''Life is Beautiful'' and Calista Flockhart made home-video news this week

By Beth Pinsker
Updated May 21, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Beautiful voice
Jonathan Nichols has just turned in an Oscar-winning performance. Never heard of him? Never even heard him? Come July 20, the voice-over actor, whose on-screen credits include a sleazy lawyer on NYPD Blue, will be the voice of Roberto Benigni in the English-language dub of Life Is Beautiful, available on video as well as for airline and broadcast use. (A theatrical release is also rumored to be under consideration.) Why didn’t Benigni do the job himself? ”He no speak-a the English,” jokes Benigni’s American representative, Anna Gross. Benigni did approve Nichols, who’s of Cuban descent, and got a say in how much the thirtysomething actor could ham up the accent. Nichols says he keyed into his rendition while driving away from his initial, sedate audition. ”I started doing Benigni in my car, yelling the lines,” he says. ”So I drove back and said, ‘Let me audition again.”’ The match was so close, Nichols says, that Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein, listening to tapes as they were being made, decided to reinstate Benigni’s voice for his signature line, ”Buon giorno, principessa.” Nichols was fine with that: ”’Good morning, beautiful princess’ just wasn’t working.”

Muscle bound
Imagine, if you can, a time when Ally McBeal‘s Calista Flockhart was too beefy to play a waifish drug addict. ”I thought she was too good-looking. And what junkie has muscles?” says director Paul Peditto, who was reluctant to cast Flockhart in the title role of his 1996 feature debut, Jane Doe. But now the indie drama is set to debut June 15, positioned by A-Pix Entertainment to cash in on the Golden Globe winner’s past. Though Flockhart already had The Birdcage on her resume, it took the urgings of Peditto’s leading man — his brother, Christopher — to get the young actress the role. The 18-day shoot in New York and Atlantic City earned Flockhart $3,600 and a score of stitches to her head after she was hit by a flying radio. A year later, she was cast in Ally. Recent plans to shoot extra scenes for a potential theatrical release went south, Paul says, when Flockhart, who was not available for comment, got busy with William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Meanwhile, Paul deals craps on a casino riverboat in Illinois. ”I paid Calista $200 for a 12-hour workday,” he says proudly. ”Now she makes more in a week than I do all year.”

Life Is Beautiful

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Roberto Benigni