Even after 26 movies and six Oscar nominations, I'm still the same fearless little girl from East Texas.

I’VE ALWAYS HAD A DEEP sense of pride about being a Texan, and I remember thinking as a little kid, “Oh, how lucky I am to be born in Texas, in this little town, in this house, with these parents, and with Ed and Robbie as my brothers.” Quitman was a wonderful place to grow up—it was the center of my universe, my brier patch. There wasn’t a lot of outside interference—no satellite TV, no Internet. There was a picture show, but it closed when I was about six.

In a little town, everybody’s kind of pulling for you; it’s hard to fail in an environment like that. So as a kid, I got to explore and do a lot of different things and find what I was best at and what I enjoyed. I feel like the basis of me is tied so closely to my childhood. It’s that little kid that ran around barefoot in Quitman and just knew no fears, knew no strangers, rode her bike everywhere, rode her horse everywhere. It was an idyllic life, where the summers were long and I had enormous freedom and incredible security. We traveled a lot too, all over Texas, and I got a real good sense of my roots. My mother was from down in the Rio Grande Valley and my father was from Granger, in Central Texas, and everyone there spoke Czech. When we visited, we were the “ Spah-chek” family.

I started singing at talent shows and church functions in Quitman when I was around five or six. It was something creative that I was pretty good at, and people seemed to want to listen. I

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