About Mary Elizabeth Fisk (Spacek)
Academy Award-winning actress Sissy Spacek came to international prominence for her for role as Carrie White in Brian De Palma's 1976 horror film Carrie, for which she earned her first Academy Award nomination.
She was born Mary Elizabeth Spacek on Christmas Day, 1949, in Quitman, Texas. Her mother Virginia Frances (née Spilman), of English and Irish descent, was from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Her father Edwin Arnold Spacek, Sr. was a county agricultural agent. Spacek's paternal grandparents, Mary Červenka and Arnold A. Špaček were of Czech (Moravian) and German ancestry.
Nicknamed Sissy by her two older brothers, Spacek was a vivacious little girl, making her first stage appearance at age six, singing and dancing in a local talent show. After attending Quitman High School, where she was crowned homecoming queen, Spacek moved to New York City to pursue her dreams of a singing career in 1967, at the age of 17. In New York, she lived with her cousin, the actor Rip Torn and his wife, the actress Geraldine Page. In 1968, using the name "Rainbo," Spacek recorded a single, "John, You've Gone Too Far This Time," teasing John Lennon for appearing nude on an album cover with his wife, Yoko Ono. Sales of her music sputtered, however, and "Rainbo" was dropped from her record label.
Spacek subsequently decided to switch her focus to acting, enrolling at the famed Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. After appearing as an extra in Trash (1970), a film produced at Andy Warhol's factory, she made her bona fide film debut as a teenager abducted by a white slavery ring in the Lee Marvin thriller Prime Cut (1972). Spacek played another troubled adolescent character in 1973's Badlands, attracting attention for her role as the girlfriend of a serial killer, played by Martin Sheen. It was while working on the film that Spacek met her future husband, the production designer Jack Fisk. The couple married in 1974, and Fisk helped Spacek land her breakthrough role in Brian De Palma’s teen horror classic Carrie (1976). (Fisk worked as art director on the film.) As an emotionally disturbed, telekinetically gifted teenage girl with a fanatically religious mother (Piper Laurie), real-life prom queen Spacek struck a heartwrenching, terrifying chord with critics and audiences alike, earning her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and instant cult status.
After beginning to prove her versatility as an actress in such films as Robert Altman’s Three Women (1977), costarring Shelley Duvall and Janice Rule, and Heart Beat (1979), costarring Nick Nolte, Spacek showcased her considerable gifts in the 1980 biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter, about country singer Loretta Lynn. In addition to portraying Lynn from age 13 to her forties, Spacek insisted on singing all of Lynn's songs herself, instead of lipsynching. The performance earned her universal critical praise, including the Academy Award for Best Actress.
On the heels of Coal Miner's Daughter, Spacek eschewed high profile projects to star in her husband's directorial debut, Raggedy Man (1981), playing a divorced mother who has a dangerous relationship with a sailor, played by Eric Roberts. With her next two notable projects, the political drama Missing (1982), costarring Jack Lemmon, and The River (1984), costarring Mel Gibson, Spacek scored two more Oscar nods as Best Actress. In 1986, she portrayed a suicidal woman in Night Mother, costarring Anne Bancroft, and received her fifth Best Actress nomination, for her performance as the most eccentric of three sisters in Crimes of the Heart, costarring Jessica Lange.
Both Spacek and Fisk then took a lengthy break from filmmaking, retreating to their Virginia farm, Beau Val, to spend time with their two daughters, Schuyler (now an actress who appeared in the 2002 comedy Orange County) and Madison. She began to take acting jobs only intermittently after that, returning to the screen in the civil rights drama The Long Walk Home, costarring Whoopi Goldberg, in 1990. The following year, she played the wife of Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison in the controversial Oliver Stone film JFK. A number of highbrow television projects followed, including the HBO features A Private Matter (1994) and If These Walls Could Talk (1996) and the TNT movie The Good Old Boys (1995), costarring and directed by her Coal Miner's Daughter costar Tommy Lee Jones, earning her first Emmy nomination for the last role. She reteamed with another former costar, Carrie's Piper Laurie, in the 1995 film version of Truman Capote's The Grass Harp.
In 1997, Spacek turned in a strong supporting performance in the dark drama Affliction, costarring Nick Nolte. In a rare comedic performance, she played the matriarch of a family who spends 30 years living below ground in a bomb shelter in the little-seen Blast From the Past (1999). That same year, she appeared in David Lynch’s The Straight Story, playing a woman whose father (Richard Farnsworth) travels a great distance on a lawnmower to visit his estranged brother.
In 2001, Spacek garnered some of the best reviews of her career, numerous critical accolades (including a Golden Globe Award), and her sixth career Oscar nomination for Best Actress for the independent feature In the Bedroom, costarring Tom Wilkinson. Playing a Maine couple whose teenage son is killed by the estranged husband of his older girlfriend (played by Marisa Tomei), Spacek and Wilkinson turned in two of the most talked-about performances of the year, and the film earned five total Oscar nods, including Best Picture.
Taking a detour from the tragic, she was next seen on the big screen in Tuck Everlasting (2002), an adaptation of the novel about a family who discovers a fountain of youth. She gave a stirring performance as F. Scott Fitzgerald's disturbed wife in the Showtime miniseries Last Call, and as a result, was nominated for an Emmy in 2002. As one of the original "scream queens" to go on to a major film career, Spacek's memorable cameo in The Ring 2 (2005) as the unhinged mother of the ghostly pursuer, proved a treat for horror fans. In 2005, she appeared alongside Charlize Theron as the long-suffering but surprisingly iron-willed mother of a sexually harassed Minnesota miner in the drama North Country (2005).
On the small screen, Spacek was part of a strong ensemble cast in Rodrigo Garcia's Nine Lives (2005), an episodic drama which centered around nine different women thematically connected through their various travails. In 2007, the versatile actress again gave a moving performance as a retired art teacher who takes in a foster child in the TV movie Pictures of Hollis Woods (CBS), which was recognized with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie. Also that year, she delivered a turn as the therapist of a young woman (Heather Graham) who shocks everyone - including herself - when she falls for another woman (Bridget Moynahan) in the indie romantic comedy, Gray Matters (2007). After playing the New Age mother of a put-upon husband (Vince Vaughn) in Four Christmases (2008), she was a desperate mother trying to protect her son (Troy Garity) from a ruthless drug dealer (Dave Matthews) in the little-seen crime drama, Lake City (2008). Back on television, Spacek narrated the four-part documentary series Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People (PBS, 2009), which she followed with an acclaimed recurring role on the hit series, Big Love (HBO, 2006-2011), playing a conniving lobbyist who butts heads with aspiring state senator and longtime polygamist Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton). The role earned Spacek an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.