Thanks to suc­cess of Lady Gaga, Akon has no money wor­ries th­ese days


re­cently col­lab­o­rated with Akon on “Sexy . . .”

Akon says he’s not the only one en­er­gized by the merg­ing of Euro house beats with Amer­i­can R&B melodies and hip-hop rhythms.

“ You’ve got some straight hard­core hip-hop guys ac­tu­ally mov­ing into the dance realm,” Akon said. “And that’s shock­ing. When you’ve got some­one like Dr. Dre about to do a dance record . . . that’s crazy.”

Akon wouldn’t com­ment fur­ther on the Dr. Dre ef­fort, ex­cept to say: “it ac­tu­ally sounds great. He played it for me. I was shocked. So I was like ‘ Wow, that’s dope. When the world hears this, they might go crazy.’ . . . When you’ve got the two worlds mixed to­gether, clash­ing, it’s go­ing to be a mon­ster.”

As for his next CD, due out some­time later this year, the sound is even more ex­pan­sive than his third al­bum, 2008’s Free­dom, Akon says.

“It’s on a whole ’nother level,” he said. “ We named it Sta­dium, be­cause it’s one of those records. We’re go­ing to do straight sta­dium tours over­seas with this record.”

Those shows will be toned down from the some­times wild per­for­mances of years past, ac­cord­ing to the singer, whose given name is Ali­aune Thiam. TORONTO — Be­tween his role as a mon­ster-slayer in the crowd-pleaser Zom­bieland and an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for his turn as an an­guished army cap­tain in The Mes­sen­ger, Woody Har­rel­son is on a ca­reer high th­ese days.

This week­end, he hits cin­e­mas play­ing the un­like­li­est of he­roes in De­fendor, which was shot in Hamil­ton, Ont.

Toronto-based writer/di­rec­tor Peter Steb­bings says he sought out the for­mer Cheers star know­ing Har­rel­son would have the chops to bal­ance the hu­mour and tragic un­der­tones of his de­but script, about a men­tally ill man who be­lieves he’s a crime-fight­ing su­per­hero.

“I’d just fin­ished see­ing him in No Coun­try for Old Men and he didn’t have a huge part in it but he had this re­ally won­der­ful role,” Steb­bings says of Har­rel­son’s turn as a bounty hunter on the trail of a men­ac­ing psy­cho-killer, played by Javier Bar­dem.

“I was just like, ‘Where have you been?’ That was my first re­ac­tion. And, ‘ What a fan­tas­tic jaw you have! You have this great jaw line and you’ll be per­fect as Arthur Pop­ping­ton/De­fendor,”’ gushes the first-time di­rec­tor, bet­ter known as a long­time ac­tor with TV cred­its on Cra$h and Burn, G-Spot, and Across the River to Mo­tor City.

The sweet, but dim-wit­ted Arthur Pop­ping­ton is not your av­er­age avenger. From the get-go, it’s clear his drive for jus­tice is fu­elled by delu­sion.

Pop­ping­ton spends his evenings as­sum­ing the crime­fight­ing per­sona of De­fendor, trolling the back al­leys of Hamil­ton for trou­ble with a let­ter “D” duct­taped to his chest. His arse­nal con­sists of home­made weapons in­clud­ing wasps in a jar, lime juice in a squeeze bot­tle and loose mar­bles.

But as the story un­folds, the slap­stick premise gives way to a sur­pris­ingly dark tale about a trou­bled man haunted by a painful past.

Cast­ing the right Arthur Pop­ping­ton was key to the movie’s suc­cess, says Steb­bings, not­ing that the en­tire story would dis­solve in the hands of an ac­tor un­able to keep the sen­si­tive ma­te­rial from veer­ing into maudlin ter­ri­tory, or cruel farce.

“ The whole movie does fall apart if you don’t get it right and I sort of just ended up say­ing that to Woody. I told ev­ery­body in the movie: de­spite the given cir­cum­stances of this movie (their char­ac­ters) are com­pletely real. Let’s not go chas­ing laughs. if we get a laugh, great and if we don’t so be it, we’re not try­ing to be funny here,” Steb­bings says re­cently by phone from L.A., where he’s au­di­tion­ing for TV roles dur­ing pi­lot sea­son.

“I al­ways felt that if we took his men­tal health is­sues se­ri­ously and didn’t kind of look at them through the eyes of a bleed­ing heart kind of thing but ac­tu­ally look at them through his eyes, you know, that we would be OK.”

Grey’s Anatomy ac­tress San­dra Oh, who grew up in Ne­pean, Ont., plays Pop­ping­ton’s crim­i­nal psy­chi­a­trist, while Montreal’s Elias Koteas ( Fallen, Crash) is a crooked cop and Kat Den­nings ( Nick and No­rah’s In­fi­nite Playlist, ER) plays a crack­ad­dicted pros­ti­tute who be­friends Arthur.

The gritty side of Hamil­ton proved to be the ideal back­drop for the tale’s darker mo­ments, Den­nings said last fall while pro­mot­ing De­fendor at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

“It was ex­actly what we needed — this in­dus­trial, kind of cold-looking city that felt per­fect for this world we were in, this kind of weird metropo­lis,” Den­nings says.

“It looks steel and there’s that fire that kind of spo­rad­i­cally goes up,” she adds, re­fer­ring to a lake­side in­dus­trial com­plex well-known for tow­er­ing stacks that send reg­u­lar bursts of flames shoot­ing into the sky.

As a crooked cop tar­geted by De­fendor, Koteas ap­pears in some of the film’s lighter scenes and says he rev­elled in get­ting to show his comedic side.

“No one re­ally thinks that I’m ( funny),” says Koteas, of­ten cast as a dark vil­lain. “They all kind of think I’m a Greek tragedy kind of guy, very in­tense and se­ri­ous and I think I’m kind of a funny guy. It was nice to be able to be given an op­por­tu­nity to be a lit­tle freer.”

Snag­ging Har­rel­son for the ti­tle role was a mat­ter of just send­ing him the script, says Steb­bings.

“Woody’s agent was very, very keen on the part for Woody and I think his agent also had a strat­egy to get Woody back into the kind of main­stream,” he says.

Things al­most went awry when the film’s bud­get fell more than $1 mil­lion short of its $5-mil­lion tar­get, mak­ing the cost of cast­ing Har­rel­son sud­denly be­yond their means, he adds. But when De­fendor’s pro­ducer met with Har­rel­son’s man­age­ment, the ac­tor agreed to take a pay cut, Steb­bings says.

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