Barbequing with Legends

Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek on Cinema, Cinephilia and Good-Looking Shoes

by Matt Mazur

29 July 2010

Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek in Get Low 

Coal Miner’s Daughter. In the Bedroom. Badlands. Carrie. 3 Women. Crimes of the Heart.

These are among some of the key films that would shape my future as a writer, each in its own way emblematic of my overall experience as a cinephile, and each in possession of a separate quality that would eventually inspire me to study gender and film. Their common denominator, the glue that holds them together, so to speak, is that each features a singular performance by Sissy Spacek.

When I saw the trailer for Aaron Schneider’s new film Get Low I dared to dream a little and fantasized about how Spacek might make the ideal subject for PopMatters’ first Performer Spotlight Series. Knowing that the actress lived far outside of the conventional industry circles and didn’t do many interviews, I didn’t take into consideration that if I could, by some small miracle arrange an interview, that I would actually have to meet her or at least talk to her.

cover art

Get Low

Director: Aaron Schneider
Cast: Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs

2009

To me, Spacek is a powerhouse of talent not unlike another hero of mine, a woman who is one of her few true contemporaries: Jessica Lange. These are the kinds of artists who are elusive, elegant, gifted and versatile; steering a career, a family and a body of work in a business that is so often preoccupied with looking forward that it often cruelly overlooks its past. Like Lange, Spacek has remained distinctly herself in a business that often asks women to hide themselves, successfully integrating her own magnetic personality into a blisteringly extensive range of unforgettable characters for four decades. “It is a fact, and not hyperbole, to state that she is without doubt one of the greatest screen actors of all time,” said director Todd Field via email.

Once the interview was confirmed, I lived in sheer terror, revisiting these films and reliving these wonderful formative movie-watching experiences and anticipating the meeting. To me, Spacek’s performances in the films we have looked at all week in this series, and in such wonderful depth, were an integral part of my own first memories of loving movies. I remember watching Spacek opposite Lange and Diane Keaton in Crimes of the Heart and right on the spot falling in love with actresses in a profound, Pedro Almodovar kind of way.

Somehow, I now find myself interviewing the people I admire most in life, and I seem to stumble into these anxiety-inducing situations more and more frequently, coming face to face with these legends, and trying to just not hyperventilate. Inside, I am screaming “Oh my God, you know David Lynch!” like a total movie geek.

Spacek, who won the Oscar for her iconic performance as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter is a six-time Academy Award nominee (Carrie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Missing, The River, Crimes of the Heart and In the Bedroom) and was most recently seen (justifiably, hysterically) calling Bill Paxton a “douche bag” during her electric stint on HBO’s Big Love, for which she deserves to win the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.

To add extra schein to this already impossibly fever-dream like day would be an added twist: I would be simultaneously talking with Robert Duvall, Spacek’s Get Low co-star and a living legend in his own right. In case you haven’t been to the movies in the last 50 years, Duvall has appeared in such pictures as Francis Ford Coppola’s classics Apocalypse Now and The Godfather (Parts I and II), Sidney Lumet’s Network and The Apostle in 1997 where he directed himself to one of the most galvanic filmed performances of the entire decade. Duvall, also a six time Oscar nominee (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Great Santini, The Apostle and A Civil Action), won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in 1983’s Tender Mercies as Mac Sledge, a broken country crooner. The actor was most recently was seen supporting another performer playing a country singer, Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, to another iconic Oscar win.

No pressure!

So, I schlepped from the woods of Western Massachusetts to the Upper East Side of New York to see what was happening with two of America’s finest living actors. Walking into the suite where we are to meet, the familiarly lilting quality of both actors’ voices put me at ease before I even saw their faces. Then, almost immediately, we began an introspective conversation about how the film industry has evolved since they started working, what Oscars really mean, and ended with what it was like for them acting with supernovas like Anne Bancroft and Marlon Brando.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they also both sang a little. As is my custom when doing interviews, I was ridiculously over-prepared with questions, themes, and seriousness, but instead found myself just kind of laughing and shooting the breeze about cinephilia with two of the foremost authorities on the subject. Duvall and Spacek have a lot to say about movies, so why should something like prepped questions stand in the way of such effortless chemistry that is present both on and off screen?

Like any good fairy tale, our story begins and ends with the power of good shoes.

Spacek, looking smart, tailored and wearing chic little round black sunglasses throughout the interview (“I’m not dressed for uptown” she joked), immediately noticed my black and white boots when I walked in. They complemented her own black and white shoes perfectly. As she grabbed my hand firmly, greeting me with a warm smile, Spacek put her comparatively tiny foot next to mine to highlight the similarities of our footwear and to trade compliments. A shoe moment with Sissy Spacek is a pretty damned fantastic ice-breaker.

And then we were off, and I felt caught in a thrilling whirlwind of cinema history.

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