''Matrix'' producers fill Aaliyah's role. Plus, news about Mark Wahlberg, Ashanti, Tweet, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Mary J. Blige, ''Spider-Man,'' ''Roswell,'' James Gandolfini, Natasha Henstridge, Sarah McLachlan, and others
Nona Gaye
Credit: Nona gaye: Lisa O'Connor/ZUMA Press/NewsCom

REEL DEALS The makers of the two sequels to ”The Matrix” have finally found a replacement for Aaliyah, who had shot some scenes for the movies before her death in a plane crash last summer. It’s Nona Gaye, whose only other major film role to date was as Muhammad Ali‘s second wife, Belinda, in ”Ali.” The daughter of late soul legend Marvin Gaye, she’ll play Zee, a character who will be introduced in ”The Matrix Reloaded” and become an even more prominent figure in ”The Matrix Revolutions.” She begins shooting the two movies in Sydney, Australia next week.

Mark Wahlberg will star in Paramount’s remake of ”The Italian Job,” the 1969 comic caper that starred Michael Caine. In the update, to be directed this August by F. Gary Gray (”Set It Off”), Wahlberg masterminds a gold heist that involves tying up the police by staging a massive Los Angeles traffic jam. Gee, if it were that easy, wouldn’t there be a heist in Los Angeles every morning?

SOUND BITES In the highly-touted battle of the rising R&B singers, it wasn’t even close. According to SoundScan, Ashanti sold 502,500 copies of her this week, debuting atop the Billboard chart, while Tweet‘s ”Southern Hummingbird” entered at No. 3 on sales of 194,925. ”Ashanti”’s numbers are just 25,000 short of this year’s one-week sales record-holder, last week’s debut of Celine Dion‘s ”A New Day Has Come.” This week, that disc fell to No. 2, selling less than half as many copies (262,725). Sticking around were compilation ”NOW That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 9” No. 4 (193,725 units) and the soundtrack to ”O Brother, Where Art Thou?” No. 5 (91,425 copies). Rounding out the top 10 were Jay-Z and R. Kelly‘s ”Best of Both Worlds” (No. 6), Avant‘s ”Ecstasy” (No. 7), the soundtrack to ”The Scorpion King” (No. 8), Ludacris‘ ”Word of Mouf” (No. 9), and Pink‘s ”M!ssundaztood” (No. 10).

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake are still a couple, sort of. So says Timberlake’s ‘N Sync bandmate Lance Bass, talking to FoxNews.com. ”She came on the road with us right after the Grammys, and they were bickering all the time,” says the would-be cosmonaut. ”They’re still bickering, and they’re not completely broken up.”

Mary J. Blige is touring Europe to promote her ”No More Drama” album, but she found some unwanted drama anyway, thanks to a recent U.S. State Department advisory, warning of possible terrorist threats to American citizens in the Italian cities of Milan, Florence, Venice, and Verona. While the advisory was not more specific about what those threats might be, Blige canceled her April 16 concert in Milan. It was to have been her only performance in Italy.

Blige will be back in the U.S. to perform on May 23 at VH1’s annual “” concert, along with fellow previous headliners Cher and Celine Dion and other performers yet to be named. This year, the show is moving from New York to Las Vegas. ”Divas are defined by talent, style, and attitude,” said a VH1 spokesman in a statement, ”and only Vegas can match the excitement and unpredictability of these divas.” Translation: Watch the show in case there’s a tantrum or a catfight.

A New Day Has Come
  • Music