The tremendous acting talent, Sissy Spacek, shares what it’s like getting “swept up” in some of her most iconic characters in this GQ interview. From playing the unforgettable title role in Carrie, her acclaimed portrayal of country music star Loretta Lynn in The Coal Miner’s Daughter, or most recently, her luminous performance as Jewel in The Old Man & the Gun, the actress with a sweet southern accent recalls her preparation, collaboration, and even trouble with letting go of the characters she inhabits.

Being an Oscar-winning actress, six-times nominated, Spacek has a lot to celebrate. But her beginnings started with a family loss. During her senior year of high school, her beloved older brother, Robbie, died of leukemia at the age of 18. Spacek describes the tragedy as the defining event of her whole life. She once told The Guardian, “I think it made me brave. Once you experience something like that, you’ve experienced the ultimate tragedy. And if you can continue, nothing else frightens you … Maybe it gave me more depth to my work because I had already experienced something profound and life-changing.”

Realizing how precious time is, the Texas native didn’t want to waste a minute of her life. So, after high school, she decided to skip four years of college and instead pursue her passion–playing acoustic guitar and singing. With a fearless spirit and the support of her parents, Spacek moved to New York. Going by the name of Rainbo, she recorded the 1968 single, “John, You’ve Gone Too Far This Time,” a song about John Lennon; but, it garnered little attention, and Spacek was quickly dropped from the label.

Despite the disappointment, she started hanging out at Andy Warhol’s Factory, and soon developed an interest in acting. Spacek enrolled in Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio and then the Lee Strasberg Institute. “I didn’t go to acting school long, but the thing that I did learn was sense memory and how to weave your own life into your characters,” she says.

Spacek’s fearlessness remained a constant as she pursued a career in acting. It wasn’t long before the strawberry-blonde, freckled actress was cast as Holly the teenage girlfriend of the troubled and violent Kit Carruthers played by Martin Sheen in the acclaimed 1973 film Badlands. And soon afterward, Spacek earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Carrie White, the awkward and abused senior-turned-vengeful prom queen with telekinetic powers. To prepare for the audition, Spacek wanted to feel badly about herself in order to be in touch with Carrie; so, she rubbed Vaseline in her hair to make it look greasy, didn’t brush her teeth or wash her face, and wore a sailor dress that her mother had forced her to wear to a party when she was in middle school. Indeed, she nabbed the role despite loads of competition, and she continued preparing for the role by isolating herself in her attic and writing poetry.

Next, Spacek would go on to receive an Oscar for best actress for her brilliant portrayal of country music star Loretta Lynn in The Coal Miner’s Daughter in 1980. Loretta Lynn had a large say about who would portray herself, and she was adamant that Spacek was the right woman for the job. One way Spacek prepared for the part was a bit unconventional. She says, “I would sometimes go to a set; I don’t think that I ever spent the night. But I would go, and I remember when I was there, I fell asleep. And when I woke up, I just felt like I was a lot closer to that character.”

Spacek shares how nervous she felt to work alongside the legendary and charismatic Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun. It was her first time working with him, and during the filming of their now highly praised diner scene, the director felt the need to tell Spacek to “Play a little harder-to-get; it’s not Robert Redford, it’s Forrest Tucker. Like so many of Spacek’s films, The Old Man & the Gun is receiving great reviews. The film is currently showing in theaters.

Sissy Spacek says the best advice she’s ever received is to “Celebrate your successes, and don’t dwell on your failures.” It’s clear to see she’s done just that.

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