Newsmakers

Q&A: Tracey Ullman

She's played a lot of kooks in her career, but never one quite like this: in director John Waters's latest film "A Dirty Shame," Tracey Ullman plays an uptight mom who gets conked on the head and becomes a sex addict. She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin.

NEWSWEEK: Why take this part?

I love John Waters. There's stuff in it that's beyond the boundaries of my taste, but his movies have always been like that. And my son wanted me to meet Johnny Knoxville.

What TV shows do you watch?

Jon Stewart. "The Office." I like infomercials. The Jack La Lanne juicing show. But as I get older, I just prefer to knit.

When did you start doing impressions?

From an early age. I used to dress up and impersonate our next-door neighbor, Miss Cox. She wore rubber boots, a wool hat, and her nose always dripped. My father died when I was 6 and we were really sad, so I put on a show for my mum. [In a mocking American accent] Looking back now, it was a kind of therapy.

Did you get into trouble at school?

Not really. It's funny--if you impersonate somebody, they have no idea it's them. And if you tell them they say, "That's not like me at all!" Anyway, I left school at 16 and went to Berlin and danced.

That's very "Cabaret"-ish of you.

Yeah, West Berlin, 1976. It was amazing. I wish they hadn't taken the wall down. Now it's full of east Germans wearing Versace shirts.

What would you be doing if you hadn't made it?

I didn't think I'd go anywhere. I'm from Hackbridge! I would have gotten a job, probably would have become a travel agent, married a bloke named Brian, had it off once a month after a bath, gone to Majorca once a year. But I met my husband, Allan McKeown, and that's when my life began, really.

Aw.

Yeah, but I don't want the silly sod to hear that.

A Quick Newsmakers Survey Of Who And What Is Hot In Pop Culture Right... Now:

Hot Type: 'Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell'

A 782-page novel about 19th-century magic? Critics are wild for it. (A bit too wild, we think.) Best trick: it's No. 6 on Amazon.

Hot Pipes: Jill Scott

The north Philly neo soul queen's new CD "Beautifully Human" is as delicious as her first. Week-one sales: 196,000 copies, No. 3 on Billboard's album chart.

Hot Zombie Flick: 'Shaun Of The Dead'

Buzz from advance screenings: it's killer funny. Fans include Tarantino, Peter Jackson. Out Sept. 24.

Rush Into His Lovin' Arms OK, OK, dear readers, you can stop with the letters. You asked for it, so here it is: the very latest on Rush Limbaugh's sex life. At a star-studded GOP dinner last week in New York featuring Vice President Dick Cheney, the passionate conservative was spotted with "CNN Live Today" host Daryn Kagan. Later, a Limbaugh spokesperson confirmed to The Washington Post that the two are indeed an item. And a curious one at that. He's 53 and a rabble-rousing, right-wing radio host; she's 41 and a card-carrying member of the liberal media elite. According to the Post, Kagan's friends are, to say the least, "surprised." Limbaugh has been a bachelor since June, when he showed just how serious he is about protecting the institution of marriage by divorcing his third wife. It's probably too early to discuss round four, but at least for the time being, Rush is off the market. Sorry, girls.

Kidman Gets Bacalled Out

Celebrities rarely deserve our pity, but let's face it: Nicole Kidman had a crummy run last week. First Sharon Osbourne went on British TV and called her a "skinny cow." (An insult and an oxymoron. Touche!) Then, at a Venice Film Festival screening of her new movie "Birth," about a widow whose dead spouse returns in the form of a 10-year-old boy, critics booed after a creepy scene in which she takes a rub-a-dub-dub in a tub with the prepubescent cub. But the nadir came when 79-year-old costar Lauren Bacall snapped at a reporter for describing Kidman, 37, as "a legend." "She's not a legend," Bacall, who ought to know, said. "She's a beginner." So she's not a skinny cow. She's a skinny calf. --Devin Gordon