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'Our Souls at Night' movie stand-ins, doubles reminisce about time on set

January 6, 2017 Updated: January 6, 2017 at 4:15 am
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Robert Redford and Jane Fonda on set of the Netflix film "Our Souls at Night." Photo credit: Kerry Brown/Netflix

It was just another day on the job for Robert Redford stand-in Spencer Wetherall as he lay in bed next to Jane Fonda waiting for an "Our Souls at Night" scene to be set up.

During the downtime, he showed her cellphone photos from a recent kayaking trip, one of which featured an attractive young woman with long, dark hair. Fonda got quiet, he said, until he told her the girl was his daughter.

"Spencer," Wetherall, 52, recalled Fonda saying, "I'm so glad you told me she was your daughter. In California the guy would usually say it was his girlfriend."

Wetherall's story got a laugh on a recent December morning when he and three other extras from the Netflix film starring Fonda and Redford gathered for lunch at The Broadmoor to reminisce and catch up. The cohorts included Nancy McLeod, from Monument, who was Fonda's stand-in, Diane Varlesi, who was Fonda's body double, and Kayle Higginbotham, the stand-in for the character of Ruth, Fonda's best friend in the movie.

"It was like falling down the rabbit hole and ending up in Wonderland," said McLeod, 62. "Everything was so full of wonder each day as I learned step by step what it takes to make a movie."

Filming made quite a splash for two months this fall when location scouts chose several areas, including a west-side neighborhood, in Colorado Springs for the movie based on a 2015 novel by the late Colorado author Kent Haruf. Shooting also took place in Denver, Florence and Eleven Mile State Park in Lake George. Redford and Fonda star as a widower and widow in the tiny fictional town of Holt, Colo., who begin a clandestine friendship that eventually blossoms into romance.

The film, also starring Bruce Dern and Judy Greer, is set to air on the digital streaming platform in May or June.

On the job

Despite working 60 hours every week for two months - about 12 to 15 hours per day - with a couple of days off, none of the stand-ins or body doubles will make the final cut of the movie, minus the possibility of one scene in which Varlesi might be seen from a distance riding shotgun in Redford's character's truck.

"You are part of the background," said Higginbotham, 69, "part of the furniture."

A stand-in is on set all day for every scene the actor is in. Crew members, including the key grip, key gaffer, camera person and sound engineer, gather before each new scene to go over how it will be created. The stand-ins act as human mannequins as the crew puts it all together - they practice timing and camera moves and test noise and lighting. The actual actors are brought in when filming is ready to commence.

"I am so glad I got to be the stand-in," said McLeod. "I saw and heard everything and worked daily with those greats I mentioned (on the crew). The doubles worked a fraction of the days we worked."

Body doubles wear the same clothes and wigs as the actors but work with a separate camera crew away from the main set doing scenes that have no lines and no close-ups of the actors.

"It's a way to save time and film more of the movie simultaneously," said McLeod, "and it saves the actors from doing things they really aren't needed for."

How they got cast

It's been a lifelong case of mistaken identity for the Longmont-based Wetherall. He's good-natured about it, though, especially when it comes with perks like jobs - toward the end of filming "Our Souls at Night" he agreed to work in Redford's next film, and potentially last as an actor, "The Old Man and the Gun" with Casey Affleck. It begins production this year.

Wetherall, who hosts "Time Machine Camaros," a KCDO- TV show in Denver, was in line with thousands of others at the film's August casting call for extras at the Hillside Community Center. A casting director offered him the job on the spot.

"She said you must get told you look like him all the time," said Wetherall.

The offer wasn't a done deal, though, until he was handpicked by the star himself. During a final approval process, where he competed with four other Redford lookalikes, an assistant inspected Wetherall's eyes to make sure they were blue, examined his hands and ran her hands through his hair to check its fullness.

"Robert came in and looked me up and down," he said. "I'm Robert Redford-certified now."

Varlesi attended the same casting call hoping to be an extra until a casting director asked her age (72) and her size (1-2s) and deemed her perfect for the role of Fonda's body double.

"I didn't even know there was such a thing as a body double," she said.

She also had to earn the Fonda stamp of approval.

"I was so nervous," she said. "I've always admired her movies over the years. She came out of the car with her little dog (a Coton de Tuléar named Tulea) and she was very intense in how I was to represent her, telling me about the scene and movie and her character. They put a wig on me and she came into the trailer to look. She high-fived me and said you're my double."

McLeod, a still-photography model with IMG Models in New York City, was called a week after attending the same casting call and asked to be Fonda's stand-in.

The downside

Some folks weren't happy about Fonda being in Colorado after the infamous 1972 photos during the Vietnam War that earned her the nickname "Hanoi Jane." A warning sign outside of Florence stated "Jane, go home, you're not welcome" and one Florence shop refused to open.

Guards were on set every day due to death threats made against Fonda.

"I became really concerned," said Varlesi about seeing the sign. "In the times we live in people do dangerous, unstable things."

Protesters aside, the experience of filming the movie was positive, educational and a memory the extras will all cherish.

"It was like taking a class and learning from professionals in the industry," said Varlesi. "There was so much love on set."

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