Sissy Spacek/QUITMAN - When Sissy Spacek read the script for Carrie (1976), she understood the part: she vividly remembered a poor girl at her school in Quitman, Texas, who lived in a shack and was ostracized by the popular kids. For the audition, Spacek - whose proper name is Mary Elizabeth - donned an old blue sailor dress her mother had forced her to wear to a seventh-grade party, and she matted her long strawberry-blond hair with Vaseline. She spoke to no one and disappeared inside herself, focusing solely on the character of the high-school outcast who possesses psychokinetic powers. Director Brian De Palma, who wanted another actress for the part, had an instant change of heart.
Spacek doesn't live in Texas anymore, but she will always claim it as her home, and she makes a point to visit her hometown of 1,700, midway between Dallas and the Louisiana border, whenever she can. Her father, Ed, a widower since 1981, still lives there, along with other relatives; and she has kinfolk in Central Texas, too.
"My husband laughs and says whenever I get anywhere near Texas, my accent thickens, and I begin to feel very safe," she says.
In 1980, Spacek won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in the film Coal Miner's Daughter. She has been an Oscar nominee for her work in several other films, including Carrie and most recently, In the Bedroom (2001), in which she gives a wrenching performance as a tightly wound wife and mother struck by tragedy.
Spacek has made a career of playing ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. She grew up happy and normal, the daughter of the county agricultural agent, cruising the Dairy Queen, participating in the 4-H, vying for Dogwood Queen (she came in second), taking guitar lessons, and serving as homecoming queen. She left home at 17--after her older brother Robbie died of leukemia--and tried her luck in New York, where her cousin, actor Rip Torn, lived with his wife, actress Geraldine Page. Spacek was seduced by the lives they led, and though her original goal was to be a singer, she wound up pursuing acting until she landed parts in first Prime Cut, then Badlands and Carrie. Her other big films have included Raggedy Man, The River, Marie, Crimes of the Heart, and Night Mother. She has done a string of TV movies in recent years.
Spacek, who was recently inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame - the honors having been conferred by cousin Rip Torn - is a recluse by Hollywood standards. Married to the film director Jack Fisk, she lives with him and their two daughters, Shuyler and Madison, on a 210-acre horse ranch in Albemarle County, VA, preferring a rural oasis where she's known mainly as "Schuyler and Madison's mom."