Sissy Spacek still radiates youth and innocence when she enters a room.
In May, Spacek’s Bloodline, a well-received Netflix drama, wrapped up after three seasons. She’s now filming Castle Rock, Hulu’s ten-episode series based on the characters of Stephen King.
I met Spacek at last year’s Florida Film Festival, which she’d attended on the occasion of a screening of Badlands. Spacek reflected on working with “real” artists from Malick to Lynch to Altman, and also looked back on the one long learning experience that’s been her career.
The Rumpus: Besides Malick, you’ve worked with Andy Warhol (Trash), Brian De Palma (Carrie) and Robert Altman (3 Women). This was all before you turned thirty. How did this affect your career? What was it like being so young and working with such great filmmakers?
Sissy Spacek: I was lucky to work with Terrence Malick. It was his first film and it was where I met my husband Jack, who was the production designer on the film. And, of course, Martin Sheen. Jack Fisk became my husband after that. Jack was a real artist and best friends with David Lynch. And so he approached filmmaking as an artist—and that’s how Terrence Malick approaches film. And David Lynch. And Brian De Palma. And Robert Altman. They’re artists.
It was a beautiful time in the 70s. And I was really fortunate because I was untrained, and I got to ride the wave of that creative film thing that was happening during the 70s. I think it’s because I represented every woman. Because I did Badlands, I then had more opportunities to work with these young directors. But we were all filming kind of under-the-radar then. They were low-budget films. Nobody really cared about them. If they didn’t work, nobody lost much. So all those things were conducive for some really wonderful films.
Rumpus: Did you realize at the time that you were making history, or were you just focused from film to film?
Spacek: No, I was just having the time of my life. I wasn’t thinking about being a star. I didn’t consider myself a real actor. I was just working with all these other people who were doing it for the love of the work. And no, we didn’t think for a second think that we were making history. I remember thinking that if Terry had asked me to jump off the roof and fly, that I probably would have because we were just so into it. And it was all so important. And we didn’t have much money and so we had to be—you know, when you don’t have a big budget, you have to really be creative. And it was just a special. It was like being—what was it Mickey Rooney said?—“We’re gonna put on a show!” It was kind of like that.
We were completely involved. On Badlands we shot until we ran out of money. My little dressing room, my trailer, became the honey wagon, the catering truck, everyone’s dressing room—it was everything. It just proves that if someone is a leader, like Terrence, if they have a vision and can get everyone onboard, then it’s a very collaborative thing.
Rumpus: Did this spoil you for other projects later? I mean, did you find yourself pickier because you’d already worked with such great people right at the start?
Spacek: It really never had anything to do with the size of the budget for me. It was always about the director. Film is a director’s medium. That was what I based my decisions on. And I really loved working with writer-directors. Jack and I worked on a lot of those films together; Badlands, and then he went on to Days of Heaven. We worked on Carrie and The Straight Story. I knew David and was involved in Eraserhead because Jack and David met in eighth grade. And they grew up together, had an art studio together, painted together—went to LA together! So I became better because of the people I worked with early on, and I learned from them.
Rumpus: Were these all great experiences, though? Anything you would have done differently maybe, or not taken on?
Spacek: I learned from each director because every director has a different approach. And so you don’t go in and do the same thing. When you work with someone it’s a collaboration, and they bring out—depending on who they are and how they work—different things in you, and the process changes every time. So the directors I worked with had an enormous effect on my work. And you know, my husband did production, and was involved in designing sets, so I became aware early on that it takes a village. By the time the actors come in, everything is kinda done. So I got to be aware of all that went on, and that was a great help. I realized that I wasn’t just a star walking on a set—there had been hundreds of people to get things ready for me.