The story behind the Massachusetts mansion in ‘Knives Out’

The palatial building has been used in more than a few film productions.

Daniel Craig in "Knives Out." –Claire Folger/Lionsgate

In the riotously entertaining new movie “Knives Out,” much of the action is set in a single building: A gorgeous, antiquated mansion full of mahogany accents and period decor that belongs to mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who is killed the night of his 85th birthday party.

The mansion is a perfect setting for the movie, which was filmed in a dozen Massachusetts municipalities in 2018. Like the 1985 black comedy/mystery “Clue,” to which “Knives Out” owes a debt of gratitude, the mansion anchors the audience and traps all of the suspects under one roof as they are interrogated by detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig of the James Bond franchise).

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“There’s something about fall in New England that is just murder mystery-esque in the perfect way,” director Rian Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter.

In reality, the mansion is two separate buildings. One, which is privately owned, contractually cannot be disclosed by filmmakers. The other is the Ames Mansion, a palatial stone building built as a residence in the early 1900s that is now the centerpiece of Borderland State Park in Easton, Mass.

A room in the Ames Mansion in Easton, Mass. used for filming “Knives Out.” —Joe Rotondo

“Knives Out” location manager Charlie Harrington knew the Ames Mansion would be a great spot for filming, having previously used the building — and even the exact room in it — to film the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot. He and crews spent a large portion of production time in that one room, a library in the Ames Mansion, as Johnson put actors like Sudbury native Chris Evans (“The Avengers”), Toni Collette (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Don Johnson (“Miami Vice”), and Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween”) under the magnifying glass.

“The movie cuts in and out of that room for pretty much the whole film,” Harrington said. “As everyone tells their story, their alibi, we stayed in that room.”

In real life, the Ames Mansion was home to Blanche Ames, an artist, botanist, and women’s rights activist; and her husband Oakes Ames, heir to a wealthy shovel company and Harvard botany professor. A limited number of tours of the building are available each year, while Borderland Park is open year-round.

Lakeith Stanfield, Noah Segan, and Daniel Craig in “Knives Out.” —Claire Folger/Lionsgate
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Beyond the mansion, Borderland has hosted multiple film crews in years past, including  “Mermaids,” the 1990 comedy-drama starring Cher, Bob Hoskins, and Winona Ryder, and 2010’s “Shutter Island,” in which filmmaker Martin Scorsese used and a nearby pond.

According to Joe Rotondo, a special events manager for the Department of Conservation and Recreation who helps scout government-owned locations for film productions in the state, the very same cabin was used earlier this month for filming a yet-to-be-revealed project.

Rotondo said the “Ghostbusters” and “Knives Out” teams ended up using the Ames Mansion in significantly different ways, and he was pleased with how effectively Johnson captured the spirit of the building.

“‘Ghostbusters,’ when they came in, they said, ‘Oh, this is so great,’ but then they came in and put up all these walls so that it almost could have been filmed anywhere,” Rotondo said. “‘Knives Out’ just kind of fell in love with the building itself. They used it the way it is. What you see in the film is what’s there. Rian Johnson loved the place and really respected it.”

Ames Mansion and Borderland State Park. —Courtesy of Borderland State Park
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