SIFF honored Sissy Spacek with their Outstanding Achievement in Acting Award and held a tribute evening in her honor at their Uptown Theater on June 8. Time critic Richard Corliss led the nearly two hour Q & A with Spacek, covering everything from her upbringing in Texas to what she grows on her farm in Virginia. “Grass,” she said, but “not that kind of grass!” Highlights from their conversation are below: she talked about falling in love during Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,” early resistance to playing her Oscar-winning role in “Coal Miner’s Daugther,” working with Tom Wilkinson in “In The Bedroom,” getting buried alive for “Carrie” (and the upcoming remake) and how the industry has changed.
“Badlands” was obviously a monumental experience in her life, but not just for her career. It was where she met and fall in love with her husband, Jack Fisk, Terrence Malick’s long-time art director/production designer. Fisk filled the “Badlands” set (with attention to realistic detail) — closets full of real clothes, drawers full of items, books in the shelves from her childhood. Their love story sounds like its own Malick film. On that set, Spacek said, “It felt like we were the center of the universe.” She recalls reading with dozens of actors after being cast in the film (which she firmly credits to her Texan upbringing being so similar to Malick’s; her childhood was like “The Tree of Life” sans Brad Pitt). The director told her that Martin Sheen was being given the chance to audition because of a favor owed to person pitching him. After Spacek did scenes the exact same way with other actors, it was a totally new experience with Sheen. Both she and Malick were then as giddy as school children.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” She didn’t want to play Loretta Lynn, convinced that she was in control of her destiny and needed to get away from doing country roles. “What a fool,” she admitted. Lynn herself wanted Spacek, but when she found out the director didn’t want her for the role, that’s when Spacek changed her mind. “I’m very simple.” (The adage “you always want what you can’t have” came up a few times during the conversation.) Once Spacek was game, so was the studio (Universal), so they got a new director — Michael Apted. Spacek sang all the songs herself and won her Oscar for the role. She and Lynn are still very close and see each other “as often as possible.” Lynn says that they are “godsisters.”
“When you win an Academy Award you become a member of a very exclusive club,” Spacek said. The distinguishing feature: “You can get a film financed.”
The Industry “You used to be able to have a little fun,” but now you can’t do anything without getting caught, Spacek said. It was the glory days for actors when she was in her heydey. Her peers were Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange — but she says she didn’t feel competition with them because “we all got the films that were right for us,” the ones that “belonged” to each of them. Streep is “the greatest actor that ever lived,” and laughed at the idea of being compared to her.
“If it works, it’s a miracle,” she said of the hurdle of getting a film made and launched successfully, adding that things are much harder for actors these days. After one film, actresses are pounced on and aren’t given any time to let their careers grow naturally or to reflect on what they’ve done. Her favorite young actress today? Jessica Chastain.
“In The Bedroom” She spoke highly of co-star Tom Wilkinson, who has “deep reservoirs of power” as an actor. She recalled doing takes with him where she would become exhausted and lose her voice, while he could continue for days. “Actors don’t work alone,” she said, “my performance has everything to do with the other actors in the scene, the director and the cinematographer.”
My favorite moment: Spacek compared acting in a scene to catching a train. You get ready by running alongside the train tracks (preparing as much as you can for the scene), she said, accelerating as the train approaches, and then hopefully when it gets there you can just hop on and ride it. If you’re lucky, it works and if not…well, you get killed. She laughed.
“Carrie” & the Remake “I’ll be interested to see it,” she said, but noted that the remake (with Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore) will return to the original source material (Stephen King’s novel), not the 1976 classic with Brian De Palma. She did her own stunts, including getting buried for the final scene. The famous bucket-of-blood scene took over a week to shoot, but the actual blood dumping was done in two takes.
After the lovely evening with Spacek I was able to finish screening Mathieu Kassovitz’s “Rebellion,” which I started on my flight to Seattle. The French entry debuted at Toronto and played SIFF earlier in the festival. Kassovitz stars and adapted the screenplay from Captain Philippe Legorjus’ memoirs about his counter-terrorism attempts during the 1988 New Caledonia (French territory) hostage crisis during the presidential campaign between Francois Mitterand and Jacques Chirac. It’s a docu-drama with a complex plot, but ultimately an immersive look at personal and national pride, morality and wartime politics. The cinematography in “Rebellion” is stunning, its long takes impressive. Like Kassovitz’s “La Haine” (1995), “Rebellion” left me shaken and impressed. I’m sad I missed it playing on the big screen.
I did attend a screening of Drew Denny’s semi-autobiographical “The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With My Pants On.” Don’t be misled by the title. Beautifully shot, this road movie tracks a woman (Denny) from California to Texas as she follows her father’s wish to spread his ashes at various locations. It’s whimsical, happy and sad, with stylish photography taking precedence over narrative. At the Q & A following the film, Denny spoke of how difficult it is to let such a personal work find its own life. She’s soldiering on with her next project (about her mother), and feels the festival experience has helped her to thicken her skin.
After the tribute dinner for Spacek and William Friedkin I headed to see “The Exorcist” for the first time. My fears of being terrified by it were silly. I can see why it’s classic horror, but my skin is thicker than I thought. I slept like a baby.