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Ex-Brit popper Billie Piper aims to steam up the States in 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl.' And she just loves lashes.

June 15, 2008|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — "Oh, COME on, that's pretty sexy," said IMG Global Media President and former HBO honcho Chris Albrecht at a swank screening room.

Everyone had just been exposed to the first two episodes of "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," the English television show that will air on Showtime starting Monday. (An IMG company developed "Call Girl" in the U.K., and so they went looking for an American home.)

In the half-hour nighttime soap, 25-year-old English star Billie Piper plays a very high-end and thoughtful prostitute -- she's rather like Carrie Bradshaw, except that the camera lingers on her applying personal lubricants before her dates.

But why an import and not a remake? "This country, being more puritanical, it's always hard to find actors who get really comfortable with the nudity," said Showtime's president of entertainment, Robert Greenblatt. "It's just a different climate over there. You can find actors who have a reputation and have actually done some serious acting. Who don't need to be covered up every time they do a bedroom scene, which is true of most actresses -- most women -- unless you're doing something a little more downscale." ("Red Shoe Diaries," anyone?) "The great thing about Billie is she's open to that. And yet it's also tasteful. We're not that explicit with her. Anyway, I'm blathering!"

So did Albrecht, the former competitor, gouge Showtime on the deal? "Not at all," said Greenblatt. (Albrecht declined to be interviewed for this article.) Greenblatt purchased two more seasons of eight episodes each; beyond that, Piper is not committed, and neither is Showtime.

"These shows they make over here," said Piper of the U.S., "you're tied into that for a long time. Provided they get optioned. I can't imagine being away from the U.K. for that length of time. But then, you know, something great might come along and I'd be straight on a plane. Who cares about the dogs? Deal with it!"

Piper -- new on the corporate team -- made these comments (and more) when she came to New York to be part of the celebration for Showtime's premiere of Season 2 of "The Tudors." She watched "Enchanted" on the plane and flew first class. The date was March 19, so, according to the English tabloids, she was in the first trimester of her first pregnancy. Nobody mentioned how buxom she was.

A makeup artist (Jackie Cioffa), a hair person (Catherine Lehtonen) and a Showtime publicist were in her hotel suite. Piper was in just a white bathrobe.

"My husband can't work out the difference between mascara and eyeliner," said Piper. She has a lovely generic-posh London accent, likely not her own but a gift of the Sylvia Young Theatre School (it did not stick with her classmate Amy Winehouse).

"Well, put it on him," said Lehtonen, who is very Finnish.

"Well, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing," Piper said. She married actor Laurence Fox just last New Year's Eve. After more than a decade in London, she's already retired to the countryside; West Sussex, with the dogs. "Also, he can't work out the difference between a skirt and a dress. Maybe men are colorblind. Men say, 'I love your purple shirt!' When actually it's red. Obviously, it's a sweeping statement. They have many good qualities. Sight isn't one of them."

Piper was a teen bubble-gum pop star in the U.K. "That whole industry was like a big machine," she said. "And I often felt like one of the machine's robots, basically. Hence the reason I'm now no longer in it. I think it made me quite uptight."

She became super-famous on the first two seasons of the new and insanely popular "Doctor Who," which began airing in 2005. She got married once before, in 2001. She published an autobiography in 2006, in which she recounts her youth and anorexia. "It's quite long!" she said. "But there are pictures." She regrets the book offhandedly, but not really.

She went out to L.A. for Stella Adler and anonymity for a few months once; in 2002, her ex-husband bought a house in L.A. that had, until 1999, been Lionel Richie's. They sold it in 2003 to motivational speaker Grant Cardone. "I have to say the bougainvillea and hummingbirds would keep me there for years," she said, but they didn't. Even with a divorce (amicable) under her belt, it's still like she stole Britney Spears' happy ending.

Background information

She DID research for "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." "I spent some time with quite a few high-class hookers," she said. "I obviously met with the writer of the blog" -- the show stems from work by an anonymous blogger, who calls herself Belle de Jour. "But actually, it was the most helpful part of the research. You need to whore it -- whoa, hear it -- from the horse's mouth." Everyone died laughing.

"I was quite keen to know what the looks on the men's faces are," she said. "The biggest misconception: I thought most of the men who'd see prostitutes would be really bolshy and cocksure and, you know, just quite full-on. Whereas she said to me most of the guys are absolutely petrified."

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