Michael Rapaport, who starred in the 1992 sleeper Zebrahead, plays a skinhead in Higher Learning, writer-director John Singleton's hit movie about racial conflict at a fictional college campus. "I did a lot of research on skinheads," says Rapaport, 24. "I started listening to heavy metal instead of hip hop. I read Hitler's Mein Kampf, and lemme tell you, that's one hard book to read"—especially since Rapaport, a college dropout, has never been much of a student. Explains the native New Yorker, who next plays David Caruso's gangster cousin in the forthcoming thriller Kiss of Death: "I got kicked out of seven schools in New York City. The first time was third grade, which is hard to do. I was a bona fide, smart-mouth class clown. From the school's point of view, I was worse than the guys stabbing people, as long as they did it quietly."
Laurence Fishburne has played some tough gigs, including the strict father in Boyz N the Hood and the explosive Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It. But nothing prepared the actor for his love scenes with Ellen Barkin in the new thriller Bad Company. "I was terrified because I knew I would not be in control," says Fishburne, 33. "Ellen's done a lot more of them than I have, so I took my cues from her. I trusted her. The love scenes were put together by Ellen and myself. We worked out everything thoroughly, like where the boundaries were that we couldn't step over." Their chemistry worked for the critics—and for Fishburne. "I've seen it five or six times," he says. "It's my kind of movie. Everybody is tragically cool."
Joan Lunden goes inside CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., for her ABC special Behind Closed Doors, which airs this Wed., Feb. 8. "We spent four or five days there—the building has no address—and I saw a height of paranoia I will never see again as long as I live," says Lunden, 44. "I couldn't go to the bathroom by myself. The young guy who showed us around was completely disguised as an old man. Everywhere we went, there were signs saying, 'ABC-TV IS FILMING,' but our handlers were constantly asking people, 'Are you overt or covert?' " Imagine Lunden's surprise, then, when she got to the basement. "Believe it or not, they have a store in the cellar that sells cups, sweatpants, even Christmas tree bulbs that all say CIA on them. It was so bizarre, I bought one of everything."
Billy and Alison, Melrose Place's cutest couple, have been on the outs for much of this season, to the delight of Courtney Thorne-Smith. "When Billy and Alison get together, they're annoying and self-centered," says Thorne-Smith, 27, who plays Alison. Her real-life romance with Andrew Shue, Melrose's Billy, was more satisfying, although they, too, split after a year. "We were two nice kids under this incredible stress," she says of the first, frantic Melrose days. "I don't know if I could have gotten through it without him. We had a light, fun, sweet relationship. We'll always have a close bond." So they're comfortable now just being good buddies? "Ask me when one of us gets married," she says. "That'll be hard."