Simply Sissy

Sissy Spacek "In The Bedroom" AP/MIRAMAX

When CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver met Sissy Spacek, she had a burning question: Where did she get the name "Sissy"?

Spacek's reply: "Everybody from Texas is named Sissy or Bubba… I had two older brothers, and my real name is Mary Elizabeth, which my mother called me for years, and I was their little Sissy, so…it stuck."

And when you see 52-year-old Sissy Spacek in person, she still looks like somebody's fresh-faced kid sister, a far cry from the dowdy, matronly woman she plays in her new film, "In the Bedroom."

For her portrayal of Ruth, a mother who disapproves of her son's new girlfriend, Spacek has drawn rave reviews and two major awards so far: a New York Film Critic's prize and the American Film Institute's award.

It's not a part that people would naturally associate with Sissy Spacek.

"No, not at all," Spacek concedes. "She is a little bit like Lady Macbeth. But I thought, because I have to like all my characters and care about them and understand them, I felt like if she did control or manipulate, it was by the high expectations that she had for her son."

Spacek understands all about high expectations. She had them when she left the tiny town of Quitman, Texas, to seek her fortune in New York. She was just 17, but she had the full moral support of her parents.

Recalls Spacek, "I remember my mother saying, 'Oh, honey, as soon as you meet someone who realizes how talented you are, you'll be home free.' It was just blind faith."

It happened almost that fast. She was spotted by director Terrence Malik, who cast her in "Badlands" as a teen-ager on the run with a murderous Martin Sheen.

Then came "Carrie," the role that made her famous. But she almost didn't get the part. Director Brian DiPalma told her not to bother about the final audition. And that made Spacek mad. So when she went in for the final test, she took a different approach.

"You know how you feel in the morning when you wake up and you don't brush your teeth or wash your face? That's basically how I went to the screen test."

It worked. She got the part -- and her first Oscar nomination -- for playing the nerdy high school student who is humiliated at the prom and takes revenge by setting the place on fire.

At least one writer has offered the opinion that Spacek's looks might not have worked these days. She just came along at a particular moment.

"I know I came along at just the right minute," she says. "I think I've always felt that (the) '70s -- which was a real new and different era -- it was the anti-glamour. It was all about legitimacy…and …and… I don't know what it was about!" she concludes with a laugh. "A great time!"

And that anti-glamour style finally got her an Oscar, playing country singer Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter."

She and Lynn are close friends now. But at first, Spacek didn't think she wanted the part. She also didn't like the fact that Lynn kept mentioning her for the role on television:

"And every time she was on, she'd be talking about the movie, and she's say, 'Little Sissy Spacek, she's gonna play me." And I'd be watching and think, 'I am not.'"

But all that changed the first time she met Loretta Lynn. She was dazzled by her presence.

"And I was there to tell her why I couldn't do this film, and I was stricken…and at that moment, I was so desperate to make that movie and to try to be her… I could hardly even speak."

There were more Oscar nominations: for "Missing" with Jack Lemmon; "The River" with Mel Gibson, and "Crimes of the Heart" with Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange.

She says Oscar nominations never become mundane.

"After your first nomination, it changes your entire career, because it gives you credibility," she explains. "And it's daunting… With that, comes responsibility – and sheer terror."

The fear is that she will not be able to live up to the next thing. But by the mid-1980s, Spacek decided that the next thing for her would be to abandon Hollywood for life in the Virginia hunt country.

"It's beautiful here," she explains. "It's a rural area, and we wanted to raise our children in the country."

She has frequently left to do films. But when you see her and her husband, Jack Flint, watching their younger daughter, Madison, ride horses with a friend, it's easy to understand why they live there, even though Jack still works in the movies, too, as a set designer. He and Sissy met while making "Badlands."

Growing up in Virginia did not keep their older daughter, Schuyler, out of the family business. She's an actress.

One of the things that we always hear is that as actresses get to be a little older, they do not get the offers of work that they once got. Does Spacek feel that happened to her?

"Oh, absolutely," she replies. "I think that's true for everybody, because, you know – and it's nothing that all us over-40ers should take personal – it's a youth-oriented industry."

Does it make her mad when she sees people like Robert Redford or Sean Connery or other actors playing against actresses who are half their age?

"No, it doesn't make me made. It makes me laugh a little," says the actress. "But hey! More power to 'em!"

Spacek may have the last laugh, because her performance in "In the Bedroom" is generating lots of Oscar buzz. And it doesn't bother her one bit that it's for playing the role of an older woman.

"Well, it's wonderful. What if I were still getting the same kind of part?" she says, adding, "I mean, all of life is a trip. It's the journey. And I don't want to skip anything."


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  • Ellen Crean

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