At the Golden Globes on Jan. 20, Sissy Spacek was wearing her men's tux and had the odds in her favor. What she missed was her daughter Schuyler. "I was on a plane when she was getting out to go on the red carpet," says the 18-year-old actress. "I got this message, 'Sky, I'm getting out of the limo, just wanted to tell you I love you and I'll talk to you later.'" Sure enough, shortly after Spacek accepted the award for best actress in a drama, Schuyler's phone rang again. "She was so excited," says Schuyler. "It's all just been a whirlwind."
Spacek, 52, has felt this twister before. Twenty-six years ago, she shot to fame in Carrie; four years later she won an Oscar for Coal Miner's Daughter. A few years later, the actress supplied her own plot twist: Spacek retreated to 300 acres of farmland outside Charlottesville, Va., to raise daughters Schuyler and Madison, 13, with her husband of 27 years, Jack Fisk, 56, a movie art director. "It has been really wonderful for my children to grow up in a rural place," says Spacek, who has taken acting jobs only intermittently during the past two decades. "There, I'm known as their mom. And I think that's the way it should be."
With the accolade blitz for her latest role as a grief-choked mother in In the Bedroom—along with the Golden Globe, the performance has brought her an Oscar nomination, her sixth—Spacek is laying low no longer. Until recently, "We'd hear rumors of her retirement and tease her, 'Oh, Mom, when did you do that?'" says Schuyler, who costarred in the recent movie Orange County. Now, despite the disruptions to her usual schedule of gardening and ferrying Madison to soccer practice, Spacek is savoring the Oscar buzz. "I'm trying to enjoy what's going on now, not project ahead," says Spacek. "But it is kind of like playing, 'Don't think about the white elephant in the room.'"
A second Oscar would round out an already impressive résumé, but family has long figured first for the Texas-born tomboy. Nicknamed "Sissy" by her two older brothers, Mary Elizabeth Spacek was "a little ham," says Susan Merritt, 68, a family friend from Spacek's small hometown of Quitman. For one talent show, her mother, Virginia, who died in 1981, sewed Spacek and brother Robbie "little flapper costumes and taught them to do the Charleston," Merritt recalls. Growing up, Spacek "was always having fun," says her cousin, actor Rip Torn, 71. (Spacek's father, Edwin, a state agricultural agent who died last year, was Torn's uncle.) "It's a wonderful family, always been very close."
The Spaceks' happiness was shattered in 1967, when Robbie, a high school track star, died of leukemia at age 18. Sissy had been so close to Robbie "she picked out his clothes for him," says school pal Kyle Milner. Then an aspiring folksinger, Spacek talked with Robbie on his sickbed about her dream of trying her luck in New York City. "He insisted that she go," says Spacek's brother Ed Jr., 57, now a music industry consultant in Austin, Texas. "He told her, 'I'm betting on you.'"
In New York Spacek lived with Torn and his wife, actress Geraldine Page. Under the name Rainbo, she cut a 1968 single, "John, You've Gone Too Far This Time," teasing John Lennon for appearing nude on an album cover. But as her singing career sputtered, she gravitated to acting, studying at the famed Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. She made her movie debut in the 1972 Lee Marvin thriller Prime Cut. The next year, a move to L.A. and a turn as serial killer Martin Sheen's girlfriend in Badlands changed her life. She impressed critics—and fell in love with the film's art director, Jack Fisk, a shy Illinois native with a wicked sense of humor.
Soon after their 1974 wedding, Fisk helped his wife land her breakout role in 1976's Carrie. Director Brian De Palma was set on casting another actress when Spacek accompanied Fisk, who had been hired as art director, to a meeting in character: "Unkempt, funny skirt, funny shoes, no makeup," says Ed Spacek. De Palma granted her an audition—and she nabbed her first Academy Award nomination as the high school outcast who wreaks supernatural vengeance.
She transformed herself again to play Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter, a biography of the country songstress. Instead of lip-synching to Lynn's songs, Spacek wanted to sing, but the studio was balking. "She went off to Nashville to work with Loretta," says director Michael Apted. "I got a phone call, and this voice said, 'Hello, Michael,' and I thought it was Loretta. We had this conversation, and she started to laugh and said, 'This is Sissy!' Then she started to sing. And bloody hell, it was Loretta. Then I knew we were in business."
After her Oscar-nominated performances in 1982's Missing and 1984's The River, Spacek and Fisk both cut back on work, decamping to their farm Beau Val, which they had bought in the late 1970s. "They'd always trade off: One would be with us while the other was working," says Schuyler. "The Hollywood scene was never really a part of our lives." Nevertheless, both Schuyler and eighth-grader Madison, an avid horse-show competitor, have taken to performing—with Spacek's enthusiastic support. "She taught me how to play guitar and sang backup for me," says Schuyler. "She was the only mom in my high school talent show to perform."
Good roles for actresses her age may be rare, but Spacek doesn't mind waiting for the next one. "The other day, I flipped past Badlands on television, and I saw this girl who looked just like my older daughter," Spacek said last year. "It looked more like her than it does like me. But it's gotten easier now that I've distanced myself. I garden when the weeds start to grow and keep my porch swept off. Life is good."
Julie Jordan in Los Angeles, Bob Stewart in Quitman, Andrea Billups in Silver Spring, Md., Vicky Moon in Charlottesville, Eileen Finan in London and Rachel Felder in New York City
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