Village Swank

When the casting call went out for what would eventually become the Oscar-winning film Boys Don’t Cry , Hilary Swank was a Hollywood hopeful with little but her starring role in the fourth installment of the Karate Kid franchise under her belt-and barely enough money to make the round-trip flight to New York for the audition. She and husband Chad Lowe (Rob frère ) have had no shortage of access to remunerative roles: She got her start as a ditzy minor player in the 1992 movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer ; he’s been on Melrose Place . But it was her performance as the transgender Nebraska teenager Brandon Teena and subsequent (though less notable) efforts-the fizzled bodice-ripper The Affair of the Necklace , the supernatural thriller The Gift -that seem to have made the 27-year-old actress’ financial circumstances more comfortable: She’s now preparing, with Mr. Lowe, to feather a cozy townhouse nest in Greenwich Village that came with a $4 million price tag.

“We always dreamed of having a place in New York,” Ms. Swank told The Observer. “And as soon as I walked in, I knew this was it.”

Ms. Swank and her husband recently signed a contract on this four-story residence on a tree-lined street. The house is full of original detail-from pocket doors and hardwood floors to etched moldings and multiple glass chandeliers. It has a large, landscaped garden, eat-in kitchen, wood-burning fireplace, and a large master bedroom with his-and-hers bathrooms. The house’s parlor floor has a living room and library, and the children’s floor has a large central skylight and kitchenette.

Though the two are based in Los Angeles, they have been fixtures on the New York scene of late, and were renting an apartment near Union Square. A four-month stay in Vancouver earlier this year kept them away for a while; Ms. Swank was filming The Core , a science-fiction flick in which she plays the co-pilot of a spaceship that crashes into the center of the earth. Instead of hanging around Manhattan or Hollywood, Mr. Lowe-who has admitted that professional competitiveness has driven the couple to marriage counseling before-joined his spouse and made the best of it, writing and shooting a 21-minute psycho-thriller short called The Space Between . (In that movie, Ms. Swank has a small role as star Vincent Gale’s wife.)

It seems to have done them some good. Speaking to a class at the Vancouver Film School, Mr. Lowe said that before heading off to work, the two offer each other a few words of inspiration: “Let your light shine!”

Ms. Swank was back in town in time for the May 8 premiere of the Al Pacino–Robin Williams thriller Insomnia , in which she plays the female lead. Both now seem to be hoping that the artistic mojo of the Village rubs off on them.

“It’s all about balancing art and commerce,” Mr. Lowe recently told the film students.

Billy Joel, East End year-rounder and putative celebrity mensch , may be fonder of the area’s wealthy hordes than he’s been making himself out to be, most recently as a subject of documentarian Barbara Kopple in her recent ABC mini-series, The Hamptons .

When that documentary was filmed, Mr. Joel was still in the midst of a long search for a place on the East End. That search seemed to have ended with his purchase of a wooded, $7 million waterfront estate in North Haven. But reports in The Observer last month that Mr. Joel had put that place on the market were quickly followed by further news that the erstwhile rocker is angling to get back in the scene on East Hampton’s Gold Coast. Those reports had him buying an estate on Further Lane, but that’s where his old compound was-the one he sold to comedian Jerry Seinfeld in March 2000 for a then record-setting $32 million. Now Mr. Seinfeld will be peering over the hedgerow at the Piano Man’s more modest $14 million address, around the corner on Old Beach Lane.

Still, 21 Old Beach Lane, which overlooks the Maidstone Club and Hook Pond, is a flashier address than the place in North Haven that Mr. Joel put on the market last month. And trading back into the celebrity ZIP code can be costly. The place he’s selling had one of the few deepwater docks on private property-important for Mr. Joel, who’s a big boat enthusiast; the new place isn’t on the water directly. The place he’s selling totals 5.6 acres and has 340 feet of sandy beach frontage; the new place is only two acres. The place he’s selling was low-wattage in terms of celebrity (by East End standards, anyway): Mr. Joel’s neighbors were fashion designer Nicole Miller and singer Jimmy Buffet. At the new place, he’ll be in the thick of the Hamptons swarm, with neighbors like Mr. Seinfeld as well as Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, art dealer Larry Gagosian and fashion designer Helmut Lang. And Mr. Joel’s North Haven place, which cost him $7 million when he bought it in December, is on the market for $8.5 million-60 percent of the new place’s $14 million asking price, which, brokers said, Mr. Joel paid in full.

Ever since he sold his 12-acre East Hampton estate to Mr. Seinfeld, Mr. Joel has decried the oversaturation of the Hamptons with media and celebrity glitz. When he bought the place in North Haven, it seemed a fitting retreat from the bright lights of the benefit circuit. But it seems that Mr. Joel quickly changed his mind.

While buyers mull taking over the North Haven property, Mr. Joel will be settling in at the six-bedroom, eight-bathroom traditional house on Old Beach Lane, which was built in 1985 and, before its purchase by Mr. Joel, was owned by Fred Stein and his wife Sharon Haugh, two prominent Wall Street managers. John Golden of Sotheby’s International Realty wouldn’t confirm our story, but he did say that the house had been “quietly listed for several years.”

Mr. Joel’s new two-acre grounds, which include a tennis court and swimming pool, were once part of the neighboring seven-acre estate, now owned by Johnson & Johnson heir James Johnson. Those properties were partitioned about 20 years ago by the Regan family, who built the house.