Cold Creek Manor: Takashi Seida
August 14, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

It?s every stressed-out urbanite?s fantasy: Check out of the rat race and live a peaceful existence in a rambling historical farmhouse surrounded by enough trees to make Central Park look like a window box. Gothamites Cooper and Leah Tilson (Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone) do just that, moving their family into Cold Creek Manor, a dilapidated but once grand manor house in upstate New York. Trouble begins when the home?s former occupant, mysterious local Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff), tries to take back what’s his. Mike Figgis — who garnered fame after directing Nicolas Cage to an Oscar in 1995’s ”Leaving Las Vegas” — chose another actor-friendly project in ”Manor.” ?It was an interesting basis for a good psychological drama with strong actors,? he says. ?Something they could get their teeth into that wasn’t specifically action.? Stone?s reasons for signing on were a little more personal: ?It was time for me to go back to work,? she says. ?I had taken time off to start a family and I wanted to be there till my son was walking and talking, then I was sick, and then I thought now is a good time to get back.?

Amazingly enough, the filmmaker didn?t need to spend a lot of money having a house built to the script?s very specific specs. A mansion the production team found in Cambridge, Ontario, eerily matched screenwriter Richard Jefferies? vision. ?It looked like it had been built especially for the film by a very, very clever production company,? says Figgis. ?It was a house that was half-renovated with an amazing flat roof and surrounded by woodlands.? But getting back to that creepy snake scene. Stone found an interesting way to battle her snake-a-phobia while acting opposite 15 live, wriggling reptiles. ?I believe that you can have communication with animals — I talk to my cats, and I think they get it,? says the actress. ?I told the snake what we had to do and how it was supposed to go, and the snake got in the bed and did everything great!? Too bad she didn?t have a chat with that Komodo dragon.

The Killer Moment The terrified Tilson family is attacked in their new home by a slew of angry snakes.

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