Hauntingly Sexy

ERNEST A. JASMIN; The News Tribune

Talk to any of the key players behind ABC's "The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer" and they'll use similar words to describe the TV movie.

Sexy. Steamy. Risque.

"Creepy" is a pretty good adjective, too, considering the movie - which airs at 9 p.m. Monday on Channel 4 and was filmed primarily at Lakewood's Thornewood Castle - is a prequel to "Rose Red," the hit miniseries Stephen King wrote for ABC.

But Mark Carliner, who shares executive producing credits with King, thinks it's the movie's sex appeal that will really stand out.

"I don't think there's anything that's been on TV quite like this," Carliner said. "It has a very gothic kind of feeling. It's going to be very spooky and very sexy. ... It was a rather licentious time, the turn of the century."

"The book probably has six to eight times as much titillation as the film does," said author Ridley Pearson, who plays a minor role as a butler. He wrote the script for the TV movie and the best-selling novel it's based on.

"We still put in a few of what I think are going to be very hot scenes," he said. "But the book has many, many more of them - and that's proper."

Actress Lisa Brenner ("The Patriot") plays the title role. "I was pretty shocked and intrigued," she said in a phone interview, recalling her first reading of the script. "I never really look at that time period, the early 1900s, as a time of sexual liberation. But this movie pushes the boundaries of what is allowed to be shown on television."

There is just a pinch of hype involved in all this sex talk. "Diary" isn't going to air on Cinemax at midnight, after all. Nothing is explicitly shown. But among the sexual situations that earn the movie a TV-14 rating are scenes depicting bondage, sadomasochism, voyeurism and a menage a trois.

"Because it's of the period, people don't expect that behavior," Brenner said. "On 'Sopranos' or something, you expect all of that stuff. But on a show like this, it's very shocking. But because it's done so tastefully and so beautifully, I think it makes it even sexier."

The story centers on Ellen Rimbauer and her cruel, philandering husband, John (Steven Brand of "The Scorpion King").

It reveals how their dysfunctional relationship, and Ellen's subsequent angst, awaken malevolent spirits in Rose Red, a haunted mansion "played" by Thornewood.

Computer-generated effects and sleight-of-hand scene cuts again create several illusions that should be particularly fun for locals who have actually seen Thornewood, which normally serves as a bed and breakfast.

For "Rose Red," the mansion was covered in vines, surrounded by mist and dropped smack dab in the middle of modern-day Seattle. This time, Thornewood gains a stunning bay view and expansive grounds that resemble a park. (There's no explanation for how the house moved to the top of a hill in the decades between the two stories, however.)

If the prequel does nearly as well as its predecessor, ABC will likely film more movies at Thornewood, Carliner said.

"Rose Red" was a sweeps week coup in 2002, with an average audience of 18.5 million and an 8.5 rating. An average of about 200,000 Western Washington households were tuned in each night, according to KOMO-TV.

"The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer" novel may give some indication of how well the movie will do. The book, published as a promotional tool for "Rose Red," unexpectedly spent several weeks atop the New York Times best seller list.

It was written as if it were a real journal, with a foreword that explained that a famous author in Maine had found it. Since King had written the "Rose Red" screenplay and is from Maine, many assumed he wrote the book, too - at least until he spilled the beans several months later and said it was his buddy, Pearson.

"Stephen, in his genius, came up with the idea of working kind of a 'Blair Witch' idea into it, where my name would not be on it, his name would not be on it," Pearson said.

"Part of Steve's idea was that no one would know who wrote it - rumors would circulate. And if his fan base jumped on it, we could have a real big book. And that's what happened."

Ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389

• Thornewood Castle, 8601 N. Thorne Lane S.W., Lakewood, will host a screening party at 7:30 p.m. Monday with a behind-the-scenes slide show. The movie will be projected onto a 12-by-12-foot screen afterward. Tickets are $35; call 253-584-4393.


Lakewood toddler, mom were in right place at right time

Ernest A. Jasmin; The News Tribune

Many pursue their Hollywood dream for a lifetime without success.

Hope Gilbreath of Lakewood has already landed her first prime time role at the tender age of 16 months. She's one of the real stars of ABC's "The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer" - the dozens of local extras who appear, albeit briefly, in the made-for-TV movie.

Baby Hope is even showing dynamic range at a young age. She plays a boy - John and Ellen Rimbauer's son, to be exact.

The local extras who appear in this turn-of-the-century ghost story play maids, butlers, groundskeepers, drivers, police officers, party guests and dozens of other roles. Many were recruited by Seattle-based Atmosphere Casting.

Others, like Hope and her mother, Rebecca Gilbreath, benefited from a bit of serendipity. Gilbreath - a neighbor of Thornewood Castle, where the movie was filmed - wandered onto the set to look for her husband, who was employed as a crew member.

Within minutes a woman approached the Gilbreaths and asked if they were there for the baby scene. As it turned out, another mother/baby combo hadn't worked out, and the Gilbreaths fit into the costumes.

Other local residents provided needed props.

It's not uncommon for the creators of period pieces such as "Diary" to find old cars locally instead of bringing them all the way from Los Angeles. Mike Conrad, a vintage auto collector from Lake Tapps, just happened to have a spiffy 1920 Dodge Brothers touring car that was perfect for the story.

"It was my first movie and hopefully not my last," Conrad said. "It was a lot of fun."

So forget all the fancy Hollywood types hogging all the closeups Monday night when the show airs. Here are a few people you should be looking for. Keep your eyes glued to the set - and don't blink.

Randall Dickey
Age: 48
Hometown: Puyallup
Plays: Groundskeeper
Where to look: Rakes in the background when a certain bad guy goes flying out of a window.

Mike Conrad
Age: 27
Hometown: Lake Tapps
Plays: Police officer
Where to look: Drives police car during a scene in which Sukeena returns from a rough night in jail.

Hope Gilbreath
Age: 1
Hometown: Lakewood
Plays: Baby Rimbauer
Where to look: Can't miss her, since she's the smallest squirt in the movie. By the way, how old were you when you earned your first paycheck?

Rebecca Gilbreath
Age: 22
Hometown: Lakewood
Plays: Nanny
Where to look: Scene during which John Rimbauer lines up the maids and butlers to form a search party. She's standing by Ellen Rimbauer.

Ernest A. Jasmin, The News Tribune