SISSY SPACEK DESCRIBES WHAT SHE WAS SEEING AS SHE ACTED THE SHOWER SCENE IN 'CARRIE'
I know we've heard this story before, but a couple of added descriptive details in the telling here, as Independent's Adam White interviews Sissy Spacek:
She talks of her career a bit like she’s the Carrie of it all – more or less a bystander, always lurking on the sidelines studying the actions of others. “I had the great fortune to come into contact with people who were really amazing artists,” she explains. “When I met Terrence Malick for Badlands, that’s when I understood that film could be an art form. It’s not just actors on a screen.”
It was while working on Badlands that Spacek met Fisk, and subsequently his best friend David Lynch. Decades later, Lynch would cast Spacek in one of his less head-spinning films, the 1999 road movie The Straight Story. Her casting in it seems appropriate: she plays a kind-hearted woman who can’t help but see the world at its most pure. Spacek sees herself as being very different from Lynch and her husband. “They live the art life,” she says. “Jack knew David as an artist in the eighth grade – they were the only two people they met that wanted to be artists. It’s truly a way of thinking, and I’m certainly not the artist that either one of them are.”
It’s funny, though, that she sees herself as somehow lesser, I tell her. Because she is an artist, too, surely? She mouths a quiet “Thank you.” I confess to having spent a few days listening to a largely forgotten country album she released in 1983 – yet another string to her creative bow – called Hangin’ Up My Heart. It feels of a piece with the release of Coal Miner’s Daughter three years earlier, but she never seems to talk about it – was it a good experience?
“Oh, yes!” She lights up, her hands at the sides of her face almost in disbelief. “I got to work with people that I idolised!” Her voice drops to a whisper again. “Rodney Crowell… JD Souther… Emmylou Harris… Rosanne Cash. God, the list goes on, and all because of playing Loretta Lynn. My dream of all dreams was to make music with these musicians who are far better than me. Far better! And they sang on my record. It was the most fabulous thing.”
And with that, I realise that Spacek has spent much of her interview talking about other people. She has an impressive ability to pivot any answer away from herself. It doesn’t feel like deflection, though; more like inherent awe – as if she’s heard a delicious secret, and wants to let you in on it, too. I ask her if she’s naturally quite a modest person.
“I must be. I guess so. I… I know really great artists,” she says, emphasising the “really” like she’s revving up a car engine. “And so much of my success has been because I’ve been at the right place at the right time. I met Terry Malick, and then went from that to… you know, I kind of represented the young everywoman of the Seventies, and then one thing led to another. There are people who are far more talented than me… so many great artists out there who don’t ever get the break.”
She thinks back to David Lynch, and his years of struggle before hitting it big. “He was a painter and a filmmaker, and when he was working on [his first film] Eraserhead we’d go over to his house and he’d have made these sculptures out of piles of dirt, just with a twig in it. He’d do it all for the right reasons – because it was in him and it had to come out. God, did it ever pay off. He’s just a great, funny, talented guy and my husband’s best friend. So I get to rub elbows with him.”
I’m curious where her bravery comes from, in spite of her own tendency to downplay herself. I think back to the opening sequence of Carrie, in which Spacek’s character is in the showers of her high school gym and gets her first period. She has no idea what is happening to her, and shrieks with horror while her classmates heckle and pelt her with tampons. “Oh God,” Spacek says, biting her lip. “It was terrifying. I’m also very shy, and I’m an introvert.” Not a great combination for someone playing that scene. She had no idea how to approach it. “I went to [director] Brian De Palma and said: ‘Tell me about this scene, what is it like?’ And he turns to me and he says: ‘It’s like getting hit by a Mack truck.’” (Basically a massive lorry, for any non-American readers.)
She asked for advice from her husband, who she discovered – funnily enough – had once been run over by a car. Not a Mack truck, per se, but it’d do. “So in that scene, what’s going on in my head is [Jack] walking along the side of the road when he was about 11 or 12. It’s snowing, and he’s looking at Christmas lights. And then he saw car lights. There was a car coming down the road right at him, and it ran him over. So, when Carrie’s in the shower, I’m seeing those Christmas lights, and then the horror of the blood…” Spacek holds her hands aloft and unsteady, just like in the movie. “Ain’t it bizarre that something like that could work?”