The Big Picture
- Sissy Spacek wasn’t Brian De Palma’s first choice for the role of Carrie White in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel.
- Spacek’s audition and portrayal of Carrie White resonated with De Palma and led to her landing the role.
- Actresses Betsy Slade and Carrie Fisher were also considered for the role of Carrie White, but Spacek’s performance was deemed the most effective.
It’s no secret that Stephen King is the king of the horror genre. His novels are some of the most popular horror stories to date, and there are so many to choose from. So it’s not really a surprise that the films adapted from his books are also highly ranked within the genre. The very first film adaptation of one of his novels was Carrie — a film about a teenage girl who discovers she has telekinetic powers. Directed by Brian De Palma in 1976, Carrie stars Sissy Spacek in the leading role. But as it turns out, that wasn’t the original plan. Brian De Palma originally had his eye on someone else for the lead role, and Spacek only received an audition as a friendly favor.
Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother, unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom.
- If only they knew she had the power.
Sissy Spacek Wasn’t Brian De Palma’s First Choice for the Role
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Sissy Spacek in the role of Carrie White. She completely revolutionized the role and made Carrie someone we could sympathize with in a unique way. So it’s surprising to think that someone else could have played Carrie – it would have been a completely different movie without her – but that was almost what happened. In a 1979 interview with Sissy Spacek for Rolling Stone Magazine, she recalls the events that led to her eventually landing the role of Carrie White in De Palma’s film.
In 1976, Jack Fisk (who is Spacek’s husband) took a job as art director for Brian De Palma’s new film, Carrie. One day, De Palma called her up and told her to go out, buy the book and read it. “So I went out and got it and I was just horrified. But I knew what kind of sense of humor he had and I was anxious to do it.” She went on to read for several parts, with De Palma initially having her in mind for the role of Chris, the mean girl who sets out to make Carrie’s life a living hell at the prom, which eventually went to De Palma’s wife at the time Nancy Allen. But one day, as Spacek was planning to head to New York to film a commercial, she received yet another call from Brian De Palma, asking her to come in again, though it was more of a courtesy call than anything as he already had his sights set on someone. “He told me that if I wanted to, I could try out for the part of Carrie White, but that I shouldn’t miss my commercial. There was another girl that he was set on and unless he was really surprised, she was the one.” Spacek recalled. “I hung up and decided to go for it.”
On the day of her audition, Spacek took some inspiration from a high-school classmate. “She was beautiful, but she was poor and didn’t have money for clothes. So she wore antiques, and the kids were really brutal with her. I remember always loving her clothes, baggy and old-fashioned like they were. She was barefoot most of the time, but there was no hip, groovy scene then.” She explained. “And in the end, it’s the outsiders who become the ones you emulate.” As it turns out, that was the exact thing De Palma was looking for because she landed the role. As she sat in the parking lot, she saw her husband come running out and inform her that she had got the part. Humorously adding, “We sped off before anybody could change his mind.”
Other Actresses Were in Contention for the Role of Carrie White
In the same Rolling Stone interview, Jack Fisk piped in to share his thoughts on the casting, offering some insight on De Palma’s original choice, who is said to be Betsy Slade.
“The other girl played. Carrie as someone you could hate. You could understand why everyone made fun of her. You didn’t really care about her much yourself. Sissy, you felt hope for. You could almost fall in love with Carrie White when she played her, and it made the film twice as effective. De Palma said there was no contest.”
It’s clear why. Part of the brilliance of Carrie’s story is that, despite the horrible massacre she ignites at the prom, you can’t help but feel a bit of remorse for her. We follow her so closely throughout the film and see just how cruel her peers are towards her, so the prom serves as her final straw, the thing that truly makes her snap. Up until that point, we feel for Carrie, we sympathize with her and hope for better. Playing her as someone easy to dislike, like the other actress in contention for the role, would have stripped away a lot of what made Carrie such a brilliant piece of work.
There have been many casting rumors of actresses who supposedly auditioned for the role of Carrie, but one of the most interesting is the rumors that Carrie Fisher was offered the role. In the documentary, aptly titled De Palma, he and other filmmakers recalled his career. In it, De Palma revealed that both Carrie and Star Wars were cast at the same time, as he and George Lucas were looking for similar actors. He revealed that everyone who read lines for Carrie also read lines for Star Wars, so there was quite a bit of crossover. He also revealed that Amy Irving, who landed the role of Sue Snell in Carrie, almost scored the role of Princess Leia. Naturally, with the films being cast at the same time, and the actors auditioning for both, Carrie Fisher was considered for the role of Carrie White, and Sissy Spacek was considered for the role of Princess Leia.
Though it may have been a bit of a bumpy road to get there, we’re grateful that De Palma ultimately changed his mind and gave the role of Carrie White to Spacek. Of course, we’ll never truly know how the film would have looked without her, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else originating the role, or doing it even half as wonderfully as she did. Sissy Spacek truly became Carrie White, and helped make it the horror classic it is today.
Carrie is available to stream on Max
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