Amber Tamblyn goes home again as CBS' 'Russell Girl'

She's no longer "Joan of Arcadia," but Amber Tamblyn still carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. At least in her roles.

The young actress stars as a contemporary Chicago career woman whose health crisis prompts her to return to her hometown -- where she must deal with a past tragedy -- in "The Russell Girl," airing as CBS' newest Hallmark Hall of Fame offering Sunday, Jan. 27.

Keeping the reason for her visit a secret, Sarah Russell (Tamblyn) quickly runs into an ex-boyfriend (Paul Wesley, "Fallen") and a neighbor (Jennifer Ehle, "Pride and Prejudice") who still blames her for a devastating accident. Backed by her parents (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Tim DeKay), Sarah desperately wants to straighten things out, but the neighbor's husband (Henry Czerny, "The Tudors") fears the effect of Sarah's reappearance.

"It's rare lately that you come across good scripts," Tamblyn says, "with the writers strike and other things. There aren't a lot of really great roles for younger women, or women in general. When I started reading this, I held in the back of my mind the thought that it would be unique somehow."

Added lures for Tamblyn were her "Russell Girl" co-stars and the film's director, Emmy winner Jeff Bleckner ("Hill Street Blues"). "Hallmark was amazing to work with," Tamblyn says, "because they really let Jeff and me play with the material, as did the writer (Jill Blotevogel, 'Tin Man'). Straight up, that's just not common for television. I really wanted to emphasize the character's quiet neurosis, this sad, beautiful quality about her."

Particular evidence is supplied by Tamblyn's moments with Ehle, many of which rely on long silences. "A million thoughts run through your head of what could have happened," Tamblyn says. "It really draws you into wondering, 'Who is this girl?' Maybe she's not just a victim of something."

Since "Joan of Arcadia" ended its two-year run, Tamblyn has focused on making movies including "The Grudge 2" and the acclaimed independent film "Stephanie Daley." This summer, the daughter of veteran actor Russ Tamblyn ("West Side Story") appears again with America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty"), Alexis Bledel ("Gilmore Girls") and Blake Lively ("Gossip Girl") in a sequel to "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."

"We had a lot of fun," Tamblyn says of the "Sisterhood" reunion. "When I found out we'd be doing the sequel, I was at dinner with America. We both got a message on our phones at the same time. We all try to see each other as much as we can, just to catch up and give each other advice."

While she doesn't rule out another weekly show ("Anybody would be foolish to pass up something really great, whatever medium it's in," she says), Tamblyn finds bemusement in the killing-off-in-progress of a television character she originated: Emily Quartermaine on ABC's weekday serial "General Hospital." The part is still being played -- as an apparition -- by Natalia Livingston, until her contract expires in the spring.

"My reaction is no reaction," Tamblyn says. "They'll probably get a new girl, and we'll find out that they cloned one of Emily's hairs. Aliens will have been taking care of the cloned baby, and she'll be transported down into the Quartermaine living room. I give them two years to pull out that story line."

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