-year-old Ross' childhood psychiatric history and various brushes with the law as a young man in Arizona — notably his guilty plea to a felony for the theft of diamonds from a jewelry store.

On Monday, Ross told me that he has always been open about his troubled past: "It happened almost 30 years ago. I was young and foolish and made mistakes that I deeply regret. I did whatever the court required, completed my probation in 1979, and the guilty verdicts were vacated in 1983. I have gone on with my life and never again got in that kind of trouble."

In August 2001, Nevada Kabbalah Centre official Moshe Omer attacked Ross when the latter was invited by a local synagogue to speak on religious cults. "Rick Ross is a convicted felon who has a history of psychiatric problems," Omer complained to the Las Vegas Sun.

Ross told me: "It's the same old, same old. It's just the same recasting of a Scientology attack that I've heard many times."

Ross said the Church of Scientology has waged a hardball PR campaign against him for years.

Scientology International spokeswoman Linda Simmons Hight, meanwhile, told me there is no cooperation between the church and the Kabbalah Centre to put out the word on Ross.

"I'm just glad that the information is getting around," she said. "I don't care who sends it. . . . It comes from Christian groups and now apparently the Kabbalah Centre as well. All kinds of people are writing about Rick Ross."

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So just how hot is the Hollywood prize competition?

So hot that Golden Globes contender Peter Sarsgaard interrupted his Italian vacation with girlfriend Maggie Gyllenhaal last week to get on the phone and chat about his life as a budding movie star.

"You're my first interview — I've managed to stay low until now," the 32-year-old Illinois native told me from Rome. He's up for the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for his portrayal of New Republic editor Charles Lane in "Shattered Glass," the media psychodrama about notorious journalistic fabricator Stephen Glass.

Sarsgaard's performance, opposite Hayden Christensen as Glass, is so intense and compelling that he might even have deserved a Best Actor nod.

"But I'm not really in the first half of the movie," he demurred. "I guess those definitions for acting are always very tricky. What is a 'character actor'? What is a 'lead'? What is 'supporting'? Who does the studio want to market? Is it better to go for 'supporting' than 'best'? . . . It drives me nuts, really."

Would Sarsgaard like to cross over the definitional divide from "actor" to "movie star"?

"Yeah, I would," he answered. "I would like to have enough power to be able to do the obscure things I enjoy, and be able to get financing for them. . . . It says a lot about our culture, and about acting — our need for superstars. Even superstar journalists who are as big a star as the news itself. That's the story of 'Shattered Glass.' I'm not so much interested in why Stephen Glass lied as I am in why he was believed."

Sarsgaard said he has relied on Gyllenhaal, whom he's been dating for about a year, for Golden Globe pointers. She received a 2002 Best Actress nomination for the indie movie "Secretary."

"The best piece of advice Maggie has given me is to enjoy it," Sarsgaard said. "There's always an attitude about how you're going to respond. If you listen to people and it doesn't happen for them, it's always, 'I value the performance I've given more than a nomination.' Somehow I don't really believe that. Awards are fun!"


ONE ANGRY WOMAN: Hollywood vixen Christina Applegate is still in Robert Blake Jury Pool Hell. Applegate has been trying since last week to be excused from jury selection in the high-profile murder case, arguing that professional obligations prevent her from serving on a four- to five-month trial. But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp has yet to set her free. "It's still ongoing," Applegate's manager, Tami Lynn, told us Monday. "We expect to know later in the week."

LOVE OVER LUNCH?: That was "It" couple Uma Thurman and Andre Balazs swimming in each other's limpid pools at Balthazar Sunday afternoon. Cozily ensconced in a back-wall booth, at one point performing a little mouth-to-mouth, the actress and the hotelier couldn't keep their eyes off each other. She sipped red wine. He abstained. He looked tan, rested and ready. She looked fabulous in a black turtleneck, green blazer and no makeup. Every so often she looked up at him and flashed a little grin.

THAT'S A JOKE, SON!: Bantering backstage during The New York Times' Arts & Leisure Weekend at the City University of New York Graduate Center, "Producers" stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick got to talking about 1-year-old James Broderick, whose mother is Sarah Jessica Parker. "He has started singing," the proud father reported. "He likes 'Baa, Baa, Black Sheep' and 'The Sound of Music.'" Lane asked: "You only play him show tunes?" Broderick replied: "No. We play him Springsteen and other things. He just seems to have gravitated to 'The Sound of Music.'" Not missing a beat, Lane announced: "Mary Martin! That's it. He's gay!" (Martin was the star of the original Broadway production.)

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11/26/03: Catherine Crier raps Jacko's TV defender, refuses on-air hint of racism; At 50, Tina's in full cry; STAY OUT OF HER WAY!; more
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11/20/03: Is a movie career in store for Maria Bartiromo?; People for the Unethical Treatment of Humans?; more
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11/10/03: Gen. clark on the Subway diet; life of the party; MTV's Dumb and Dumber?; the hug issue; but does the $6,000 shower curtain convey?; red faces at Buckingham palace?
11/06/03: Let them eat pita?; verbal jousting; pretenders to the throne?
11/05/03: Will Harvey Weinstein and Gregg Easterbrook now be pals?; crazed Quentin; more
11/04/03: Herding off the hipsters; more
11/03/03: Dean's tell-all on himself?; Lisaraye vs. Mya?; the odd couple; no need to panic; just don't call him "Scooter"!; Rosie scenarios
10/30/03: Autumn of the editor?; Cynthia Nixon's split may be costly; 'Burning' questions
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10/16/03: George Clooney and intolerable Drudgery; Cameron goes native; and you thought the war in Iraq was nasty?; now it can be revealed; star wars?
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10/08/03: Art-time for Hitler; the actress who hates movies; lying "Liam"
10/07/03: Pond scum of the rich and famous
07/24/03: Ali and George, living it up; Mel Gibson's Washington power play
07/21/03: White House smear?
07/17/03: Yet another intern scandal; it's her party and she can pay if she wants to
07/14/03: On the auction block: JFK'S boxer shorts; love bytes the maestro
07/10/03: A hairy situation at Homeland Security; Van Susteren v. Orth
06/30/03: Rep. Patrick Kennedy: I've never worked a (bleeping) day in my life; Drudge's dressing down; Ken Lay's Kerry connection
06/26/03: Rapping the beat
06/23/03: Another Watergate scandal?; AL GORE TV!
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06/16/03: Missing dog, ransom demand, Hollywood ending
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06/05/03: Incoming from Barbara Bush?
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05/29/03: Newt's new novel
05/27/03: Hitchens & Blumenthal, together again; He still believes in a man called Hope
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© 2003, Creators Syndicate