Acclaimed film actress Sissy Spacek (Carrie, Coal Miner’s Daughter) participated in a discussion lead by Variety’s Dade Hayes during the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival after a screening of her latest film, Lake City, written and directed by Perry Moore and Hunter Hill. Lake City is a dramatic narrative feature about a family threatened by violent criminals and a mother and son who must reconcile the past in order to save their home. Troy Garity, Dave Matthews and Rebecca Romijn also star in the film. While much of the audience seemed to sing the praises of the film, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by it. I felt it was fraught with clichéd dialogue and plotting devices, but Spacek and Garity seemed to pull in compelling enough performances for me to give it a hesitantly half-way recommendation.
Hayes began the conversation reflecting on several private moments that take place within Lake City and asked Spacek how much work she did in terms of filling in those moments for her character for which she responded that she tries to fill them up with her own personal experiences, not so much with her characters’. As a young artist, she studied at the Strasberg Insitute, though she never got past the exercise classes. When she has those moments, she thinks about things in her own life. “Your life is a deep well of research and fodder in your work,” she said.
Hayes further delved into Spacek’s process by asking how she connected with the material. She said she lives in a rural area, like that in the film, now far from where the film was shot. She’s also seen people lose their farms and she has her own family.
The film’s climax has Spacek running through a corn field being chased after in a car by drug lords. Hayes asked Spacek how long it took to shoot that scene. She said it felt like forever. She heard the engines behind her just as she got a charley horse and saw her whole career before her. She prepared for that moment for 30 years. “It was my last hurrah,” she said.
The farm house where Spacek’s character lives seemed to be a character on its own. Hayes asked how the filmmaker’s found that house. Spacek said that co-director Perry Moore is from Virginia and the Virginia Film Office helped them find it. It hadn’t been lived in for 10-15 years. Spacek reminisced that it used to be many films used to always shoot on location. Now it’s rare to get to do that. Often times, films set in Texas or Oklahoma are shot in Canada. She said she had no qualms about Canada, but would prefer to shoot a film set in Canada in Canada.
Hayes asked Spacek what the rehearsal process was. She said there was about a week of rehearsal in the farmhouse, but they could have used a few more days. She said that’s always a complain actors have.
Hayes mentioned to Spacek that at one point in her career, she took some time off. Spacek said at the time she was trying to raise her children. She said there’s a time in Hollywood when an actress turns 40, there’s a hump, but when you get a little older, there’s more parts.
Hayes then opened the discussion up to the audience. Spacek was asked to reflect on a turning point in the film where her character gets annoyed with her son coming back home and how she handled that transition. They definitely have enormous problems in their relationship, but when things turn around, she realized he really needs her, so she gets involved.
Spacek was asked what it was like working for two directors. She said it was good and bad. Usually, they split it up. One was at the camera and the other at the monitor. She said it was really wonderful, but she teases them.
An audience member mentioned that there were some parallels in Lake City to Todd Field’s 2001 film In the Bedroom, for which Spacek was nominated for an Oscar. Spacek compared and contrasted the roles saying that her In the Bedroom character was a mother that convinces her husband to commit murder to avenge her son’s death, while her character as the mother in Lake City is one who re-connects with her family. Different families grieve in different ways. The power of the story is that they’re finally able to understand each other and begin to heal their wounds.
Another audience member asked Spacek how she’s kept going all these years. Spacek said she loves film. She has fun doing this. She realizes how fortunate she is to be working all these years. She had just come from a screening of Terrence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands, her first starring screen role. She couldn’t believe that she was that young once.
One final person asked a question to Spacek that seemed to irk most of the audience. He recalled the scene in which Spacek’s character goes to get a bottle of Coke at a gas station and that he resents product placement. He asked Spacek if she got paid to say that. She responded, “I just wanted a Coke.”
Hayes also broke in with one final thought of his own by asking Spacek to talk a little about her experience moving to New York City when she was really young. Spacek said that she had live in NYC for about five years in the late 60s/early 70s. She loved it. When she moved to California, because she didn’t go their first, she was considered a New York actress.