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In ‘Songs,’ Spacek Strikes a New Tone

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sissy Spacek rarely appears in a broadcast network TV movie. But the Texas-born actress, who won the Oscar as singer Loretta Lynn in 1980’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” couldn’t resist starring with Beau Bridges in the CBS adaptation of Mary McGarry Morris’ 1995 best-selling novel, “Songs in Ordinary Time.”

Adapted by Malcolm Macrury and directed by Rod Holcomb, “Songs in Ordinary Time” finds Spacek playing Marie Fermoyle, a divorced mother of three children living in a small Vermont town in the early 1960s.

Because she is the town’s sole divorcee, Marie feels alienated from her neighbors and the members of her church. The town takes notice when Marie falls under the spell of Omar Duvall (Bridges), a mysterious and charismatic drifter who quite literally shows up on her doorstep. In reality, though, Omar is a desperate con man who is trying to cover his tracks.

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Keir Dullea (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) also stars as Marie’s alcoholic ex-husband.

Spacek, 50, made her film debut in the forgettable 1972 thriller “Prime Cut” and received her first Oscar nomination for 1976’s “Carrie.” Married for 26 years to production designer and director Jack Fisk, the couple have two daughters. Spacek recently talked about “Songs” on the phone from her home in Virginia.

Question: Have you had the same problems that plague most actresses over 35--a dearth of good roles?

Answer: I don’t think it’s ever been easy. I kind of came up through low-budget films in the ‘70s--kind of the art-house fare. So for me the hardest thing has always been to find the roles that I really thought were right for me. Cable certainly has opened up things. There is just more to pick from now.

Q: You had read “Songs in Ordinary Time” before you got the movie?

A: Oh, gosh, yes. I am a devotee of the book. It’s a great book.

Q: Does the TV movie differ substantially from the novel?

A: Everyone who was involved with it loved the book. So we tried to stay faithful to the book, but we were bound by time constraints and money constraints--it is a 500- to 700-page book, so to try and put it into a two-hour TV movie with commercials . . .

Q: How would you describe Marie?

A: The character was different than anything I have played. I don’t want to simplify her and say she was more negative, but she was a very complex woman who I felt was kind of her own worst enemy. She had a very pessimistic outlook on life, and I think she was described by her children as either giggling or screaming--nothing in between. She would go from one to the other.

I came to believe that Marie was suffering from some paranoia. She has this idea that everyone looks down on her and that they are all judging her. In reality, I don’t believe that was the case. I have a feeling that she’ll remain that way for the rest of her life. I think she’ll be smarter for having had this experience with a con man. It is kind of like if your arm hurts and somebody stomps on your foot, then you are not worried about your arm. I kind of felt that way about Marie. She thought she had it bad until Omar stomped on her foot and then she realized she didn’t have it so bad. She really had some things to be thankful for, primarily her children.

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Q: Do you feel Omar really did love Marie?

A: He was an old dog who couldn’t change his tricks. But I think at a certain point he was starting to love Marie, but his life was such a tangled web. He was a very desperate man, but so charismatic.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: In the summer I did a [feature] film called “In the Bedroom.” It’s a drama. I was in it with Tom Wilkinson, a wonderful English actor. Everyone loves him from “The Full Monty,” including my children.

Q: And now your 18-year-old daughter, Schuyler, is following in your footsteps.

A: She is. She is a talented actress and a wonderful songwriter and musician. She was in local theater her whole life. We made the mistake of saying if you are really serious about it, you need to do theater, and she did. She did everything, so I think she’s doing it for the right reasons. I would be a hypocrite if I tried to talk her out of it.

Q: Would you like to do a film together?

A: The right one--we’d love to. We certainly could rock each other’s world.

* “Songs in Ordinary Time” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS. The network has rated it TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14 with special advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence).

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