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THE BIG CHILL WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE THE COOLEST OF THE 'COOL'.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Writer

``Be Cool,'' the sequel to Elmore Leonard's mooks-in-Hollywood crime comedy ``Get Shorty,'' goes to great lengths to live up to its title.

The ensemble cast is drawn from smooth operators in both the music and movie worlds. There's a genre for everybody in the music-world satire: pop, hard rock, rap, oldies, cross-gendered country, even Sergio Mendes' jazzy bossa nova sound. There's even a star-studded sequence shot live at a Lakers game.

And the film is full of lessons in how to be cool, 21st-century L.A. style. Many of the up-to-the-minute cool tips can be found in the film. But here we talk to five of the picture's coolest stars on their thoughts.

JOHN TRAVOLTA

Role: Chili Palmer, mafia shylock from ``Get Shorty,'' now tired of producing movies and trying his hand in the music business.

Street cred: Can you forget his ``Saturday Night Fever'' strut? ``Pulp Fiction's'' Vincent Vega? One word: Barbarino!

What's cool?: ``I grew up in an era when cool was, for the first time, a part of pop culture. You were seeing the likes of James Dean, Marlon Brando, the Beatles ... I absorbed it, and that is probably one of my biggest assets. It's James Bond, watching the first one when you're 8 years old and it's something you've never seen before. It's so many moments like that. I think that's a lot of why I've been able to do these effective pop-culture characters. But that's just a guess.''

Are sequels ever cool?: ``They're arbitrary, normally. But Elmore Leonard really seduced me into this, because he wrote the book as an homage to the movie 'Get Shorty.' This was an inspiration he didn't expect to have.''

On dancing with Uma Thurman again: ``In 'Pulp Fiction,' our characters were higher than kites and doing novelty gimmick dances from the 1960s. This one is cool and laid-back, this Brazilian dance that's just classy and traditional. They have a different feel, both valid. And Uma is one of those joys to dance with.

``Princess Diana was a nice partner, too. She had confidence. Maybe a little too much confidence for me; she'd start to lead!''

UMA THURMAN

Role: Edie Athens, vodka-drenched widow of murdered record company owner, former tour laundress for Aerosmith.

Street cred: Quentin Tarantino's muse. Ninja assassin.

What's cool about Edie?: ``There is a certain vulnerability mixed with a kind of toughness. And I guess I could relate to her swagger, which tries to keep it hidden that she is actually a softie.''

On dancing with John Travolta: ``I can't tell you how much I like to dance. I'm just too insecure to do it in real life, so I've got to do it in the movies. It was a blast. He's a great partner, and you can't ask for anyone better to dance with in the whole world, of course. I feel so lucky that I've gotten to do it twice.''

On keeping cool when paparazzi attack: ``It's a little price that you pay for otherwise having an extraordinary life. It's not a big deal if you just remember that those people are trying to feed their families, too, and then hope for finding a pleasant medium in how you each can coexist.

``And occasionally you want to punch somebody.''

THE ROCK

Role: Elliot Wilhelm, gay Samoan chauffeur/bodyguard for ludicrous music manager Raji (Vince Vaughn). But what Elliot really wants to do is act, sing and dance.

Day job: Also known as Dwayne Johnson, the college football star who parlayed a WWF gig as ``The People's Champion'' into an increasingly bizarre movie career (``The Scorpion King,'' ``Walking Tall,'' next summer's ``Doom'').

Which is the least cool way for a guy to break into show business, doing a scene from ``Bring It On'' or singing ``You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man'' like you mean it?: ``There are Elliots out there right now who are aspiring actors who will drop a monologue on you. I run into them every day. And in music, there are people who are like, 'Hey, I've got a CD. You've gotta listen to it!' I figured maybe Elliot likes to sing old country love songs by Loretta Lynn. Just trying to make him interesting.''

You're scary, you're Samoan, but you're not gay: ``Let me confirm that right now. But this guy just happens to be gay, proudly gay, and will kick somebody's ass if they don't like it.''

Could you have come up with a cooler wrestling name?: ``Lemme see. Twinkle Twinkle didn't make it. Big Daddy didn't make it. I was really lucky to decide on The Rock.''

HARVEY KEITEL

Role: Nick Carr, East Coast mobster turned sleazy show-biz manager.

Street cred: Actors Studio co-president. U.S. Marines, 1956-59. ``Mean Streets,'' ``Taxi Driver,'' ``Reservoir Dogs,'' ``The Piano,'' ``Bad Lieutenant'' ...

Which business is tougher, music or movies?: ``Painters get ripped off by galleries. So who has it rougher? I would say any of the arts is a rough road to travel. Worthwhile but rough; exactly the way life is and should be regarded.''

What's cool?: ``The Russian mobster guy (Alex Kubik) managed to keep that toupee on his head for a long time. In my opinion, he was the coolest of everyone in the movie.''

Your old pal Marty Scorsese keeps getting robbed at the Oscars. What's wrong with the academy?: ``There's a lot wrong with the academy, and there's a lot right with the academy. But Marty's work has been so monumental in informing and stirring people around the world to know themselves better. That's acknowledged, is it not? So I can't feel sorry for him if he doesn't win the Oscar. Sorry, Marty.''

ANDRE BENJAMIN

Role: Dabu, rapper and trigger-happy enforcer for his uncle, record producer Sin LaSalle (Cedric the Entertainer).

Day job: Slick-dressing Andre 3000 of recording superduo OutKast.

Which business is tougher, music or movies?: ``I have to say movies. There's a lot of scheduling, a lot of behind-the-scenes, preparation and studying. And it's getting up early, all-day shoots.''

Does ``Be Cool'' accurately portray the shady side of the music industry?: ``This is an over-the-top parody, not me actually playing a rapper. But it is what it is. Some people may be mad that you're letting people know how it really is, but hey, that's how it is.''

What's cool?: ``Being in an Elmore Leonard movie, because he has so many fans and I think a lot of them will come to the theater.''

Where does Andre Benjamin end and Andre 3000 begin?: ``We're total opposites. It takes me a minute to get into that space. People watching the video of 'Hey Ya!' think he's a wild and crazy guy. I'm not wild or crazy.''

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Too `Cool'

Travolta and Thurman dancing together again

(2) no caption (``Be Cool'' cast)

(3) ``Be Cool'' plays with many Hollywood stereotypes, including a star-heavy Lakers game with John Travolta, left, Danny DeVito, Anna Nicole Smith and former L.A. coach Phil Jackson.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 4, 2005
Words:1184
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