Friday, October 30, 2020

Interview: Laura Wardle (stand-in for Sarah Jessica Parker/Dianne Wiest in “Footloose”)

What were you doing professionally prior to Footloose

I was working on an MFA in Acting at Brigham Young University. All of my experience prior to Footloose was in student films and in university and community stage productions.

How did you become involved with Footloose

I auditioned for Cate Praggastis, the local casting agent for the film. I did not get cast, but Ric Waite, the cinematographer, saw my audition and hired me as a stand-in for Sarah Jessica Parker and Dianne Wiest.

Is there one story about your Footloose time you tell more than any other? 

I was sitting in a booth at the Hi-Spot with Kevin and Sarah Jessica. It was a late-night shoot and everyone was getting a little silly and tired. Kevin and Sarah Jessica started carefully examining my nose. They both decided that I had a perfect nose and they wished they had my nose. I don’t see it personally, but it’s nice to remember that once upon a time two famous movie stars thought I had a nice nose.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Liz Gorcey

While working on it, did it seem like just another script to you, or did it feel like something special? 

I have always been a film buff so even before we started filming I was impressed by the crew that was assembled for Footloose. When I wasn’t needed on set, I would hang out with the camera crew (Ric Waite was already known for his great work with long lenses) or, if nobody was in the make-up trailer, I would ask Daniel Striepeke to tell me about his make-up work on Planet of the Apes and the Mission: Impossible television series. I was also very impressed with the work that Kevin Bacon had done in Diner so I was in awe of everybody and more than a little nervous around all of them.

cinematographer Ric Waite

What do you remember about your impression of Kevin Bacon? 

Kevin was always very professional but friendly and full of energy. I must have made an offhanded comment that Kevin looked good without a shirt. One day, Robbie Robinson, the film’s still photographer, had a shirtless Kevin Bacon come up and wrap his arms around me while Robbie took photos. I look like such a dork in the picture but it’s a great memory.

Chris Penn and Kevin Bacon

Chris Penn?

Chris was a sweetheart. He was so nervous about his dancing. He practiced constantly. I was very sad when he passed away at such a young age.

Lori Singer?

Lori did a kindness for me that I will never forget. The stand-ins were paid in cash in the morning for our previous day’s work. I was in college and the money was very important to me. The stand-ins shared a small dressing room in a honey wagon. It was never locked but we had to leave our personal belongings in there while we were on set. 

One day they paid us for three or four previous days, and someone went into my purse while I was on set and stole all my money. Rent was due—my husband Tom and I were both students paying our own way through school—and I just burst into tears when I discovered the theft. 

A little while later Lori came up to me with a wad of cash in her hand and said something like “I never spend all my per diem. I want you to have it.” I think I said “no” but she stuffed it in my hand and walked away. It was completely unexpected and such a kind gesture from a leading actress to a member of the crew.

Lori Singer (in sweatshirt given at end of production) 
and her stand-in Heather

John Lithgow?

He was very quiet, but he would often sit next to me at lunch or dinner and he always asked questions about my life. He was a true gentleman during the entire shoot.

Dianne Wiest? 

The job of a stand-in is to watch the actors rehearse so that you can reproduce their blocking for the cinematographer and camera crew after the actors are released. I loved watching Dianne rehearse. She is such an amazing actress. Observing her was a great learning opportunity for me. Dianne also loved her dog. He came to the set every day and stayed in her dressing room. 

Sarah Jessica Parker? 

I probably spent more time with Sarah than anyone else in the cast. She was funny and extremely intelligent. She also did something very kind for me. She knew that after graduation that I was headed to Los Angeles to pursue acting. She somehow convinced Herbert Ross to put me in a few scenes so that I could get my SAG card. Being a member of the union makes a big difference when you are starting out and trying to get an agent. She didn’t have to do that for me and I have always appreciated it.

Sarah Jessica Parker

What did you do after Footloose

I had a career of small and insignificant parts in film and television in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1994 I had the opportunity to work for Jack Valenti at the Motion Picture Association of America where I served on the Ratings Board—the 12-person panel that applies the ratings to more than 600 films per year. [When] our family moved to the East Coast in 1998, I did not have any association with the film industry for many years. 

Since moving back to Utah a few years ago, I have started acting again. I do mostly voice over work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I have [also] appeared in several commercials and film projects. My favorite is a little spot called “Going to Grandma’s,” which I had the pleasure of doing with my daughter and granddaughter.

Where do you live? 

Midway, Utah.

If you have children, how many and ages? 

We have two children and five grandchildren.

When was the last time you saw a member of the cast, and was it on purpose or by chance?  

Sarah Jessica Parker and I kept in touch via letter for a year or so after the film shoot. The last time I saw her was in Los Angeles at the party for the premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (Mel Gibson, Glenn Close; 1990). She was with Robert Downey Jr. at the time and we just exchanged a quick hello. Kim Jensen and I have remained friends and I see her several times a year.

When was the last time you watched Footloose? How did you think it held up? 

If I’m ever channel-surfing and I come across it I will stop and watch it for a bit. It’s always an odd feeling to be transported back to the summer of 1983 and have so many memories about filming each scene, but there is little to no evidence of me in the film.

Laura is in the lavender dress

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set? 

I have a number of photos. I think I wore my cast and crew Footloose sweatshirt and socks until I wore them out. They are long since gone.

How do you look back on your Footloose experience? 

Footloose was a fabulous experience for me. I was initially very disappointed that I was not cast, but working every day as a stand-in for a major motion picture taught me more about acting for film than anything I learned in college.

Kevin Bacon and his stand-in Blair Treu

If the experience changed your life in any way, how? 

Not long after arriving in Los Angeles, Bob Stone (First Assistant Director for Footloose) cast me in a national Ford truck commercial that he was directing, which then led to a McDonald’s commercial for me. Without Footloose I would never have gotten either.

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