Seeing stars in suburbia Making movies: Celebrity-deprived locals are understandably excited about Will Smith.

December 10, 1997

HOLLYWOOD DOESN'T sleep in Howard County often. So you have to pardon Columbians if they have been a bit star-struck lately. The cul-de-sacs are abuzz with rumors that an entertainment mega-star has taken up temporary residency in the planned community of 82,000.

Perhaps the locals shouldn't be so impressed that actor-rapper Will Smith has traveled along Little Patuxent Parkway, visited Columbia Palace 9 and played one-on-one basketball at the Columbia Athletic Club with his fiancee, actress Jada Pinkett. After all, Columbia is home to Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton, whose autograph value is on the rise.

But the excitement over Mr. Smith is perfectly predictable. The initial stir came when Mr. Smith appeared at a news conference at the Columbia Inn to announce the Baltimore filming of the movie "Enemy of the State," which will co-star actor Gene Hackman.

Mr. Smith, who used to call himself the Fresh Prince, has become a major box office attraction by stealing scenes in the hit alien movies "Independence Day" and "Men in Black."

Another film, "Species II," was filmed partly in Columbia and Ellicott City last summer, but its stars -- Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger and Natasha Henstridge -- lack the star power of the Philadelphia-born Mr. Smith.

Howard County's landscape has appeared on the screen before. The John Waters movie "Cry-Baby" used the Enchanted Forest, the former amusement park site in Ellicott City, as a backdrop and the Baltimore-based television show "Homicide" has been filmed in the county.

Next door, Carroll County recently held its own "premiere" party to mark the release of the farce, "For Richer or Poorer," starring Tim Allen and Kirstie Allie. Its filming in and around Westminster -- cast in the role of Pennsylvania Amish Country -- stirred excitement last spring.

All the fuss in Columbia over Mr. Smith seems to overshadow Mr. Hackman, a big-screen legend with films like "The Conversation," "The French Connection" and "Unforgiven" under his belt.

But with one of today's hottest stars trolling the land, some normally reserved people are looking for autographs.

For their friends, of course.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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