When it comes to attracting Oscar-caliber actors, Brett Ratner isn’t quite in Spielberg’s league, but you gotta give the director props. He just snagged another Academy Award-nominated thesp for his X-Men 3 cast: House of Sand and Fog‘s Shohreh Aghdashloo. ”I’m playing Dr. Cecilia Reyes, and she has this power to create a six-inch force field around herself and ward off any attack,” explains the unlikely sci-fi fan, who’ll join returning mutants Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, and Ian McKellen for an October start date. Oooh, what else? ”To tell the truth, I don’t know because I have not read the script yet! Brett is still working on it.”…

Billy Bob Thornton will play an ex-NASA astronaut who tries to hand-build a rocket in the Polish brothers’ The Astronaut Farmer….

Don’t be fooled by the title: Thandie Newton’s next film, Pursuit of Happyness, is about ”fear, damage, and pain,” says the Crash costar, who plays Will Smith’s estranged wife in the rags-to-riches tale. ”The film is not a bundle of laughs, but it’s an extraordinary story about how people can be so defiant in the face of a completely negative situation that society throws at them.” Prepare to get out your hankies!

The Majority Report radio cohost Janeane Garofalo will also wax liberal on TV this fall with a multi-episode guest stint on The West Wing. ”I’m brought on by Bradley Whitford’s character to help him advise the Matt Santos [played by Jimmy Smits] presidential campaign,” says the actress, who nixes the idea of any extra-political hanky-panky (”Oh, no, no, no, no. I’m an asexual campaign adviser”). Also on her slate: a supporting role in Southland Tales, director Richard Kelly’s long-delayed follow-up to 2001’s Donnie Darko. ”I play General Tina McArthur, and the movie is, in Dr. Strangelove-ian fashion, a comment on the military- industrial newstainment complex.” Come again? ”To try and explain to you, it would be like me trying to explain Donnie Darko. I don’t know how.”…

Guiding Light alum Cynthia Watros is joining the cast of Lost as Libby, reportedly a therapist who may or may not have been aboard Flight 815 when it crashed.