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Why Mel Gibson produced the Three Stooges movie

Plus, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, and Meg Ryan’s upcoming pet projects

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Mel Gibson, The Three Stooges
Bob D'Amico

The Three Stooges and… Mel Gibson? The ”Braveheart” star’s dashing image may seem about as far from nyuk-nyuk-nyuk as you can get, but sharp viewers know that the longtime Stooges fan is the executive producer of ”The Three Stooges” (Monday, ABC, 8 p.m.). This isn’t Gibson’s only behind-the-scenes credit, either. His next producing project will be an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s book burning classic, ”Fahrenheit 451.”

Thanks to lucrative production deals, more stars are launching their pet TV and movie projects, some of which you’d never expect them to watch, much less slave over. ”As a producer, you’re able to facilitate the films you want to see made,” says newbie producer Minnie Driver, who gets her first credits on the upcoming ”Glamour Girls” and ”At Satchem Farm.”

Here are some of the quirkier celebrity productions you can expect to see in the coming months:

Meg Ryan, ”Lost Souls” Sure, she’s the queen of romantic comedy, but watch out for her dark side. This fall entry is a creepy horror thriller starring Winona Ryder as a woman who must do battle with the Devil himself (Gabriel Byrne) to save the world. Maybe Ryan was sleepless in Seattle from watching ”The Exorcist” one time too many, or perhaps she felt the strain of being a producer: ”It’s a long road, and it’s tedious. I don’t think I will ever be a producer who is really into taking the meetings and fighting the big fights with the studios.” Her next project isn’t likely to cheer her up, either — she’s working on a biopic about suicidal poet Sylvia Plath.

Elton John, ”Women Talking Dirty” Believe it or not, the senior diva of sensitive rock is the lead producer behind an unassuming chick flick. Starring Helena Bonham Carter, this adaptation of Isla Dewar’s book about a single mom in Scotland and her painfully shy cartoonist pal is set to hit theaters this fall. John says he’s been eager to get his film production company at Disney, a post-”Lion King” perk, into high gear, and ”Women Talking Dirty” is just the beginning. ”You have to set yourself new challenges, otherwise you go stale,” explains John. ”Now I’ve got a whole new life beyond making records and doing videos, which I loathe. I love these new parts of my career.” We can only hope he doesn’t insist on having costume design input.

Jodie Foster, ”The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys” The refined Oscar winner may not seem like the likeliest candidate to champion a movie about a bunch of smut-obsessed juvenile delinquents, but Foster is sinking her teeth into this adaptation of Chris Furhman’s novel, which begins shooting in May. Set in Savannah, Ga., during the ’70s, the story follows a group of altar boys who are caught putting together a racy comic book and subsequently rebel against authority by becoming criminals. But Foster, who’s taken a role in the film, won’t be straying far from her ”Anna and the King” petticoats. She’s set to play a nun by the name of Sister Ascension.

Tom Cruise, ”I Married A Witch” Last year, Cruise’s production company nabbed the rights to the 1942 screwball comedy about a witch who haunts the descendent of the man who burned her at the stake, only to fall in love with him thanks to a botched love spell. Whether Cruise or wife Nicole Kidman will star in the film has yet to be announced, but if they do, it’s got to be more fun than watching the couple carp at each other in ”Eyes Wide Shut.”

Julia Roberts, ”The Pancho Gonzales Movie” The queen of warm and fuzzy romantic comedies is stepping up to hot and sweaty melodrama with her next project. Roberts is producing ”The Pancho Gonzales Movie,” a biopic about self-taught tennis player Richard Alonzo ”Pancho” Gonzales, who overcame his hard-scrabble roots in post-Depression Los Angeles to win Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the French Open during a career that lasted nearly three decades into the 1960s. We can see it now: ”Law & Order” alum (and Roberts’ boyfriend) Benjamin Bratt as the perfect Gonzales, with the ”Erin Brockovich” star as the feisty ball girl whose loving support saves the match.