Sissy Spacek - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Mary Elizabeth Spacek in Quitman, Texas, 25 December 1949. Education: Attended Quitman High School; Lee Strasberg Theatrical Institute, New York. Family: Married the art director Jack Fisk, 1974, one child. Career: Came to New York as a budding rock singer; did some work in commercials and as a background singer, late 1960s; worked as an extra in Warhol's Trash , 1970; had first film role in Prime Cut , 1972; won praise for her first important screen role in Badlands, 1973; worked with Jack Fisk as set decorator on Phantom of the Paradise , 1974; appeared in the TV mini-series Streets of Laredo , a sequel to Lonesome Dove, 1995. Awards: Best Actress, National Society of Film Critics, for Carrie , 1976; Best Supporting Actress, New York Film Critics, for Three Women , 1977; Best Actress Academy Award, Best Actress, New York Film Critics Circle, Best Actress, National Board of Review, Best Actress, National Society of Film Critics, Best Actress, Los Angeles Critics Association, and Best Motion Picture Actress—Musical/Comedy, Golden Globe, for Coal Miner's Daughter , 1980; Best Actress, New York Film Critics Circle, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture—Comedy/Drama, Golden Globe, for Crimes of the Heart , 1986. Agent: c/o Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:


Trash (Morrissey) (as extra)


Prime Cut (Ritchie) (as Poppy)


Ginger in the Morning (Wiles) (title role); Badlands (Malick) (as Holly Sargis); The Girls of Huntingdon House (Kjellin—for TV)

Sissy Spacek in Carrie
Sissy Spacek in Carrie


The Migrants (Gries—for TV) (as Wanda Trimpin)


Katherine (Kagan—for TV) (title role)


Carrie (De Palma) (title role)


Three Women (Altman) (as Pinky); Welcome to L.A. (Rudolph) (as the maid)


Verna—USO Girl (Maxwell—for TV) (title role)


Coal Miner's Daughter (Apted) (as Loretta Lynn); Heart Beat (Byrum) (as Carolyn Cassady)


Raggedy Man (Fisk) (as Nita Longley)


Missing (Costa-Gavras) (as Beth Horman)


The Man with Two Brains (Carl Reiner) (as voice of Ann Uumellmahaye)


The River (Rydell) (as Mae Garvey)


Marie (Donaldson) (title role)


'Night, Mother (Moore) (as Jessie Cates); Crimes of the Heart (Beresford) (as Babe Magrath); Violets Are Blue (Fisk) (as Gussie Sawyer)


The Long Walk Home (Pearce) (as Miriam Thompson)


JFK (Stone) (as Liz Garrison)


A Private Matter (Joan Micklin Silver—for TV); Hard Promises (Grant) (as Chris Coalter)


Trading Mom ( Mommy Market ) (Brelis—produced in 1992) (as Mommy/Mama/Mom/Natasha); A Place for Annie (for TV) (as Susan Lansing)


The Good Old Boys (Jones—for TV); The Grass Harp (Charles Matthau) (as Verena); Streets of Laredo (Sargent—mini for TV) (as Lorena Parker)


Thomas Jefferson: A View from the Mountain (as voice of Martha Jefferson); If These Walls Could Talk (Cher, Savoca—for TV) (as Barbara Barrows); Beyond the Call (Bill) (as Pam O'Brien)


Affliction (Schrader) (as Margie Fogg)


The Straight Story (Lynch) (as Rose); Blast from the Past (Wilson) (as Helen Thomas Webber); The Rage: Carrie 2 (Shea) (archive footage as Carrie White)

Other Films:


Phantom of the Paradise (De Palma) (set dresser)


Death Game ( The Seducers ) (Traynor) (art director)


On SPACEK: books—

Emerson, Mark, and Eugene E. Pfaff, Country Girl: The Life of Sissy Spacek , New York, 1988.

On SPACEK: articles—

Current Biography 1978 , New York, 1978.

Hibbin, S., "Sissy Spacek," in Films and Filming (London), April 1985.

Mills, N., "Big Sissy," in Stills (London), February 1986.

Houtchens, C. J., "The Country Girl," in Harper's Bazaar , January 1990.

Bandler, Michael J., "'I've Kinda Found My Rhythm'," in McCall's , February 1991.

Dowell, Pat, "Mettle of the Belle," in American Film (New York), vol. 16, no. 3, March 1991.

* * *

The Texas accent, which she has retained throughout her career, has allowed Sissy Spacek to play a variety of characters with Southern-American roots. But beyond this geographic similarity, she has been able to submerge her personality in various screen roles, instilling in them a genuine sincerity and bringing to them much subtlety and intelligence and an impressive emotional range. In the initial phase of her career she played victims: troubled teens and eccentrics, and characters who suffered much even after finding success. In her middle period, she was at her best as heroines, strong-willed women attempting to transcend obstacles as they carved out their lives or battled hypocrisy and bureaucracy. In her career's third period, she graduated to character roles.

Spacek's two best early-career roles are as adolescent outcasts, one a bored, brainlessly misguided teen who links up with a James Dean-obsessed killer in the cult classic Badlands , the other a deeply disturbed and repressed teen who comes to realize that she possesses telekinetic powers in Carrie . She is equally fine in Three Women playing Pinky, a strange, psychologically complex young woman who comes to work in a health care facility for senior citizens and forms a bond with a co-worker. In Coal Miner's Daughter , she won an Oscar playing the most solidly grounded of her early roles: Loretta Lynn, who emerged from a poverty-stricken life in the Kentucky coal fields to win fame as a country music legend. Still, Spacek's Loretta is a deeply vulnerable character. With her success comes feelings of self-doubt, which play themselves out in self-destructive behavior and an eventual on-stage breakdown.

Phase two of Spacek's career commences with Raggedy Man , in which she gives an energetic, naturalistic performance as a young divorcee attempting to establish a life for herself and her two children. She is equally effective in Missing , as a wife whose husband has mysteriously disappeared in a Latin American country; The River , as a Tennessee farm woman fighting to keep the family land out of the hands of bankers; and Marie , about a divorced mother who battles corruption in the Tennessee state government.

The next transformation of her career begins with ' Night, Mother (playing an unhappy, suicidal woman) and Crimes of the Heart (as the weirdest of three flaky Southern sisters), roles which are older variations of her early-career characterizations. Around this time, she also played a rare, strictly romantic lead in Violets Are Blue . Another, albeit different, character part came in The Long Walk Home , playing a proper, upper-class representative of traditional Southern womanhood who slowly has her consciousness raised in the pre-integration 1950s.

In the 1990s, Spacek began appearing more frequently in prestige television movies. And she played her first nonglamorous middle-aged screen character in The Grass Harp , cast as a haughty, close-minded businesswoman in a small pre-World War II Southern town who is most concerned with making money and owning people. Her character (who is closer in appearance to Edna May Oliver than any freckle-faced ingenue or determined heroine) is contrasted to her gentle-souled sister (Piper Laurie). Both Spacek and Laurie offer award-caliber performances. (Ironically, almost two decades earlier, Laurie had been cast in Carrie as Spacek's religious-fanatic mother.)

The late 1990s found Spacek on-screen strictly in character supporting roles. In Affliction, she is Nick Nolte's girlfriend, but is overshadowed by the riveting presences of Nolte and James Coburn. She fares better in The Straight Story as Richard Farnsworth's speech-impaired live-in daughter, and gives a sharp, scene-stealing comic performance in Blast from the Past as Brendan Fraser's loopy, kitchen-puttering mother, a 1960s homemaker who spends 35 years underground in a bomb shelter.

During this period, Spacek has been severely under-used on screen. Nonetheless, she has not lost an iota of her talent.

—Rob Edelman

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