January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

One’s playing a Confederate widow. Another, a long-lost girlfriend. The third…God. Chortle all you want. But whatever you think of the multiplatinum-selling Mariah Carey, Jewel, and Alanis Morissette, their decision to trade in the microphone for the multiplex could reshape the musical landscape.

Studios are suckers for the sort of stunt casting that will find Jewel costarring in Ang Lee’s Civil War drama, Ride With the Devil, Carey in the Chris O’Donnell romantic comedy The Bachelor, and Morissette in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. There’s nothing like a pop superstar to give a project a built-in curiosity factor (who isn’t dying to know whether Jewel’s a better actress than she is a poet?). According to casting director Billy Hopkins, who hired Madonna for Desperately Seeking Susan, the studios don’t have as much at stake as the artists themselves. ”It’s a huge commitment and a big risk for [them],” says Hopkins. ”But if it works, it really works.”

Sometimes, though, this kind of casting can work too well. After a stunning performance in 1996’s The People vs. Larry Flynt, Courtney Love’s new CD didn’t exactly break a leg. ”There is a definite risk of appearing too Hollywood,” says Warner Bros. Records spokesman Bob Merlis, ”but really, as long as the quality of the music is there, it’s fine. Look at artists like Cher and Madonna — their recording careers stand quite apart from their movie careers.”

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
1999 Golden Globe nominees Mariah, Jewel, and Alanis?
WORST-CASE SCENARIO Box office bombs plus alienated fans equals what? You guessed it — a Courtney Love-style career hara-kiri.

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