updated 12/09/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/09/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST

Steve Harvey prides himself on being one of the best-dressed comedians around, but there was a time when he couldn't afford to look so sharp. "When I was a senior in high school, I put a pair of shoes on layaway for eight months," says Harvey, 45, who costars with Cuba Gooding Jr. in The Fighting Temptations, a comedy due next year. "I finally went and got them to take this girl to the movies, but I didn't realize that my feet had grown. During the movie I took the shoes off. My feet swelled, and I had to jam them back in. By the time I got home, I almost had to cut the shoes off." Adds the comic: "Ever spend four hours feeling like your feet are bleeding? That was the worst date ever."

Reading Between the Lines
Billy Bob Thornton may have won a screenwriting Oscar for 1996's Sling Blade, but he never takes language skills for granted. "It's ironic that I became a writer because I can't read," says Thornton, 47, who suffers from dyslexia. "It's something I live with every day. I can't get through an airport without my assistant." The actor, who recently received an Outstanding Learning Disabled Achiever Award in Washington, D.C., has always relied on the kindness of others. "My assistant reads my lines for me. If I have a girlfriend at the time, I get her to do it. When I'm married, I get my wife to do it," says Thornton, who split from his fifth wife, Angelina Jolie, in July. "Right now it's my assistant."

Trading Places
Portraying a toymaker with extreme Christmas spirit in The Man Who Saved Christmas (airing Dec. 15 on CBS) was a stretch for Jason Alexander. "I'm a Jew, so Christmas isn't my best subject," says Alexander, 43. "I didn't have any Christmas Eve memories to draw on. Here's all I knew about it as a kid: My favorite holiday specials were on TV, and we didn't have a tree." Alexander also had the strain of donning Santa accessories: "I had to wear a hat and a toupee, and it was hot. My head didn't remember what it was like to have both. It sent my system into shock."

The Nose Job
To play the novelist Virginia Woolf in the upcoming drama The Hours, Nicole Kidman had to don a large prosthetic nose. "I loved it," says the actress. "When I had it on, I wouldn't get recognized. It was amazing. The paparazzi would be outside my trailer [on the London set], and when I walked out, they had no idea that it was me. I'd like to always have a disguise." A faux honker wasn't the only tool Kidman used to get into character. "[Woolf] smoked, so I smoked. She wrote with her right hand, so I wrote with my right hand," says Kidman, 35, a lefty. "You have to be willing to go the distance." Well, to an extent. "She drowned, so I went under the water [to film a scene] but said to myself, 'Don't actually drown!' "

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