This article is about the actress. For the band called Sissy Spacek, see John Wiese.
Sissy Spacek (born Mary Elizabeth Spacek, December 25, 1949) is an American actress and singer. She came to international prominence for her roles as Holly Sargis in Terrence Malick's film Badlands (1973) and as Carrie White in Brian De Palma's horror film Carrie (1976, based on the first novel by Stephen King), for which she earned her first Academy Award nomination. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as country star Loretta Lynn in the film Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) and received Oscar nominations for her roles in Missing (1982), The River (1984), Crimes of the Heart (1986), and In the Bedroom (2001).
Spacek was born on December 25, 1949, in Quitman, Texas. She is the daughter of Virginia Frances (née Spilman) and Edwin Arnold Spacek, Sr., a county agricultural agent. Spacek's father was of three quarters Czech (Moravian) and one quarter German ancestry; her paternal grandparents were Mary (Cervenka) and Arnold A. Spacek (who served as Mayor of Granger, Texas in Williamson County). Her mother, of Polish-English and Irish descent, was from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
Spacek was greatly affected by the death of her eighteen-year-old brother, Robbie, in 1967, which she has called "the defining event of my whole life."
1970s and beginning of acting career:
Spacek worked for a time as photographic model and as an extra at Andy Warhol's Factory. She appeared in a non-credited role in his film Trash (1970). With the help of Rip Torn, she enrolled in Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio and then the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York. Her first credited role was in the cult classic Prime Cut (1972), in which she played Poppy, a girl sold into sexual slavery. The role led to television work, which included a guest role in The Waltons, which she played twice in 1973. Spacek received international attention after starring in Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973), in which she played Holly, the film's narrator and a 15-year old girlfriend of mass-murderer Kit (Martin Sheen). Spacek has described Badlands as the "most incredible" experience of her career. On the set of Badlands, Spacek met art director Jack Fisk, whom she married.
Spacek's iconic and career-defining role came in Brian De Palma's film Carrie (1976), in which she played Carietta "Carrie" White, a shy, troubled high school senior with telekinetic powers. Spacek had to work hard to persuade director de Palma to engage her for the role. After rubbing Vaseline into her hair and donning an old sailor dress her mother made for her as a child, Spacek turned up at the audition with the odds against her, but won the part. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in the film. Spacek had previously been the set dresser for DePalma's film Phantom of the Paradise (1974).
After Carrie, Spacek played the small role of housekeeper Linda Murray in Alan Rudolph's ensemble piece Welcome to LA (1976) and cemented her reputation in independent cinema with her performance as Pinky Rose in Robert Altman's classic 3 Women (1977). Altman was deeply impressed by her performance, having stated: "She's remarkable, one of the top actresses I've ever worked with. Her resources are like a deep well." Brian de Palma added: "Spacek is a phantom. She has this mysterious way of slipping into a part, letting it take over her. She's got a wider range than any young actress I know." Spacek also helped finance then-brother-in-law David Lynch's directorial debut, Eraserhead (1976) and is thanked in the credits of the film.
1980s and Oscar win:
Spacek began the 1980s with an Oscar in 1980 for Coal Miner's Daughter (1980), in which she played country music star Loretta Lynn, who selected her for the role. In the film, both she and Beverly D'Angelo, who played Patsy Cline, performed their own singing. Film critic Roger Ebert has credited the movie's success "to the performance by Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn. With the same sort of magical chemistry she's shown before, when she played the high school kid in Carrie, Spacek at 29 has the ability to appear to be almost any age on screen. Here, she ages from about 14 to somewhere in her 30s, always looks the age, and never seems to be wearing makeup." Spacek also was nominated for a Grammy Award for her singing on the film's soundtrack album. She followed this with her own country album, Hangin' Up My Heart (1983); the album spawned one hit single, "Lonely But Only For You", a song written by K. T. Oslin, which reached No. 15 on the Billboard Country chart.
In the film Heart Beat (1980), Spacek played Carolyn Cassady, who slipped (under the influence of John Heard's Jack Kerouac and Nick Nolte's Neal Cassady) into a combination of drudgery and debauchery.
Also in the 1980s, Spacek starred alongside Jack Lemmon in Constantin Costa-Gavras's political thriller Missing (1982, based on the book The Execution of Charles Horman) and appeared with Mel Gibson in the rural drama The River (1984), and with Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange in 1986's Crimes of the Heart (1986). She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for all of these roles. Other performances of the decade included star turns in husband Jack Fisk's directorial debut Raggedy Man (1981) and alongside Anne Bancroft in the suicide-themed drama 'night, Mother (1986). Spacek also showed her lighter side by voicing the brain in the Steve Martin comedy The Man with Two Brains (1983).
In the 1990s Spacek slowly come back to Hollywood after her self-imposed hiatus. She had a supporting role as the wife of Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) in Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) and made a number of comedies, TV movies, and the occasional film. Most notable of her appearances during these years was her turn as the evil Verena Talbo in the ensemble piece The Grass Harp (1995), which reunited her with both Laurie and Lemmon, as well as a supporting performance, again alongside Nick Nolte, as the waitress Margie Fogg in Paul Schrader's father-son psychodrama Affliction (1997). She also played Rose Straight in David Lynch's The Straight Story (1999).
In 2001, she was again nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, for her work in Todd Field's In the Bedroom (2001).The New York Times film critic Stephen Holden said of her work in the film: "Ms. Spacek's performance is as devastating as it is unflashy. With the slight tightening of her neck muscles and a downward twitch of her mouth, she conveys her character's relentlessness, then balances it with enough sweetness to make Ruth seem entirely human. It is one of Ms. Spacek's greatest performances." Her performance as Ruth Fowler, a grieving mother consumed by revenge, won extraordinary praise and garnered the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress as well as the Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress, Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama, and Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead, among many others.
Other performances of this decade include unfaithful wife Ruth in Rodrigo García's Nine Lives (2005) and a turn as a woman suffering from Alzheimer's in the television movie Pictures of Hollis Woods (2007). In 2008, Spacek had a supporting part in the Christmas comedy Four Christmases and a lead role in the independent drama, Lake City. Spacek appeared on the HBO drama Big Love, for a multi-episode arc, as a powerful Washington, D.C. lobbyist.
In 2005, she narrated the audiobook of the original Carrie novel by Stephen King and, in 2006, she narrated the classic Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), which sold over 30 million copies. In 2011, she received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Spacek was featured in The Help (2011), directed by Tate Taylor, and along with the cast, was awarded with the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for their performance in the film.
In 2012, Spacek published a memoir, My Extraordinary Ordinary Life, with co-author Maryanne Vollers.The Washington Post's Jen Chaney called it "refreshingly down-to-earth" and "beautifully written". She also mentioned that Spacek's description of her childhood is so "evocative that one can almost taste the sour stalks of goatweed she chewed on steamy summer afternoons". Jay Stafford of Richmond Times-Dispatch pointed out that, unlike other actors' autobiographies, Spacek's "benefits from good writing and remarkable frankness".The Austin Chronicle's Margaret Moser stated that Spacek's memoir is "as easy to read as it is a pleasure to digest". Joe Muscolino of the Biographile gave the book a 5 out of 5 rating, saying that it "does not disappoint".Kirkus Reviews, however, was less appreciative of the book, calling it "an average memoir" and "overly detailed", while criticizing its lack of "narrative arc", but complimented Spacek for being "truly down-to-earth". It further criticized that "the book is 'ordinary' and does not have enough drama to engage readers not directly interested in Spacek and her work", and ended by saying that it's "for die-hard movie buffs and Spacek fans only".
Spacek married production designer and art director Jack Fisk in 1974, after they met on the set of Badlands. Fisk later directed her in the films Raggedy Man (1981) and Violets Are Blue (1986). They have two daughters, Schuyler Fisk (born July 8, 1982) and Madison Fisk (born September 21, 1988).
Film and TV credits
Women in Revolt
Girl extra at bar
The Girls of Huntington House
Sarah Jane Simmonds
Ginger in the Morning
TV movie (a.k.a. The Radical),
Based loosely on the life of the late Weather Underground member, Diana Oughton
Welcome to L.A.
Verna: U.S.O. Girl
Coal Miner's Daughter
The Man with Two Brains
Terror in the Aisles
Violets Are Blue
Augusta 'Gussie' Sawyer
Crimes of the Heart
Babe Magrath Botrelle
The Long Walk Home
Christine Ann Coalter
A Private Matter
A Place for Annie
Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie
Also known as The Mommy Market
The Good Old Boys
The Grass Harp
Streets of Laredo
Beyond the Call
If These Walls Could Talk
TV movie; segment: "1974"
Blast from the Past
Helen Thomas Webber
The Straight Story
Rose 'Rosie' Straight
Songs in Ordinary Time
In the Bedroom
TV movie (also known as Fitzgerald)
A Home at the End of the World
The Ring Two
An American Haunting
Summer Running: The Race to Cure Breast Cancer
Mrs. Flora Good
Pictures of Hollis Woods
Paula (Brad's Mom)
Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license