A comment came through Stand-In Central from one Judith Fitzsimmons, who stood in for Jessica Lange on the 1991 Oscar-nominated thriller Cape Fear.
I was curious what the experience was like standing in on this star-studded and physically demanding film. My interview with Judith Fitzsimmons is below, and she provides a stand-in perspective on how a fantastic film like this one is made.
– The Editor
SIC: What’s your name and what do you do?
JF: My name is Judith Fitzsimmons. I am a SAG-AFTRA actress.
SIC: Judi, you notably stood in for Jessica Lange on the Oscar-nominated Martin Scorsese film Cape Fear. How did you land the job?
JF: My agent called and asked me if I wanted to go on a casting for Cape Fear as a stand-in/photo-double for Jessica Lange. They wanted a SAG actress that was the same height and coloring as Jessica Lange. I fit the bill. At the time, I worked mostly on commercials, but I also worked in movies, foreign films, and telenovelas.
SIC: Did you have any prior experience as a stand-in?
JF: I had never worked as a stand-in, but I knew what the job entailed as I had worked on movie sets before. Basically, a stand-in is the same height, weight, and coloring as the principal actor and has to go through the motions of the principal so that the lighting is correct.
SIC: The film looked to be very physically demanding of the actors, from work in water and rain to violent action. How physically demanding was standing in for Jessica Lange?
JF: The film was physically demanding when we reenacted the attempted rape scene, which was a bit strenuous working in such tight quarters. But it was also kind of funny during the blocking when lying on the bed and having the other stand-in hovering over me and the crew was looking down at me in that awkward position. I did come out of the water in the last scene–we did get wet and muddy.
SIC: What were some of the challenging situations you had to deal with as a stand-in on this film?
JF: I had to get wet, crawl through the mud, and drag myself out of the water at the end. We had a smoke scene at the movies where Cady was smoking a cigar and intimidating the family. There were two boats at the “tank” location, one was in a nearby lake and one was a hydraulic houseboat in the tank. We did have to deal with the boat rocking, but it did not make me seasick.
SIC: It’s funny how something so seemingly as innocuous as emerging from water or being around cigar smoke becomes challenging when working on a set. But I can understand! How demanding of the stand-ins were the director of photography and the director for this film?
JF: The DP was Freddie Francis who was very professional. We had our marks for each scene and it was well planned. The director, Martin Scorsese, was also very professional and very easy to work with.
SIC: How long was the production, and what was the vibe on the set of this thrilling and emotional drama?
JF: The production took five months. The vibe on the set was fun and easygoing. Everyone got along. We had a very comfortable set. We worked in the big beautiful house that you see in the film. The only close quarters probably would be the attempted rape scene on the house boat. We had to have a lot of crew members in a pretty small room.
SIC: That’s really interesting to hear, especially given how intense the final film is. Did you appear in the film at all?
JF: I did two scenes. One, I was in the master bedroom: a shadow walking back and forth in front of the bedroom window. This was when Cady was on the wall behind the house in what they called the “Fourth of July” scene. The other scene, I drove the car from the airport and then up the driveway to the house. I was also Jessica’s photo-double for the poster and DVD cover.
SIC: Do you have any great personal stories about standing in on the film?
JF: Yes. There was going to be a bedroom scene and the crew and second director were all teasing me that it was going to be a nude scene. Of course, I knew I would not have to take off my clothes, but I played along with them and told them I was a professional, and I would do what it takes to get the scene right. Jessica had to wear a skirt, white blouse, and black sweater just about throughout the movie. Unbeknown to the crew, I had a nude t-shirt that had airbrushed breasts on it, and I had put this t-shirt under my white blouse.
When we were about to block the bedroom scene, the second director said, “Alright, this is where you walk toward the mirror and take off your shirt.” I said, “Okay,” and started walking toward the mirror while unbuttoning my shirt, when the second director then ran across the room saying “Noooo!” I turned around with my blouse opened exposing the t-shirt with the bountiful breasts and said, “That’s okay.” Needless to say, it got a very big laugh!
SIC: Funny, Judith! Anything else you remember?
JF: Yes. The crew started a football lottery and asked me if I wanted to participate. I told them no, that I did not gamble because I always lose. Then one of the crew members asked me to share a box, and for some reason I felt he was going to win so I shared a box. Much to my amazement, we won $500 each. The next day, they asked me if I wanted another box. Again, I said no because I never win. Then another crew member asked me to share a box and again for some reason I felt he was going to win and we did. This time it was $300. Then I was asked again. This time I did it by myself and, needless to say, I lost … but I still came out ahead.
SIC: How did the experience standing in on Cape Fear and working with eminent entertainment figures like Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Nick Nolte, as well as Jessica Lange, affect your life? Would you do it again if you could?
JF: It was quite exciting to work on a film production from beginning to end. It was a fun set to be on and it was great working with such great professionals. I felt really good when on the last day of production and saying goodbye to everyone, Freddie Francis came up to me and told me what a good sport I was. It made my day.
Working on this film was an experience of lifetime, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. After this film, I continued doing commercials and films.
SIC: What are you up to now?
JF: I have been involved in theater both in New York and Florida, and I still go on castings when I am right for the part.
SIC: Great, Judi! Thanks for talking with us!
JF: You’re very welcome.
Judith Fitzsimmons lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida, with her husband, actor Emmett Fitzsimmons.