Thursday, January 03, 2008

Dancer Leaps to Stardom in Wilson's War 

Posted by James at 9:48 AM ET

(Editor's Note: Tracy is a former Denver Nuggets Dancer)

By Maria Recio
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols was looking for just the right dancer this spring for "Charlie Wilson's War," a movie about a former Texas congressman, when he got a tape of a striking brunet with electric blue eyes.

He decided that she was perfect to play Carol Shannon, the belly dancer who enthralled Wilson and accompanied him on his exploits around the world.

It was an inspired bit of casting with a Texas twist: Tracy Phillips, who plays the belly dancer, is the daughter of Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips and granddaughter of legendary football coach O.A. "Bum" Phillips.

"Mike Nichols liked the tape and that was it," said Tracy Phillips, who is based in Los Angeles.

Tracy Phillips

It may be a breakout role for the actress, dancer and choreographer, whose family is from Texas but who grew up all over the country as a "coach's kid." Her daring dance, balancing a sword and the seduction of the Egyptian defense minister, is a central scene in the film, which depicts Wilson's clandestine support of the anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The movie, which stars Oscar winners Tom Hanks as Wilson, Julia Roberts as Houston socialite Joanne Herring and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a rogue CIA agent, is already generating Oscar buzz of its own.

Tracy Phillips did not know Wilson's story when she was tapped for the belly dancer's role but immediately went out and bought the 2003 book, "Charlie Wilson's War," by the late CBS "60 Minutes" producer George Crile.

"It seems like fiction," Phillips said. "It's amazing that it's a true story."

Wilson, a colorful Democratic congressman who served from 1973 to 1997, took up the cause of the Afghan mujahedeen in the early 1980s after he read of their fierce struggle against the invading Soviet army. Wilson used his position as a member of the House Appropriations Committee to funnel money to the fighters and joined forces with CIA agent Gust Avrakotos and Herring to secretly buy the mujahedeen weapons.

And always, with Wilson, there were women. The divorced Wilson took Shannon, his own belly dancer, to Egypt, Israel and Pakistan.

Around the same time, he also was engaged to Herring.

"We were in love with the war," Herring said. "I mean by that, with winning the war."

"We were in love with getting rid of the Russians," she said. "We found we were a good team working together. It was a lovely time of my life."

Shannon, whose dancing sealed an arms deal for Wilson, had not seen her former flame in years. She saw him (and his new wife) in May in Los Angeles, when both were on the set to watch Phillips in the belly-dancing scene.

But it was the meeting between Shannon and Phillips that stood out for both of them.

"Mike Nichols came over and took my hand," Shannon said, "and said, 'I want you to meet the girl we found to play you.' He had this happy, smug look on his face, like a boy who had gotten what he wanted for Christmas."

Phillips replaced an actress who Wilson said Nichols thought did not capture Shannon's allure.

"Nichols said, 'Isn't she beautiful?' and I said, 'Yes, she is,' " recalled Shannon, who admired the younger woman's dancing.

Shannon, now in her 60s, is a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines but still dances, and Phillips, in her 20s, has danced in music videos and movies, including "Dreamgirls."

Phillips was excited to meet Shannon, whom she described as "just a spitfire."

"I wanted to do right by her," she said of the belly-dance scene. "It definitely takes a little more liberties than traditional belly dance. I think it works."

Tracy at imdb.com and MySpace.

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