Robert De Niro’s Max Cady is one scary guy. And it’s no accident. To turn Cape Fear‘s psycho into one of the most chilling villains ever to haunt the screen, the always methodical De Niro studied dozens of videotapes of prisoners incarcerated in the South, shot by a researcher for the production, before picking a role model for the character. ”He was trying to determine which one most resembled his concept of Cady,” says De Niro’s dialect coach for the film, Sam Chwat, 38, who has worked with an impressive list of actors, including Julia Roberts, Paulina Porizkova, and Charles Durning. ”He kept coming back to this one guy.” Though Chwat didn’t know the prisoner’s identity, he says the convict, in his late 20s, apparently tattooless, had committed a ”horrible assault” and was ”self-possessed, intelligent, judgmental, with a strong air of personal conviction.”
Chwat then helped the actor learn to speak with the prisoner’s Appalachian twang. ”I” became ”ah” and ”r” became hard and forced as in, ”Come out, come out, wherever you are.” De Niro’s semantic study included two- to three-hour sessions four or five days a week during the two months prior to filming. After about three weeks the actor started leaving phone messages in his character’s drawl. Not exactly the voice that would inspire return phone calls.