Newsmakers

On the Trail of 'X-Men'

No fewer than four Marvel comic books will be teleported into movies next year: "Daredevil," "Hulk," "The Punisher" and "X2," the sequel to "X-Men," the 2000 blockbuster that started the superhero stampede. To keep the Internet geeks from spoiling the surprises, all these movies are being made with more secrecy than Dick Cheney's energy meetings. When Alan Cumming emerges from his "X2" makeup trailer outfitted as the mutant Nightcrawler, the Scottish star wears a hooded cape to thwart paparazzi. The movie's plot is equally clandestine. "Even I don't know how the movie ends," says Famke Janssen, who returns in "X2" as Dr. Jean Grey.

Then again, you can never be too careful with a $95 million movie on the line. Fox wisely insisted all lead actors in the first film--Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Oscar queen Halle Berry--commit to sequels. But Cumming may have the toughest job. He has to endure as many as 10 hours of makeup to play the is-he-bad-or-is-he-good Nightcrawler. To pass the time, he watches videos in his makeup mirror, which poses a challenge with subtitled films. "I couldn't understand the whole plot of 'The Red Violin,'" he says. He's as tight-lipped as anyone about "X2", though Cumming, who shot to fame as the raunchy emcee in Broadway's "Cabaret," does flash us one tidbit. "You do get to see my nipples once," he says. "But it's just a glimpse."

ROD STEWART

With Rod Stewart, it all comes down to one question: do ya think he's sexy? At 57, Stewart's trading in his yellow spandex for a white dinner jacket. His new album, "It Had to Be You," is a collection of romantic standards from the likes of Gershwin and Cole Porter. The Smiler shares his new sound with NEWSWEEK's Katherine Stroup.

Why do this album?

If you're a singer of any weight whatsoever, you have to at least attempt these songs. Really. Robert Plant should try. I hope people will love this album. But if they don't, well, I'll just throw myself off the Brooklyn Bridge.

These are Ella's and Sinatra's songs. Weren't you worried you wouldn't measure up?

I enjoyed the challenge, actually, the challenge of putting my stamp on these songs. But I'm sure there are some people who'll say I've murdered them.

You've had problems with your voice for years, and even had throat surgery. How's your singing?

My singing's wonderful, if I do say so myself. The surgery was two years ago, and I'm back to normal. I actually think there's a new, mellow tenderness to my voice now.

This is an album of love songs. Do you consider it mood music?

No. I consider it sex music.

Do you expect people to take you seriously?

I've adapted pretty well. These certainly aren't easy songs to sing, but I think I breathed some soul into them. Hey, what's the weather like?

Here? In New York? Cold.

I'm just trying to figure out whether to pack my full-on overcoat.

I'd say it's half-on overcoat weather.

Ah, I have just the one.

When do you come East?

Sunday. I'm doing the Johnny Carson show.

Careful, you're dating yourself.

No, no, I mean the Carson Daly show. And "Good Morning America." And "The View." God, I dread being sat between those four! Oh, and Charlie Rose. Is that show any good?

Have I told you lately that I love you?

Sure, doll, sure.

EARLY HALLOWEEN

In London for an exhibit honoring late designer Gianni Versace, sister Donatella--for whom every day is apparently a costume ball--was joined by Madonna and new best friend Chelsea Clinton, who abandoned Oxford tweeds for decolletage and chains. Madonna's little Lourdes turned 6 that day. Fun party.