Behind the Camera On COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER
The production was based in Wise, Virginia, about 70 miles south of the real Butcher Hollow. Cast and crew stayed in a historic hotel called the Wise Inn.
Levon Helm took over the bar in the hotel's basement practically every night, gathering musicians and singers to play the music of the area.
The concert scenes were filmed in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.
Sissy Spacek and Beverly D'Angelo did all their own singing as Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Spacek had insisted on singing the songs herself, and Lynn agreed. Director Michael Apted wanted her to sing all her songs live to capture the realism of concert performance.
Spacek was with Loretta Lynn on and off for a year, joining her on tour and staying at her home in order to study Lynn thoroughly, mostly for her speech patterns and singing style. Lynn said Spacek picked up her singing very fast, and when the two sang together on the Grand Ole Opry stage, people couldn't easily tell which one was singing at any given time.
Once Spacek got Lynn down pat, she stayed in character throughout the shoot, even off camera. People visiting the set thought she actually talked that way in real life.
Spacek studied with the legendary producer Owen Bradley, who had cut records for Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, and other country greats. Bradley also supervised the songs in the movie and produced the soundtrack album.
Loretta Lynn said Tommy Lee Jones went to meet her husband with his hair dyed red to match Doolittle's youthful color, but Mr. Lynn did not warm to him or help him out. "He was jealous of him," she said, noting that it wasn't until Doo had to teach Tommy Lee to drive a tractor that he began to thaw. Eventually, as Loretta put it, "Doo ended up falling in love with Tommy Lee." Doo also showed Jones how to get the most speed out of the old World War II jeep he drove in the film.
Spacek expected fellow Texan Tommy Lee Jones to be a good old boy but soon learned he was a sophisticated Harvard graduate. "I can honestly say he's always the smartest person in the room," she wrote in her autobiography. "Tommy Lee had great instincts about the film. ... He elevated my performance in every way."
Spacek also had high praise for Levon Helm, a musician acting for the first time on film. "He knew that character in his bones, and his portrayal has such dignity and grace that it literally anchors the film."
During the filming of Loretta's father's funeral, Levon Helm did not want to lie in the coffin as directed by Michael Apted. To ease Helm's anxiety, Apted got into the casket himself and did a few run-throughs.
In the funeral scene, everybody was supposed to be singing "Amazing Grace" around the body of Loretta's father. In the middle of the take, Levon Helm sat bolt upright in the coffin insisting they were singing it wrong. He told them it had to be done in the old call-and-response style. Luckily, Phyllis Boyens, who played Loretta's mother, had her father on set. Nimrod Workman was a well-known singer, coal miner, and activist, and it is he who we hear calling out the lines while the others sing them after him.br>
Spacek said Michael Apted and cinematographer Ralf Bode would watch the actors rehearse a scene and design the shot around them, rather than having the shots planned out in advance and directing the actors to conform to the visual plan. "Michael Apted trusted his actors," she said. "It felt extraordinary--even revolutionary."
Spacek also praised Apted and his design team for the high degree of authenticity they lent to the story without falling into the cliché of portraying "hillbillies" living in squalor. "The costumes were perfect, and the sets were exquisitely accurate, from the corn cribs in the back of Loretta's home to the newspapers used for wallpaper inside the cabin to keep out the drafts," she later wrote.
By Rob Nixon