REALITY CHECK
Denzel Washington had a few hellish moments while playing an angelic emissary in The Preacher's Wife. Take the day that costar Whitney Houston asked him to sing with her onscreen. "I do not sing," says Washington, 42. "I have a terrible voice." But Houston prevailed, and together with her movie son [Justin Pierre Edmund], she and her angel croon a Christmas carol. "This is not I the beginning of a new career," says Washington. "I am not go-" ing on tour." And he would also like to address rumors that he and Houston made less than beautiful music together on the set. "I read that Whitney and I hated each other's guts," he says. "The newspapers printed so many lies. One day I'm reading that we're tearing each other apart, and the next the rags are saying that Whitney and I are both leaving our families because we've fallen in love and plan to get married. It's all such garbage."

WORK IN PROGRESS
Laura Dern believes in higher education. Offscreen the Jurassic Park star has been working toward a college degree in psychology. "It will take me several years," says Dern, 29, who now stars as a glue-sniffing, pregnant drifter in Citizen Ruth, a satire about abortion politics. "I go to different schools and pick up credits where I can, depending on where I'm working. It's good to do something else when you're caught up in this weird, fraudulent, hot-celebrity world that can be really silly." Silly as in all the speculation over her engagement—is it on or off?—to actor Jeff Goldblum? Dern begs off talking about that, but does say, "The beauty of a relationship is that you can work on it."

A GIVING GUY
Success hasn't spoiled Renée Zellweger, who plays Tom Cruise's wife in the hit movie Jerry Maguire. "Nothing's really changed," says Zellweger. "Just got back from running with my dog, and I'm about to go to the grocery store." Well, one thing should change: her bank account. It got so low while she was rehearsing Maguire that she ran out of money at the laundromat. "I went to use the ATM machine, and my card was denied—there was no money in the account. So I took my wet clothes and went home, defeated, to strew them around my living room to dry." Cruise, aware that his costar wasn't living large, sent over a fancy stereo on her 27th birthday. "He did all this research to find out what I wanted," says Zellweger. "And on my birthday, there's this huge box at my door. My friends said, 'Who's that from?' And I'm like, 'Um, Tom and Nicole [Kidman].' And he called, too!" Zellweger missed Cruise's birthday call, which, she says now, was a good thing: "Well, hey, you save the message."

YOU DON'T KNOW JACK
"I'm hotter than I've ever been," crows Jack Lemmon, 71, who now has two movies, My Fellow Americans and Hamlet, in theaters. "I don't know why. I used to go a year between roles. Now, I'm doing three or four films a year." The veteran star says his role as Marcellus, a palace guard in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, was particularly challenging. "I never spoke a line of Shakespeare before," says Lemmon. "My biggest problem was understanding what my character was talking about. Some of my lines—damned if I knew what they meant." Lemmon, who'll next appear with pal Walter Matthau in Out to Sea, has no plans to slow down. "My old man thought that to retire at 60 was a symbol of success. But I'm not going to retire until I get hit by a truck. Or a producer."