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Lights, Camera, Action

Filming begins today in Los Angeles for “Thank You for Smoking,” the screen adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s hilarious and quintessentially Washington novel.

While the majority of the movie will be shot in L.A., selected Washingtonians will have a shot at making cameo appearances when the film’s producer comes to Washington this spring to shoot the rest of the movie.

[IMGCAP(1)] The producer, David Sacks, a legislative assistant to Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) during the Republican revolution years of 1994 and 1995, tells HOH he’s looking for a television news personality such as Chris Matthews or Larry King to appear in the film, playing himself hosting his show. In fact, Sacks has already asked both King and Matthews and is waiting to hear back.

But Sacks is also looking for other Washington fixtures to make appearances as well. He says he wants it to be a “very realistic portrayal” of Washington politics, news and punditry — and of the landscape. When he starts shooting this spring, probably in March, his crew will be making “exterior” shots of the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool and other iconic views.

The big talent for the film — which will be directed by the film’s screenwriter, Jason Reitman — has already been chosen. Robert Duvall will play The Captain, the last great tobacco baron. Katie Holmes of “Dawson’s Creek” fame will star as Heather Holloway, the ambitious, sexy reporter doing an investigative story on Nick Naylor, the frenetic chief spokesman for Big Tobacco who spins Holloway silly (and then apparently takes her for a spin in the sack). Naylor, the film’s protagonist, will be played by Aaron Eckhart.

Also appearing is independent film star William H. Macy, who has been in everything from “Fargo” to “Pleasantville” to “The Cooler.” Macy will play the odious Sen. Finnisterre, an archenemy of the tobacco industry.

“I really think this is going to be one of the best independent films of next year — if I do say so myself,” Sacks said. He said his Capitol Hill experience will be “super valuable” in translating Buckley’s book to celluloid.

Sacks had a hard go of it just securing the rights to the film. He spent a year and half banging on the doors of Mel Gibson and Warner Brothers. Warner had bought part of the rights from Gibson, who owns Icon Productions. For a year and a half Sacks got the door slammed in his face: Gibson became more interested in making his his Aramaic-language blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ,” while Warner Brothers tired of Washington-themed films.

Eventually, though, Sacks was able to buy the rights to “Thank You for Smoking” for more than half a million dollars. (He won’t give an exact figure.)

Sacks acknowledged his huge financial risk: He’s fully financing a film that, so far, has no commitment from domestic distributors. Then again, Sacks has plenty of cash. In 2002, he and some buddies who started the online money-transfer service PayPal sold the company to eBay for $1.5 billion. Uh-huh, that’s with a “b.”

DeLay vs. Stahl. It looks like “60 Minutes” might be preparing to slam House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Lesley Stahl and her crew crashed a tsunami-relief photo op that DeLay held jointly last Tuesday with the bipartisan duo of Reps. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.).

DeLay was expecting questions about his work with international relief organizations to help tsunami orphans. What he got instead was Stahl peppering him with questions about Ronnie Earle, the Democratic Travis County district attorney who is investigating a Texas political action committee founded by DeLay.

“This is about children,” DeLay told Stahl, trying as hard as he could to put a plug in her relentless line of questioning. As one reporter in the room described it, DeLay, Delahunt and Foley just “sat there with their jaws clinched” as Stahl hammered away at the Hammer. After about the third question, DeLay ended the press conference.

DeLay appears to be furious with the interlopers. DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said of the “60 Minutes” crew: “They couldn’t have picked a more inappropriate time to ask petty partisan questions when we’re working on protecting the lives of orphaned children affected by the tsunami.”

Grella, via e-mail, added, “Oh, and this speaks for itself.” He referred us to the Web site, which lists an Oct. 3, 2000, fundraising event for Earle’s re-election campaign. Sponsors of the event included Ben Barnes, the former Texas House Speaker who spoke out against President Bush in Dan Rather’s infamous botched September 2004 report on Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service. Other sponsors of Earle’s fundraising event included Robin Rather, daughter of Dan.

Reporters who attended the photo op were predictably delighted with the drama. In the hallway outside, some of the Congressional reporters asked Stahl what she was working on. Without divulging the story she’s after, Stahl made a point of clarifying to them that she works for the Sunday “60 Minutes” — not the Wednesday night “60 Minutes II” that aired Rather’s now-infamous report.

Kevin Tedesco, a spokesman for “60 Minutes,” provided a short, one-sentence response to HOH’s inquiry: “Lesley Stahl has every right to ask questions at a news conference.”

120 Minutes. Considering her propensity to show up unannounced at DeLay-related events, HOH wonders whether Stahl and the “60 Minutes” crew will be staking out the reception Wednesday evening for the Majority Leader’s former communications director, Stuart Roy. The party will be held in the Capitol’s Mansfield Room.

Late Night Party Circuit. The after-the-ball parties and the after-the-afterparties were the places to see and be seen on inauguration night. With most of the balls packed like sardines, selected revelers went straight for the hot late-night parties, which were devoid of the tacky cash bars.

The Recording Industry Association of America had the best party of the night at the sleek H2O club on the Southwest waterfront. Headlining the entertainment was the Mississippi rock band “3 Doors Down.” Some of the headline attendees were sulking Democrats trying to keep their chins up as they walked past gigantic ice carvings of the letter W.

The Creative Coalition, for its part, lured the funk goddess Macy Gray and a crop of Grade B actors to the atrium of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. Gray did not disappoint, though guests wondered where all the actors were. People were turning their heads and looking everywhere. Overheard snippets of conversation: “Oohhh, is that somebody over there?” … “Hey, there’s the guy from ‘The Apprentice.’” … “There’s the guy who played the ass—- in ‘Ghost.’” But at least most people recognized good ‘ol Joey Pants from “The Sopranos.”

Rep. John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) famous warehouse party, which just gets better every year, was the final stop for most of the hard-core partyers, including HOH. In the wee hours of the morning, as the dance floor was still packed, party helpers handed out cans labeled “RED STATE PAINT THINNER: Warehouse Production’s Patented Recovery Solvent.” Inside was a 2005 inauguration keepsake bottle of Coke, bloody mary mix, a small bottle of Belvedere vodka, jelly beans, chocolate and, last but not least, medical supplies, including Tylenol and a wash-away-your-sins towelette that warned: “If you’re not careful, an inaugural ball can go to your head.” Geez. Tell us about it!

Tommy, We Hardly Saw You. An HOH spy said one not-too-pleased attendee of Thursday’s inauguration ceremony was retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks. The man who planned the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a big backer of President Bush, ended up listening to the commander in chief talk about freedom and liberty from way back in the crowd, stuck behind a media stand where he could hardly see the president. Franks, according to our spy, “didn’t look happy to be stuck in the cheap seats behind the media scaffolding and made a quick exit at the end.”

Franks will just have to settle for a bestselling book and the Presidential Medal of Freedom he was awarded in December.

Stick in the Mud. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) wound up playing a rather surprising star role at the top of a reviewing stand for the inaugural parade: Prince Charming.

Moran and his wife, LuAnn — the woman who was captured snogging with Moran, her then fiancé, on the giant screen at a Wizards game last year — climbed to the top of the bleachers so that the Congressman could do an interview with a local television station. That’s when Mrs. Moran’s shoe slipped off her foot and fell down, down, down, landing in the mud. “It fell six flights,” Prince Charming lamented to a Roll Call reporter. “I had to go down in the mud to get it.”

And then came the I-told-you-so comment: “I told her not to buy the Pradas!” At least the fair prince was laughing.

Fly Away. Attorney General John Ashcroft may be on his way out the door, but he received one final blessing Thursday as the song he penned — “Let the Eagle Soar” — was sung at the inauguration and beamed to a worldwide television audience. A few years ago, when video of Ashcroft singing his ditty circulated like wildfire on the Internet, David Letterman and other blue staters relentlessly mocked both the song and the singer. But on Thursday the Republicans got their revenge.

And how does it feel, Mr. Ashcroft? “Spectacular,” replied the proud lyricist as he stood in the Capitol Crypt after leaving the swearing-in ceremony. “There’s no greater honor that could be accorded to a song than that it be included in the ceremonies today.”

Of course Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), chairman of the inaugural ceremonies, may have been the only person in the crowd of thousands who knew the singer, Guy Hovis of Tupelo, Miss. Hovis’ claim to fame: Having performed on “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

John Bresnahan and Louis Jacobson contributed to this report.

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