- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Sissy Spacek owes some of her success to an old junior-high dress and gobs of Vaseline she streaked in her hair to create one remarkably scary character for her screen test on "Carrie."
She has an Oscar, five nominations and a sixth likely to come for her new movie "In the Bedroom." At 51, an age when many actresses are lucky to find work, Miss Spacek continues to land roles with depth and complexity.
Yet her campaign to become Carrie, a wallflower whose telekinetic powers lead to bloody revenge, set her career in motion.
Miss Spacek, who previously worked as a set decorator for "Carrie" director Brian De Palma, sensed she was not a favorite for the part, she said in an interview.
Then she landed a TV commercial on the same day as her screen test for the 1976 horror smash.
"I called Brian to say, 'I've got this commercial, what should I do?' Knowing he would go, 'Oh, Sissy, you must come to the screen test.' But there was a long silence. And he said, 'Do the commercial.' I was like, gesturing," Miss Spacek says. "I said some expletive, and I hung up on him. I don't think I would have gotten the role if that hadn't happened. Because I was so mad."
Her resolve aroused, Miss Spacek prepared for the screen test, anyway. She pulled out a blue sailor dress her mother had made for her in seventh grade and put on clunky orthopedic shoes the day of the test.
"Didn't wash my face when I got up. That can make you feel pretty ugly," Miss Spacek says. "Put Vaseline in my hair. And when I got there, the hair and makeup people were making everybody look beautiful, and they saw me and went, 'We need her over here.' I, of course, went over and sat in the corner."
A few days later, Miss Spacek's husband, De Palma friend and colleague Jack Fisk, told her she had the part.
Miss Spacek already had gained notice with an acclaimed performance in "Badlands" in 1973. "Carrie" brought her first Academy Award nomination, and she won the best-actress Oscar playing country singer Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter" in 1980.
Oscar nods for "Missing," "The River" and "Crimes of the Heart" followed.

Miss Spacek, who grew up in Texas, took a few years off in the late 1980s to focus on raising her two daughters on the family horse ranch in Virginia (her oldest daughter is actress Schuyler Fisk, whose credits include "Snow Day" and the upcoming "Orange County").
Working steadily since the early 1990s, Miss Spacek has moved into more television roles, where she finds a greater range of material than films offered older actresses.
The late 1990s brought Miss Spacek a run of supporting character parts: The slow-witted daughter in "The Straight Story," the stand-by-your-rotten-man girlfriend in "Affliction," the bomb-shelter mom in "Blast From the Past."
"There are fewer roles, and I've done so many things already that I don't want to repeat, so to find something you haven't done is harder. I don't want to play a country singer again," Miss Spacek says.
"I think now I'm coming into an age where hopefully there will be more roles. There's kind of a time you get warned about where the rug gets pulled out from under you, beyond ingenue, before you get into character stuff. The last few years, I've gotten to do some really wonderful character parts. Those are the kinds of things I'm really looking for, things that are really out there."
With "In the Bedroom," Miss Spacek could emerge as an Oscar front-runner. The film earned her and co-star Tom Wilkinson special acting honors at last winter's Sundance Film Festival.
The movie showcases Miss Spacek as an ice queen to rival Mary Tyler Moore in "Ordinary People."
"This is an incredibly, profoundly thought-out, intelligent, unsentimental performance," Mr. Wilkinson says of Miss Spacek.
Miss Spacek plays Ruth Fowler, a reserved New England woman who becomes the catalyst for dark deeds by her husband (Mr. Wilkinson) after a family tragedy.
"In the Bedroom" had a tiny $2 million budget, so Miss Spacek drew on her set-design experience to help decorate the family home used in the film. Director Todd Field and Miss Spacek had spent months discussing the character, and the actress felt the house needed to be just right to immerse herself in Ruth's repressed world.
As Mr. Field viewed his early assembly of the film, "I wasn't calling her Sissy anymore. She was Ruth. She disappeared into the role.
"'Straight Story' was another one where she completely disappears, and you go, 'Is that Sissy Spacek?' It's such a courageous performance."
Miss Spacek has had notable turns in smaller films that never found an audience, but "In the Bedroom" seems poised for success. The film packed theaters in a limited debut last month, and distributor Miramax plans a wider release on Christmas Day and an awards-season push.
"I've done some of my best work in films that fell right through the cracks, so I try to not make career moves but to build a body of work," Miss Spacek says. "I probably don't see the industry anymore as a whole. I probably did at a certain point, but I've realized I have no control over the roles available, and it just drives you crazy. You get angry and frustrated, wondering are there enough parts for women?
"But you finally think, there is what there is and you have to work within those confines and just keep chipping away on your own work. I've been more at peace since I've come to that point."

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