Sissy Spacek photographed by Lynne Brubaker
Being humble despite tremendous talent, dismissing disposable glamour for genuine character and unflinching dedication to her craft, having tenacity in an industry that can prop you up or make you come crashing down, eschewing Hollywood for farm life in Virginia, maintaining a low profile in the media despite forming a famous couple with production designer and director Jack Fisk (they have been married since 1974), valuing and protecting her privacy thus making the public respect it too. The well she draws from, for staying grounded and for honing her craft, is the real life. She has been a tomboy all her life and she had to come to terms with her first daughter wanting to paint her room pink. Sissy Spacek is my role model.
Through a career that took her from Texas small town Quitman to New York City and to the 1970s Hollywood, Sissy Spacek’s performing art has established her as a trailblazer in the world of film. She began as a singer in 1967, when she arrived in New York, but being a musician was not to be for her. As life would have it, after pursuing acting instead, she would win the Oscar and be nominated for a Grammy for impersonating the country music singer Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), followed by the release of her own country album, “Hangin’ Up My Heart”. Sissy’s impressive filmography includes Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), Brian de Palma’s Carrie (1976), Robert Altman’s 3 Women (1977), Costas Gavras’ The Missing (1982), Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) and David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999). She has never looked for stardom, she just did the work that she loved. Fearlessly.
I have just read Sissy Spacek’s autobiography, “My Extraordinary Ordinary Life”. A great title for a great book, for a great person, for a great woman, for a great actor. Heartfelt, real, honest. It’s a book about real life, and it is about dreams, too, and about pursuing them, because what is life without dreams? I have taken it to heart, because it has much resonated with me. A happy childhood growing up with two older brothers and incredible parents, never straying from the deep roots that shaped her, transforming tragedy into bettering herself, going after what she loved, the thrill of being part of an actors’ generation that changed cinema but never changed who she truly was, raising a close-knit family, putting a smile on it. That’s life.
“I can’t imagine having a childhood without being left on your own some time and being able to have some freedom. Jumping horses, riding bicycles and skateboards, and climbing trees all involve taking some risks, but how else can you know what you’re made of if you’re never allowed to test yourself?”
“All the things that are important to me, I had before I left that little town. My values were formed in a community where material possessions didn’t count for much, relationships were everything, and where waiting for something you wanted could actually be better than having it.”
“From then on I would trust my own instincts about people and their rules. If I always did what was expected, I might miss out on the most wonderful things in life.”
“Nothing I accomplished would be worth salt if I lost track of who I really was.”
“To be an actor, you have to live a life. If you want your work to be real, you have to be a real person yourself.”
“Nothing has ever really matched the magic of discovery we all felt that summer in the Colorado desert, when we learned how a film could be a living, breathing, collaborative work of art.”
“I prefer black suits and reasonable heels. I always want to be ready to run if I need to.”
“My mother encouraged me to enjoy the beautiful things that surround me, not just put them up on a shelf to admire or hide them away in a drawer, and that’s just what I do. I use things up, wear my favorite clothes until they have holes, put the good rugs on the floor in the hallway, and stir my coffee with Big Mama’s silver spoons.”
“There are valuable lessons everywhere, if you are willing to receive them.”
More film reading and life stories: Ennio Morricone in His Own Words / Life Lessons from Abbas Kiarostami / Lubitsch Can’t Wait