Sally Field channeled grief over mother’s death into Lincoln

Sally Field was featured on ABC Evening News tonight in a story that originally aired on Valentine’s Day.

Sally Field has been a beloved part of American pop culture for nearly a half-century. At 66, she has as many Best Actress Academy Awards as Meryl Streep. Pretty good for someone who began on the ABC sitcoms “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun.”

“When I started in the business, I started in situation-comedy, that’s kind of– those were it,” Field said. “People will say to me, ‘you made such wonderful choices in your life.’ I have? I had so few choices.”

Still, she was undaunted and unabashed in her desire to play Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

“I’m proud of the film, I’m proud of my work in the film, I’m proud I fought to get in it,” Field said.

Proud, too, of doing it all, deep in the midst of a heartbreak she has never talked about publicly before: Her mother’s death.

But this acclaimed performance, for which she pored through books on the troubled first lady and gained around 20 pounds, nearly didn’t happen, despite Spielberg’s initial enthusiasm for her to play the part.

“He actually asked me to be Mary Todd, I think it was 2005, but I knew even then, when I drove away… that there would be a lot of slip between cup and lip, ultimately,” she said.

Years of false starts followed. But when a script by “Angels in America” playwright Tony Kushner restarted the project, Field’s struggle began.

“I just knew that would be a battle then,” she said. “I’m 10 years older than Daniel [Day-Lewis], and Mary Todd was 10 years younger than Lincoln. I’m 20 years older than what Mary was. Steven said, ‘it’s not going to work.’ The good news is I didn’t kill myself that day because he called me the next day.”

The customarily reclusive Daniel Day-Lewis had offered to fly from Ireland to Los Angeles for the day to act with her, giving Field one final chance.

He walked across the room, and I was sitting as Mary and I did not rise until he was literally next to me,” she said. “And I rose, finally gave him my hand and he kissed it, and I said, ‘Mr. Lincoln’ and he said ‘mother.’ That’s what they called each other, and I lay my head on his chest, because I am much shorter than he, as appropriately so, and I whispered ‘thank you.’ He kissed the top of my head and said, ‘my honor,’ and it will be one of the things I remember forever and ever and ever.”

As she drove home, Day-Lewis and Spielberg called to say she had won the role.

“I knew then, that day, and just began to cry, of course. Saying, ‘thank you, thank you, I won’t let you down,'” Field said.

That performance as Mary Todd — sympathetic, subtlety emotional — has earned Field a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and was achieved under challenging circumstances. Her mother died during filming, and on Field’s 65th birthday.

“My mother passed away while I was doing ‘Lincoln,’ which was a huge part of the whole experience,” Field said. “I had never really talked about it. It was huge, and everybody knew and I flew home and she’d been very ill so it’d been ongoing. My daily phone calls with her. It all folded into the batter, and of course the grieving and the things that I felt were tremendous.”

18 Comments on this Post

  1. Love her, always have. She is astounding in Lincoln and should be getting more of these “great lady” parts. You know, the ones for women over 40 that aren’t scooped up by Meryl. Oh, wait…

    She also deserves props for tirelessly promoting the film. DDL is nowhere. Jones doesn’t do that. Spielberg can or will only do so much. Sadly it seems they like Sally, but they like Ben more.

  2. The sad part is that even if Sally Field pulls off an upset and wins Best Supporting Actress, the media and maybe those casual viewers who have paid attention this whole awards season will think Field “stole” Hathaway’s award.

    IMO, Field is just as deserving (if not more so) than Hathaway, and I wish the precursors were more split between the two. (I still haven’t watched The Sessions yet).

    That said, this is probably all moot because Anne Hathaway is definitely going to Oscar barring some huge upset.

  3. I’ve said all year that Lincoln and Les Mis are the kinds of movies that should tie in acting categories. OK, this isn’t as rich a field as 1968, but is it so far off to draw a parallel between Field in Lincoln and Hepburn (61 at the time) in The Lion in Winter, and between Streisand in Funny Girl and Hathaway in Les Mis? I feel similarly about DDL and Jackman, especially since there are never great roles for men in musicals. Oh, I’m sure we’ll never have another tie in the Academy’s history, but for once it’d be refreshing.

  4. Today Maureen Dowd is pretty unsympathetic to Kushner/Spielberg. If they’ve lost MoDo….

  5. daveinprogress

    I think it is interesting that 3 of this year’s nominees (4 if you count Jacki Weaver’s long long career before hitting it big 2 years ago), were child stars or teen stars. Helen Hunt appeared in the Mary Tyler Moore show as a juvenile and is the daughter of a tv director; Anne Hathaway began her career as a teenager in tv and stage work before the Princess movie at 18.
    Sally Field beginning her career at 19 with Gidget on tv. Jacki was a teenager when she first appeared on a crime tv series Homicide. Amy Adams is the only nominee who began her career in her 20’s. It is testament to the nominees that their careers have traversed several mediums and continue to flourish.

  6. Bryce Forestieri

    I ain’t happening but it’d be sweet if she won. Second to Amy Adams she deserves it the most.

  7. Pierre de Plume

    It’s true that Field has carried a lot of the load when it comes to promoting Lincoln, though James Spader was on the Tonight Show recently.

    I have nothing against Anne Hathaway — she’s a talented performer — but I think Field deserves this Oscar because her role is more complex and challenging than that of Fantine.

    Although Field doesn’t initially appear to have great range, she’s quite adept at light comedy as well as drama. Her performance in Norma Rae, IMO, ranks as one of the most deserving Oscar wins.

  8. [anyone getting page-load problems because of this video embed?]

  9. daveinprogress

    Gidget problems!

  10. I think she deserves it. Her MTL was just a more well-rounded performance. She took what has previously been a one-note characterization and made it real and human. I love Hathaway, but by comparison, her role is a glorified cameo that goes from 1-11, without a lot of variation. That’s the nature of the role. Besides, Hathaway is going to be nominated for the Judy Garland biopic at some point. I’ll be rooting for her then. This is Sally’s year.

  11. Tony,
    I read your post and was curious about a Dowd diss…
    It wasn’t that at all. She was discussing the different ‘fabrications’ of the three Oscar contenders that have had to deal with accusations of making shit up. She didn’t diss it or she wasn’t ‘unsympathetic’ at all to Spielberg/Kushner.

  12. Anne hathaway is in les mis for 5 mins and sings for most of it is that acting No
    She should be nominated for a grammy not an oscar.

  13. “Anne hathaway is in les mis for 5 mins and sings for most of it is that acting No
    She should be nominated for a grammy not an oscar.”

    No, she’s great, no matter the length of time.

    Ask poor Nick Nolte.

  14. Speaking of Amy Adams and The Master, I guess I have to watch it again. I understand all the critical praise for Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I think Hoffman has a strong shot at Oscar and if it wasn’t for DDL, then Phoenix would’ve been the front-runner (PTA has the magic touch for his lead male roles and he’s the reason why DDL won his second Oscar). However, Amy Adams was just sort of there. Sure, she had a good scene towards the end, and she competently played up her character’s strong-willed devotion to the cause, but I really didn’t think she did anything special.

    It was sort of like Helena Bonham-Carter in The King’s Speech. Sure she played the role of supporting wife straight and as written, but like Bonham-Carter, I felt that Adams’ performance could have been done by anyone.

  15. Tony,
    MoDo wrote about Argo and ZDT, but more than half her column was about Lincoln. She made it pretty clear that she wasn’t happy with Kushner’s self-defense.

  16. ChrisFlick

    A tie with Sally Field and Anne Hathaway would be sweet, Field made me want to see a movie just about Mary Lincoln, with her in it. So I went in to Les Miserable with a chip on my shoulder but truth be told once I saw Hathaway’s Fantine I thought ‘Oh, OK you can’t fight city hall.”

  17. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I never saw the character of “Fantine” on screen – I saw actress Anne Hathaway gunning for an Oscar. To reward such a transparent “Give me my OSCAR dammit”! thing sucks.

    Field is the winner in my book. She was great. And Helen Hunt was great, too.

  18. JJ –

    How do you “gun” for an Oscar. Because Anne Hathaway attempted to do her best job as an actor she is now criticized for “gunning” for one.
    Have some respect for the craft………..

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