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Just Like Mom

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For Schuyler Fisk, leaving home at 17 to search for fame was practically a family tradition. Her freckle-faced mother bolted from tiny Quitman, Texas, for New York City in 1967. So Schuyler’s mom—Oscar winner Sissy Spacek—could hardly force her daughter to stay on the family’s 210-acre northern Virginia horse farm. “The business has been good to me,” says Spacek, 50. “I would be a hypocrite if I tried to convince her not to do this.”

Looks like mother knows best. Five months after moving into a three-bedroom suburban L.A. condo with acting pal Leslie Appleyard, 16, Schuyler (pronounced SKY-ler) is starring alongside Chevy Chase and Chris Elliott in this season’s goofy surprise hit Snow Day. And like her character, a sweet girl next door, Schuyler is winning friends along the way. “Her smile just lit up the set,” says Snow Day director Chris Koch. “Everybody fell in love with her.”

It’s enough to make a parent burst with pride. At the Jan. 29 Snow Day premiere in L.A., Spacek and her husband of 25 years, Jack Fisk, 54, beamed over their older child (they also have a daughter, Madison, 11), who not only acts in the film but sings an original song, “It’s Not Her” (with Mom on harmony), which plays over the closing credits. “Through the whole movie I was looking over at my parents,” Schuyler says. “They were just looking adoringly at the screen and at the end, when my song came on, I saw a little bit of tears.”

“It was my favorite movie premiere ever,” says Spacek, though she admits that, for photo ops, her 5’2″ frame would have been better served with higher heels. “[Schuyler’s] not only smarter and cuter, she towers over me.”

Height notwithstanding, Schuyler, with fair skin and strawberry blonde hair, is clearly her mother’s daughter. Once, the younger actress hated the comparisons. “People used to introduce me, ‘This is Sissy Spacek’s daughter,’ ” she says. “It was the worst thing in the world. I’m very proud of my mom, but it’s much better when I have my own identity.”

That identity was forged among horses and non-Hollywood humans who populated the Virginia spread that Spacek and Fisk, a film production designer, purchased in the early 1980s. Still, by age 6, Schuyler was performing at community theaters near their Blue Ridge Mountain farm (her first role was as a bumblebee in Charlotte’s Web). In 1995 she broke into movies, thanks to a family friend, director Melanie Mayron, who cast her as Kristy in the adolescent ensemble film The Baby Sitter’s Club.

The experience, however, wasn’t all positive. “After The Baby Sitter’s Club, people [at school] were really mean,” Schuyler recalls. “You don’t really know how to handle it, so you just try to go and do cool things.” Those things included more theater, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey at her private Virginia high school and learning guitar from her mother, who did her own singing in 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar. Most formatively, Schuyler also helped her dad on the Australian set of family friend Terence Malick’s war epic The Thin Red Line during the summer of ’97. “It made me realize,” she says, “how much I want to be an actor.”

Newly motivated, she won a role in Snow Day, which was shot on location in Alberta, Canada. After filming finished, Schuyler enrolled in an accelerated high school degree program and finished last August before moving to L.A. with Appleyard, whom she met at acting camp in ’98. Initially, both sets of parents had misgivings about the move. “I think it’s a parent’s job to worry,” Spacek says. But a network of L.A. contacts—Malick, Koch and other pals of Spacek and Fisk’s—look in regularly on the girls. And Schuyler, who is not dating at the moment, has already shown a levelheaded, frugal streak, cutting coupons and checking bills for accuracy. The girls, who cover their own expenses, recently canceled cable service because, Schuyler says, “we thought we could be doing more productive stuff.” Adds Leslie: “People think we go crazy and eat junk food all the time. We don’t.”

There’s too much work involved in auditioning, and Schuyler also writes songs in her spare time in hopes of landing a record deal. She and Leslie even find time to study for their SATs. “We definitely want to go to college, but we don’t know exactly when,” Schuyler explains. Besides, “what we’re learning now you can’t learn in a book. It’s like the Real World 101.”

Russell Scott Smith

Monica Rizzo in Los Angeles