Sally: I was persona non grata because of The Flying Nun, so I had to drop out of television for a while. In those days, TV people were not used in film. I just had to hold on to the belief that when I worked hard enough, my situation would change. I eventually got a call for Bob Rafelson's film Stay Hungry. And I'll never forget that as I was waiting to meet Rafelson, I could hear him yelling to the casting person, "Why are we wasting our time seeing her?"
Oprah: You could hear that? Ay ay ay!
Sally: It just fed my resolve. When I came in for the audition, I blew them out of the room because I was so angry. By this time, I knew where to put my anger; I knew how to focus on the work. The audition wasn't about the scene as much as it was about who I was the minute I walked in that door. I had to convince them that everything I'd done before was the acting and that in reality I was this little tart, this little nymphomaniac I was playing. That was hard, because I was really shy. But when I did my reading, I actually threw down the script and straddled Charles Gaines, the man who'd written the book and cowritten the screenplay, while I did the scene. It was intense! I'd had so many years of feeling insignificant and pushed around by men. And then to learn how to use that—to carefully, quietly, and slowly own it—it's pretty mesmerizing. After that, I was called back again and again by Rafelson. He said, "You were, without a doubt, the best one to come in, but it must be because you've had so much experience auditioning." I said, "Bob, I've auditioned only once in my life, for Gidget."
Oprah: You did a nude scene in Stay Hungry. How did you feel about that?
Sally: Mortified. But I hid myself so carefully for most of the shoot. I kept thinking that I had to pretend to be this character, because I was sure that if Rafelson found out who I really was, he would run. Still, when it came down to doing the nude scene, I couldn't hide how humiliating it was for me; I burst into tears. But I got through it, and shortly after, I auditioned for Sybil, which changed everything for me. Again, no one wanted me for that role; they wanted Vanessa Redgrave and a couple of other big names. When I showed up for the audition, I came as the character. Sybil was really reserved and frightened, never looked anyone straight in the face, so I sat in the corner as this person. The casting directors later told me they thought I was unhinged. But I knew this character belonged to me; she was too much like me.
Oprah: Which part of Sybil was like you?
Sally: I'm not a multiple personality, but I understood her. As I said before, I would go into Gidget when I needed to make people happy or make them not threatening to me or when I didn't want to be sexual. I was safe there. That's how Sybil was. I knew her so well. And believe it or not, that role led to Smokey and the Bandit. This time, Burt Reynolds called me up personally. I pretended it wasn't shocking and scary that he would call me. He said he had this movie and the script wasn't very good but that he trusted me and would make it work. Actually, there was no script; in the end, we made up half the movie. The challenge for me was that people saw Sybil and said, "Boy, she can act—but man, is she ugly!" So I thought if I did a movie with Burt and he thought I was cute, then somebody else might think I was cute and I could continue acting. It was a really hard time for women in film. There were mostly just tall, gorgeous models working, and I wasn't pretty. But by then, I was single with two kids. I had to earn a living.