Sissy Spacek is making a comeback to television riding a recent wave of series that live, at least on the fringes, in the worlds of science fiction. Alongside JK Simmons, the two Oscar winners play retired couple Franklin and Irene York in Prime Video’s “Night Sky.” Written with Spacek in mind, the eight-episode series finds the couple navigating all the issues that come with a long life lived together – as well as a family tragedy and that portal to another world beneath their garden shed offering sprawling views of a distant planet.
The actress talks about the project by phone from her native Texas during a recent thunderstorm. There is still a pleasant passion for his craft in his voice. When I mention how much I love the new series, she says, “Awesome, it’s just music to my ears. Sure, I was there while we were doing it, but I haven’t seen it yet. So that’s exciting… I should probably interview you.
Are you generally a science fiction fan?
I’m not. [This is] my first foray into science fiction. But you know, I’m the girl who did “Carrie.” Characters are what draw me to everything I do. And I loved the relationship between this older couple and all the things they had been through. I thought, “OK, if most of Irene’s and Frank’s lives are grounded in reality, then that’s what I’m focusing on. The other, I just tried not to spoil.
How would you describe your character and what motivates her?
Completed. She raised her son, had a wonderful life. And then tragedy strikes and changes everything. When they found this [portal] in their garden, it triggered something in her. She wants to find meaning, to understand the world, her family, the universe. I don’t think she thought about the universe before all of this happened. She was looking outward and looking up to the sky, when we know that what really matters is within us.
Did you prepare for Irene differently than how you prepared for, say, Carrie back then, or did your approach stay essentially the same?
Time changes everything. We grow and have to find new tricks up our sleeves. The beauty of being an actor is that as you go through life, you change, so your job changes. I look at “Carrie” and I think, “Oh, my God, how did I do it? Everything is always centered around a character and his inner life, how he feels about everything. The hardest thing for me here was getting into things I didn’t know and didn’t understand. But it always came back to the loss of a child and that inner turmoil.
“Night Sky” was filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic. How was it?
The schedule was the hardest thing. You finish an episode and put it all – every ounce – and that’s the greatest feeling. And then there’s another script at your doorstep. But since it was a pandemic, you couldn’t go out and do anything, so all I did was work on lines and scenes, and sleep. And try to prepare for the next episode, because they are coming quickly. And I have to deceive my memory, I have to make my long-term memory dialogue. It was in my 20s, I read the script once and knew everyone’s role.
IMDb says you’ve done over 53 movies. Are there one or two that you are most proud of?
“Badlands”, directed by Terrence Malick and where I met my husband [art director Jack Fisk], and of course working with Martin Sheen. I learned so much about how it takes a village to make a movie and it’s not just you up there, you stand on everyone’s shoulders. And of course, “Carrie” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter” with my dear longtime friendship with Loretta [Lynn]. I loved “The Help”. “In the bedroom” – such a great work of art. And “The Straight Story” – I’ve always loved David Lynch. He is a childhood friend of my husband.
“I always think about acting like I’m catching a moving train and sometimes you get caught [catch] this train and it takes you and often the train hits you and crushes you.
After all these decades, what do you love most about making movies?
The collaborative aspect is what really floats my boat. It’s just the best. Because you always walk in and think, “This is what I’m going to do,” and then you’re so affected by what other people are doing that it takes you to a whole other place. When I was young I always described it as when you grab a doorknob and just before you hit the door you know you can get a little electric shock. For me, working with directors and other actors and artists on film is what it is – you go in and get this electric shock of what everybody brings and it elevates you and makes your character a lot more dimensional.
Did your career go as you expected or were you constantly surprised by it?
I feel so lucky, because I was in the right place at the right time. I feel grateful, very very grateful. I had a very interesting… I don’t know what…
Satisfying, a very satisfying career, and I remember thinking, “I want to be like Barbara Stanwyck. How do I do that?” I want to live every decade and every human thing that I go through and use it in my work. I want to work when I’m old. I haven’t had a big professional project except in what speaks to me Every time I work, I think, “Oh my God, how can I do this?”
Even after all this time?
Even after all this time. I always think about acting like I’m catching a moving train and sometimes you [catch] this train and it takes you and often the train hits you and crushes you. When a scene was really playing and a director was like, “OK, now let’s do it again. Do exactly what you did. And I thought, “What did I do?” Because you are having an out of body experience; when it’s in the moment, it takes you with it. You forget everything.