You seemed less enamored of Sissy Spacek on-screen in Carrie!
We didn’t have any off-camera interaction until it was over. My daughter, who was 5, visited the set on the last day, and Sissy was enchanted. I’d like to think I inspired her to have her children. Then we got to work together again on [1995’s] The Grass Harp. Instead of playing her mother, I was her sister…and I was the nice one and she was the mean one. That was great fun!
Not many people make their film debut with a future president, but you did with Ronald Reagan in Louisa. How was he?
A lovely man. I wish I hadn’t written quite so much about our encounter in [my 2011 memoir] Learning to Live Out Loud.
Do you mean you regret writing about losing your virginity to him at age 18?
I could have told the story without such explicit detail. I was invited to the White House for a party when he was leaving office and I declined because it didn’t feel right.
Was he a good kisser, at least?
How about Tony Curtis?
He was a good kisser, too. I met him when I was 16 in acting class. We were pals, but when I was signed at the same studio he was at, he seemed a little shocked and not very welcoming. We were in four movies and never talked to each other except for the dialogue, and he used to write about how awful I was. It was craziness.
But in the end, did it all work out?
Well, if you mean he died and I’m still alive, then yes! [Laughs]
Were you happy with the way your career in Hollywood progressed?
Yes, yes. I’m also happy that I’ve had a lot of down time, because that’s precious to me. I don’t know how actors survive working one film after the other. I did when I was very young, but I was doing junk, so maybe that’s why it was so depressing!
What was it like to write your memoir?
My housekeeper thought I was going crazy, because I was at the computer laughing all the time! Like being made up as a Japanese man when I was doing Twin Peaks, and being forbidden to tell anybody what I was doing, even my family.
It’s amazing how much you accomplished after a tough childhood. Hard to revisit?
I recently heard from a successful architect who’d been at the same home I’d been in — it was just a storage place for kids who were sick. [But] I wasn’t sick. My sister had asthma and hay fever, and I was sent with her to keep her company. I was 6 and I stayed there until I was 9. People there weren’t allowed to touch us or love us, and I didn’t see my
parents for all of that time except once or twice. It really created who I am. But it was right after the Depression, and it would have been very hard for them to pay for this home with my sister’s illness and keep a young kid, too. Most of the time my father didn’t have a job — most men didn’t.
How did you overcome it all?
I think by working hard, wanting to create
STAR POWERHas being a star since 1950 fulfilled Piper? “Not much,” she admits, but “when I meet fans that are sincere, I like that I have touched people.”