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Sissy Spacek on Get Low, Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Hollywood

Some actresses in Hollywood can’t let go of their youth. How difficult it must be to accept the changing of the guard. All About Eve tells us that there is always a new one walking in the door – younger, prettier, capturing fans and critics. Some actresses fight this with plastic surgery, beating back time. But there are a few of them, not many, who allow themselves to evolve both as actresses and as human beings. If you alter your looks as a woman to stay younger, you greatly limit yourself as an actress, even if you manage to preserve a tiny bit of your ego in the process. The ones who don’t go that way, though, can continue to do great work until they are very old women. Sissy Spacek is one of those.

Recently IFC was playing Carrie, one of Spacek’s earliest and best. Spacek’s presence was immediately felt back then as she gave such humanity to Carrie, and revealed as much about the mousy Carrie as she did when Carrie decided to let the pretty prom queen Carrie emerge. Finally, Spacek absolutely nails the last transformation as Carrie becomes the avenger and kills everyone. She is in full force magic mode – one glance slams a door, starts a fire. Enough is enough. The film is such a part of our collective that a recent status update I made on Facebook rendered over 30 comments, all famous lines from Carrie, like “Pimples are the Lord’s way of chastising you,” and “They’re breasts, mama, and every woman has them.” Oh, Sissy Spacek. She gave us Carrie. But she also gave us decades of great performances, like In the Bedroom, A Coal Miner’s Daughter, Crimes of the Heart (she steals the show right out from under Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange), Big Love, where, as she puts it, she got to bring out her “inner bitch.”

I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Spacek recently, as she’s doing the press tour for Get Low. I found her to be immediately charming and down to earth. She put me at ease right away, with her silky twang, by talking about how hot it was in LA. It’s hard not to be nervous when talking to someone of Spacek’s stature – not only have I admired her work for years, but I admire her for the diversity in it and her refusal to cling to her youth.

In Get Low, Spacek plays a woman who has been in love with Robert Duvall her entire life. The situation is complicated by his having loved her sister. Things took a tragic turn when the sister is killed in a fire, which many believed was Duvall’s fault. “The film is about unrequited love,” Spacek said. “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. It was a hard role for me because it was about requited love, although in the end they become much more than that.”

Spacek said she loved working with Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, even if the two had different methods. Duvall, whom she calls Bobby, preferred not to reheard but to “embody the role.” “He’d come to the set as his character,” Spacek said. “I had and have a great respect for him and the feeling was mutual. I was so excited about working with him — you don’t see the wheels turning. To him, acting is listening and responding, she said, recalling Duvall’s explanation about his method, “You listen and you respond. You start at zero and you end at zero. You just listen and react. There was an ease.”

Bill Murray, she said, does like to rehearse. She was most surprised by how Murray was funny even when the cameras weren’t rolling. “It’s not a performance for him in terms of the kind of funny guy he is. He’s kind and he’s charming and he’s lovely with people. He had a really difficult role – he had a lot of dialogue. He brought something to the film – it gave it a certain whimsy.”

What Spacek liked most about the filmmaking was that the director, Aaron Schneider, found a happy balance between the drama and the comedy. It could have gone too far in one or the other direction, but it stayed level.

I wondered about how Spacek feels about working in 2010. But Spacek says something only an actress who’d been acting since the 1970s would say, “Everybody’s talking about basically the same things they were talking about 40 years ago. The players change. The thing I find the most exciting about the industry there are always new young artists coming up with new ideas. It’s a very vital industry because of that. The pendulum swings‚Ķ”

With six Oscar nominations and one win, Spacek appears to be headed for her seventh. On the fly I asked her what her most memorable moment of the Oscars had been – and she remembered back to 1980, when she won for Coal Miner’s Daughter that she kept searching the audience to find Loretta Lynn. And there was a big cowboy hat in the audience belonging to Lynn’s husband. “They were easy to find because of that.”

Spacek gives one of her best performances in Get Low, and considering she’s been at since 1970, that’s saying something. There is a sadness with this one that maybe starts to approach her work In the Bedroom – a simmering tragedy underneath her skin. But here, she is much less self-possessed.¬† And watching Duvall and Spacek together, both of them icons of the 1970s, 80s, 90s and even now, is just one of the better moments of this year.