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A load off ...

While some rappers focus on pain, Nelly tries to look at the fun.

Nelly, born Cornell Haynes Jr. and raised in inner-city St. Louis, saw plenty of strife in his childhood. When his divorced parents couldn't support him, he abandoned his dream of playing professional baseball and turned to street crime.

But the 24-year-old's music remains light and uplifting.

"People have enough to think about right now," Nelly says in the Dec. 12 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. "I'm just trying to free their minds and have a little fun with it. I know you got your own problems; I got my own problems. Let's think of something else for a change."

Second string ...

Despite his friendship with Steven Soderbergh, actor George Clooney wasn't always the director's first choice for "Solaris."

Soderbergh told the Orange County Register on Tuesday he first considered casting actor Daniel Day-Lewis to play the hero of his space station romance that opened last week.

But Day-Lewis was busy with Martin Scorcese's "Gangs of New York." Soderbergh said he didn't initially approach Clooney about the role, even though the pair are partners in the production company Section Eight.

"I thought he could do it, but I didn't know if George thought he could do it now," the director said. "Maybe in a year or two, when he was in a place in his career when he was more comfortable and had more faith in his skills, he would realize that he could do it."

A few months later, Soderbergh received a letter from Clooney. "It said, 'I think I would like to try to do this,'" the director recalled. "As soon as I read the letter, I knew he was ready to play this role."

Lose the shrink ...
Before playing a space dog, David Hyde Pierce had to put aside the psychiatrist.

The actor said he didn't want Dr. Doppler -- the canine character he voiced in the animated film "Treasure Planet"-- to recall Dr. Niles Crane, the high-strung psychiatrist he plays on the hit show "Fraiser."

Doppler "is very intelligent, very uptight, nervous and nerdy and all that, so I am aware my line readings aren't too Nilesy. If he gets too verbose in a certain way, it would draw attention," Pierce told the Boston Herald on Monday.

"Treasure Planet" is a sci-fi update of Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure classic "Treasure Island."

"I do see myself in Doppler but in a subtle way," said Pierce, who voiced the stick insect in the Disney-Pixar hit "A Bug's Life."

"We were just looking at the early sketches here in the Disney Animation Building, and it's amazing to see how they meld you into this creature they've created -- and the timing, which is the most important thing in comedy."

Off to Broadway ...
Joe Pantoliano may feel right at home on Broadway.

The actor, whose character on the HBO show "The Sopranos" was recently retired in a rather violent fashion, is set to make his Broadway debut Jan. 1 in the hit revival of "Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune."

He'll join a mob of "Sopranos" actors now on Broadway: Lorraine Bracco has been taking it all off as Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate," Jamie-Lynn Sigler is the beauty half of "Beauty and the Beast" and Saundra Santiago will appear in the Roundabout's revival of "Nine."

Another "Soprano" cast member, Edie Falco, has been appearing with Stanley Tucci in "Frankie and Johnny" since the show opened in August. She and Tucci leave the show Dec. 29; Falco will be replaced by Rosie Perez.

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