National story fuels Simon Pegg Star Wars rumours

Plus: win chance to open for 30 Seconds to Mars in Dubai; Thousands attend funeral of Turkish author; Madonna announces new world tour; Actress Sen Sharma to direct her first film; Jennifer Lawrence to portray war photographer; Broadway debut for Clive Owen; and more.

Rumours of Simon Pegg appearing in the newest Star Wars have surfaced after a story appeared in The National. Richard Chambury / Invision / AP)
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Rumours that British actor Simon Pegg has a role in the new Star Wars movie have been circulating for a while, and now the internet is abuzz with renewed speculation about his possible involvement after picking up on The National's interview yesterday with Helidubai helicopter pilots Andy Nettleton and Andrew Masterson. They worked on the production when it filmed in Abu Dhabi last year, and Nettleton mentioned that he had seen Pegg – who worked with Star Wars director JJ Abrams on the rebooted Star Trek films and Mission Impossible movies – on the set. It's possible that he was there to help work on the script or, because he is a massive sci-fi fan, was simply paying a visit to the set as a guest of good friend Abrams – he has previously confirmed that he had visited the London set of Star Wars – but our story is the first confirmation that he was on location with the film. It has certainly stoked the fire of rumour and speculation – though there has as yet been no official confirmation. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is sue to be released on December 18. - The National staff

Win chance to open for 30 Seconds to Mars

Calling all bedroom rockers – the chance to support Jared Leto's Thirty Seconds to Mars is up for grabs. A social media contest has been launched to find a lucky band or solo artist to open for the alt-rockers at Dubai World Trade Centre on April 10. To enter, simply post a 30-second clip of your performance on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #MARSBattleoftheBands. The band members will choose who will join them onstage to play in front of 10,000 people. Entrants of any age from throughout the Arabian Gulf are invited to enter before March 23. The winner will be announced on April 5. For more information, visit Tickets for the gig, from Dh295, are available from May the best band win. – The National staff

Thousands attend funeral of Turkish author

Thousands of mourners, including a Nobel laureate and a former president, turned out for the funeral on Monday of the Turkish literary giant Yasar Kemal in Istanbul. The Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and the former Turkish president Abdullah Gul were among the crowd that attended the ceremony at the Tesvikiye mosque, a frequent starting point of funerals for the country's elite. Kemal, one of Turkey's most celebrated writers, died on Saturday at the age of 92 after battling heart and breathing problems. He was buried in Istanbul. Of Kurdish descent, Kemal won numerous international awards for his epic tales set in the Anatolian heartland that recounted the struggles of rural villagers against oppression and industrial tyranny. He burst onto the literary scene in 1955 with his first novel Memed, My Hawk which was translated into about 40 languages and earned him rapid international fame. – AFP

Madonna announces new world tour

Madonna on Monday announced a tour of North America and Europe to support her new album, her first extensive series of shows since 2012. The singer will kick off a 35-date tour to accompany Rebel Heart on August 29 in Miami, before heading to Europe in November. The last scheduled concert is on December 20 in Glasgow, Scotland, but concert promoters said additional dates in Asia and Australia would follow. The MDNA tour – during which Madonna played 88 shows across North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America, including two shows at Abu Dhabi's du Arena – grossed more than US$300 million (Dh1.1bn). The 56-year-old releases her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, on Monday. She fell off the stage while performing at the Brit Awards last week and said she suffered whiplash. She blamed the tumble on an Armani cape she was wearing. – AFP

Actress Sen Sharma to direct her first film

The Bollywood actress Konkona Sen Sharma is stepping behind the camera to direct her first film. The Times of India reported that she will also write the film, which will be multilingual. However the plot remains a closely-guarded secret. Sen Sharma, who won a National Award for Mr and Mrs Iyer, will not act in the film, which she has reportedly been planning for several years. - The National staff

Lawrence to portray war photographer

Jennifer Lawrence will star in Steven Spielberg's new film It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War. It will be based on the memoir by Lynsey Addario, the award-winning American photojournalist. She has travelled to war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq and was part of a New York Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Lawrence, 24, who won an Oscar in 2013 for Silver Linings Playbook and stars in The Hunger Games and X-Men movies, is currently shooting David O Russell's Joy, which is s for release at Christmas. - AFP

Legend addresses boycott calls in Bahrain

The award-winning American singer-songwriter John Legend, who appeared at the Dubai Jazz Festival last weekend, performed to a sold-out crowd of more than 2,000 people in Bahrain on Monday night, despite calls by activists for the concert to be cancelled due to concerns over human rights in the country. "When you look at me you might see international superstar John Legend, but I'm also the descendant of slaves ... but we fought for change," he told the audience before singing his Oscar-winning song Glory, the anthem from the film Selma, which is based on the historic 1965 human-rights march in Alabama led by Martin Luther King Jr. Legend said he was at the festival "to celebrate art and its power to bring us together and help us see each other's humanity". He added: "A just society is not one built on fear or repression or vengeance or exclusion, but one built on love." Bahrain, a close ally of the US, has seen near daily protests by members of the Shiite majority demanding a greater say in the running of the country. Several thousand protesters have been jailed and dozens killed over the past four years. Bahraini activists had urged Legend to boycott the 10th annual Spring of Culture festival. He said that he felt participating in the conversation was the best way to drive progress. - AP

Broadway debut for Clive Owen

The British actor Clive Owen is set to make his Broadway debut in Old Times by Harold Pinter. Roundabout Theatre Company said that Owen would star in the "unsettling drama of desire and blurred realities" from September 17. Douglas Hodge will direct. Owen was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Closer. On stage, he played Romeo at the Young Vic, starred in Sean Mathias' staging of Noel Coward's Design for Living and played the lead role in the original production of Patrick Marber's Closer. In 2001, he starred in London in Peter Nichols' A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. He is currently starring as a troubled surgeon in turn-of-the-century New York in the acclaimed US TV drama The Knick. In Old Times, a married couple welcomes an old friend for a visit, which stirs up old memories, verbal games and menace. - AP

Divergent author plans new series

Veronica Roth fans can start the countdown. The Divergent author is set to write a new two-book series, HarperCollins Children's Bookshas announced. The books are as yet untitled, with the first one expected in 2017. Roth and her publisher offered few details about the books, beyond saying they are in "the vein of Star Wars" and will tell of a boy's "unlikely alliance" with an enemy. The Divergent young adult trilogy, which she completed in 2013, has sold more than 30 million copies. The first Divergent movie, starring Shailene Woodley, came out a year ago. - AP

Three more years on TV for Judge Judy

Daytime television's most popular personality, Judge Judy Sheindlin, has extended her contract for three years and will keep her court in session into 2020. CBS Television Distribution didn't discuss terms of the deal on Monday. TV Guide has reported her current salary at $47 million a year – making her by far the highest-paid personality on television. Sheindlin is 72. The new deal also gives CBS first look at any projects by Sheindlin's production company, which makes the new court show Hot Bench. Judge Judy is now in its 19th season. It averages more than 10 million viewers an episode, tops in daytime television for the past five years. - AP

Classical composer Ezra Laderman dead at 90

Ezra Laderman, a classical music composer whose works ranged from symphonies to operas to music for Academy Award-winning films, has died. He was 90. The Yale School of Music, where Laderman was dean from 1989 to 1995, announced his death on its website. The school said he died on Saturday, but didn't give a cause. His operas included Marilyn, based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, which premiered at the New York City Opera in 1993, and he wrote the music for Oscar-winning documentaries The Eleanor Roosevelt Story and Black Fox. He wrote for soloists such as Yo-Yo Ma and led numerous professional organisations, including a stint as president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He remained a professor at the Yale School of Music until he retired in 2013. - AP

Brownstone band member Maxee Maxwell dies in freak accident

Maxee Maxwell, a member of the 1990s girl group Brownstone – best known for the hit If You Love Me – has died after cutting herself in a fall at home, a representative said on Monday. Courtney Barnes said that Maxwell, 46, was at her home in Los Angeles on Friday when she fell and cut her neck on a drinking glass. Her husband, producer Carsten "Soulshock" Schack, found her and called 911. She was taken to a hospital but could not be saved, Barnes said. Maxwell is survived by Schack and her 11-year-old son, Nicolaj Hojer. They said they were devastated by Maxwell's sudden death, calling her a devoted wife and mother. "We miss her so much," they said. The R&B trio Brownstone was signed to Michael Jackson's label imprint, MJJ Music. They made their debut in 1995. Their hits also included Grapevyne. - AP