The award-winning actress's biggest decisions have been made when she listened to, and trusted, her intuition.
Ten miles from where I grew up in northeast Texas was a town named Coke—after the coal by-product—whose population numbered 25. It had a general store, a riding arena, and a one-room schoolhouse that went up to sixth grade. My friend Pam attended that school, and one day when we were both 6, she invited me to come see a performance that she and the other kids in her school were giving.

When the Cokettes came out onstage in their short satin skirts with fringes on the edge, little vests, and white cowboy hats, twirling their batons and marching along with jingle taps on their majorette boots, I was entranced. I thought, "I could do that."

Soon I was taking dance, singing, and piano lessons, and I started performing at every church and Rotary Club talent show within a hundred miles of Quitman, my hometown. Those poor Rotarians heard me sing "Kumbaya" and "Little Brown Jug" about a thousand times. When I was older, I learned how to play the guitar and started writing songs. I sang in front of anyone who would listen, because I'd found what I was good at.

Eventually I moved to New York City, where I performed in clubs, recorded commercial jingles, and did background vocals for other musicians. Friends encouraged me to take acting classes, and I discovered that I loved to act. One thing led to another, and when I was 20 my acting career took off, and I willingly let go of the idea of becoming a singer. Even though acting wasn't what I'd originally set out to do, something told me to pursue it. I'm glad I did, because it became what I love the most. The interesting thing is, years later I got to combine the two when I played Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter [for which Spacek won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1980].

Since then I've been in many movies, and I've had a wonderful film career. If I hadn't pursued acting, I could still be pounding the pavement as a musician. But at these key moments, I listened to that voice inside me—the same one that told me, when I was a little girl sitting in the audience watching the Cokettes, that I wanted to become a performer. Everyone has an inner voice; you just have to listen to it and trust it in order to be led by it. I did that, and it gave me the ability to live a life that's true to who I am and what I really wanted.

As told to Naomi Barr


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