It was a case that drew headlines all over the world when it was revealed that a father had imprisoned his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathered her seven children.
That abomination really happened in Austria and was exposed in 2008. But it’s only a template for Lifetime’s new “Ripped from the Headlines” movie premiering on Saturday.
It proved a stiff challenge for actress Elisabeth Rohm (“Jane the Virgin”) to move behind the camera in her directorial debut for this morbid tale, “Girl in the Basement.”
“It’s really a mixture of many different stories of abduction, sexual assault, imprisonment and incest,” she says. “So, that was intimidating unto itself because it was starting my first film in a very complex way.
“Obviously, there are some stories you may remember — like the Elisabeth Fritzl case (in Austria) and so forth — but ‘Girl in the Basement’ is really inspired by many different stories much like this, unfortunately.”
Lifetime will follow the feature with a special documentary, says Rohm.
“Where people who are either victims of this type of assault or they know somebody, they will be able to see this documentary about surviving child abduction and imprisonment. But also, we are offering information about RAINN, which is the largest organization against sexual assault (and violence) in this country,” she reports.
Rohm says she sees “Girl in the Basement” as a call to action.
“And even though that was incredibly intimidating and a big responsibility, I was inspired by Lifetime's commitment to make it a movement instead of just a movie,” she says.
Judd Nelson portrays the abusing father, Don, who convinces his wife that their 18-year-old daughter has run away and joined a cult — when she’s really imprisoned in his basement.
But Nelson insists he can’t play him as evil incarnate.
“I think that ‘villain’ is not something that someone thinks about themselves,” he says.
“I don't think Manson thought he was a bad guy. For all we know, Jeffery Dahmer didn't think he was a bad guy. Don doesn't think he's a bad guy. (He’s) got kids, he's trying to do his best for them. If they are not well behaved, they'll be punished. Is Don extreme? Absolutely. But I don't feel that he doesn't have their best interests at heart.
“That being said, (he thinks) ‘When I leave work at the end of the day, I don't have an ax to grind. Just try and get ready for the next day, hoping my daughter maybe will learn something. Maybe she won't. It'll be slow, but I'll be there all the time.’”
Joely Fisher portrays the clueless mother. And like the case in Austria, she’s oblivious to what’s going on when her daughter disappears out of the blue.
“When I read the script I was like, ‘Oh, God, who is she? How do I humanize a woman that didn’t know that all this was going on, or did she?’ And so (the director) and I really collaborated on bringing her a sense of self and what she got out of her relationship, why she stayed in this relationship,” says Fisher.
“She’s a warrior, too, at the same time. This woman never let go of the idea of finding her child. I have five, and I am a warrior mom, and it was not hard to tap into the emotion and the gravitas of having a child taken from you.”
Twenty-four-year-old Stefanie Scott plays the daughter imprisoned for years by her father.
“It’s a very challenging movie in itself, ranging from about 20 years, and all of the different life stages that the character goes through while living underground — becoming a mother, what that’s like raising kids with no outside sources? I mean, how do you even keep your mind together if that is your reality?” she asks.
But Scott was able to maintain her equilibrium in spite of the horrific subject matter she had to portray every day, she says.
“At the end of the day, it was a movie, and I was pretending. And I had breaks all day long. And it wasn’t real for me. So at the end of the day, it’s not like I can identify with those feelings as if it’s something I really went through. Even though it’s a ‘Ripped from the Headlines’ story and it really is . . . kind of making aware, I guess, of some of these stories that people have been through and are probably happening right now that we’re completely unaware of, which is horrifying... I feel like I can’t really do justice to what these girls have actually been through because I’m just an actor pretending.”
LUDACRIS INVADES THE KITCHEN
There’s not much he can’t do — but entrepreneur, Grammy winner, hip-hop hottie and restaurateur Chris “Ludacris” Bridges really can’t cook.
“I have a wife and she does all of the cooking, which is part of the reason I can’t cook because I'm lazy,” he admits.
“And whenever I want to eat, whenever I'm hungry and I want to eat, I don't want to cook. It’s a timing thing because I'm so busy. So, my kitchen, it’s pretty fully equipped. I just rely on her to cook everything and I don't really cook much.”
He’s amending that gap with his new show on Discovery+, “Luda Can’t Cook,” which begins streaming on Thursday.
“You know, there's one thing that I can kind of halfway cook,” he adds. “The whole ‘Luda Can’t Cook’ thing is only 99% true. There's 1% — I can cook tacos. That's pretty much like the only thing I almost know how to do. But I would only share that information with my Discovery family, everybody that's on. That's it.”
Bridges doesn’t begin his cooking sessions the easy way, either. His first lesson comes from Chef Meherwan Irani, and his task is preparing Indian food — a daunting challenge for anyone.
“Indian food is so far from what anyone would expect me to even try to cook,” he says.
“And I know I've eaten Indian food before and I love the spices and I love a lot of things, and it's so complex to me that I just wanted to understand how it's made.”
‘SUPERMAN’ TAKES OFF AGAIN
Tyler Hoechlin is squeezing into Superman’s tights once more for the CW’s new show, “Superman & Lois,” premiering Tuesday. Hoechlin says he finds Superman and his alter-ego, Clark Kent, two different personas.
“I think with Superman, he stands for something. He is so symbolic and there's things that you come to know that he's unwavering in,” says Hoechlin.
“So you feel a responsibility to carry on those things as well. But with Clark, there is more leeway with that. You can kind of find those little subtleties, those things that are a little bit more human about him. And it's a little bit more flexible to kind of have some fun with it, because in a way, he's putting on a show when he's Clark.”
Bitsie Tulloch, who plays Lois, says she finds her character particularly appropriate for today.
“It's been very humbling, honestly, to be playing a strong female character as iconic as Lois Lane, since she was first introduced in 1938, along with Superman,” she says.
“She has really represented someone who's incredibly dogged and determined and uncompromising. And I think at a time right now when the profession of journalism has been under siege, as we have seen it for the last few years, it's especially important and timely. And I take it very seriously.”
For those who miss the Tuesday premiere, it will be repeated Saturday on TNT.
IT’S ‘TOOL TIME’ ONCE MORE
Although they tried, you can’t keep a good man down. Tim Allen is back with his old “Home Improvement” partner, Richard Karn, in a new competition show, “Assembly Required,” premiering on the History Channel Tuesday.
Competitors are presented with mechanical challenges that would confound most of us. Each week three master makers compete from their own home shops to create odd items with their bare hands while both Allen and Karn pop in virtually to kibbitz and oversee their work in two challenge rounds.
They have 90 minutes to construct whatever Allen and Karn have devised for them to make. The winner shuffles on to the next round.
Allen says, like his character on “Home Improvement,” he’s really pretty handy around the house.
“I like taking stuff apart,” he says. “I'm pretty good. I've got a big shop... Oddly enough, I'm very confused about plumbing. I don't know what it is about plumbing. We just had our big sink plug up and found a wad of something in there. I don't understand plumbing because the fixtures are going backwards. I really appreciate plumbers on every level, but plumbing is my big problem.”
(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)
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