Is director/screenwriter M. Night Shamalyan upset over the box-office performance of "Unbreakable" ($77.4 million in its first three weeks) lagging his last year's "The Sixth Sense" ($107.5 million in its first three weeks and $293.5 million to date)?

"Well we expected the backlash, didn't we?" he quips.

Indeed, Shamalyan is on a major hot streak with back-to-back hits, both starring Bruce Willis.

Don't look for Shamalyan to buddy up with Willis again on his next project, though. He says he'll opt instead to do something different.

Shamalyan, who lives away from the Hollywood hubbub in Philadelphia, says he hasn't begun to write his next script yet, but it will definitely be another about the supernatural.

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Author of "Chocolat," Joanne Harris, isn't giving details about how much producers David Brown and Kit Golden paid her for the movie rights to her book, which they subsequently made into an Oscar-buzzed movie by Miramax executive producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein. But Harris coyly suggests that the amount was substantial by pointing out that her agent is now living in a palatial new home in Spain, apparently bought with "Chocolat" proceeds.

Harris' new book "Five Quarters of the Orange" is darker than "Chocolat" and has already been optioned by David Barron and Paul Weiland of Contagious Films in the U.K.

Before Robert Downey Jr.'s latest arrest, he was spotted with Sharon Stone's manager, and rumor has it he was in talks to play the male lead opposite Stone in Basic Instinct 2. Now? Looks doubtful. A film publicist says Stone is also without a leading man for "Stardust," a Columbia big-budgeted romantic thriller slated for release in 2001. It is to be shot around Stone's "Basic Instinct 2" schedule this summer in Italy.

So who might fill Robert Downey Jr.'s shoes as a 30-something romantic leading man? Names like Joaquin Phoenix, Johnny Depp, Hank Azaria, Ed Burns and Benecio Del Toro are being tossed around as prospects.

"They need a combination of attributes," says Hollywood casting director Ted Fentress, "like sexy, dark, edgy, comic and not in jail."

One man's drug addiction is another man's big paycheck and Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons") is also negotiating to replace Downey Jr. as Catherine Zeta-Jones' lover in the big-budget "America's Sweetheart."

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"I'm always the last to know," says Pierce Brosnan, when asked about rumors that Catherine Zeta-Jones will co-star as a 007 agent in the next Bond movie. Brosnan says his children called him from London to tell him the news. "Even they know before me," he says.

Contributing reporter Anita Talbert can be reached via e-mail at anita@la.com.

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