Sally Field

Daniel Day-Lewis calls her Mother; to Tom Hanks she’s Mama. Af­ter 50 years as one of Hol­ly­wood’s lead­ing ac­tresses, Sally Field can teach a thing or two to the best in the busi­ness. Yet, she re­veals to Elaine Lip­worth, she still has an un­ful­filled am­bi­tio

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‘I’m still hop­ing I might meet Mr Right some day... So if some­body knows any­body suit­able, just speak right up!’

The ver­sa­tile star of classics that range from the weepie Steel Mag­no­lias to the very funny Mrs Doubt­fire, Sally Field has en­joyed a ca­reer span­ning nearly half a cen­tury. She’s won two Os­cars and was nom­i­nated again this year for her poignant per­for­mance as Mary Todd Lin­coln in Steven Spiel­berg’s drama Lin­coln. ( Her co- star Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Os­car play­ing Amer­ica’s iconic 16th Pres­i­dent who out­lawed slav­ery and was as­sas­si­nated in 1865.)

Sally is re­garded as one of the lead­ing ac­tresses of her gen­er­a­tion, but at 66 still has one un­ful­filled am­bi­tion that has noth­ing to do with Hol­ly­wood. ‘I would love to get a de­gree,’ she con­fides when we meet for lunch in a New York ho­tel. ‘I never went to col­lege. I’ve spent my whole life act­ing and earn­ing enough money to raise my three chil­dren. I think my jour­ney would’ve been dif­fer­ent had I been to col­lege. Fate came in and grabbed me and my path was my path, but I have al­ways very much wanted a lib­eral arts ed­u­ca­tion.’

Ar­tic­u­late, lit­er­ary and highly in­tel­li­gent, Sally has noth­ing to prove, but it’s a mea­sure of her tenac­ity that she re­fuses to rest on her lau­rels. She was born and raised in Pasadena, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, along with her older brother, Richard. Her mother, Mar­garet, an ac­tress, and fa­ther, Richard, an army cap­tain, di­vorced when she was four. Mar­garet re­mar­ried ac­tor and stunt­man Jock Ma­honey. ‘Col­lege was not pre­sented to me as a pos­si­bil­ity,’ says Sally, ex­plain­ing that dur­ing the 1960s her par­ents — like many oth­ers — viewed col­lege as a pri­or­ity for boys, but didn’t con­sider it for girls. ‘My brother went to Berke­ley [ Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia] and be­came an ele­men­tal par­ti­cle physi­cist but no one said to me, “How about you, Sal?” My par­ents at that time were hav­ing a hic­cup in their re­la­tion­ship and they didn’t no­tice me.’

They did foster her nat­u­ral act­ing tal­ent and she grew to love her work, but not right away. Sally’s first pro­fes­sional job was the 1965 TV show Gid­get. At 19, her volatile step­fa­ther — whom she de­scribes as ‘both cruel and loving’ — ‘ fright­ened’ her into ac­cept­ing the star­ring role in the 1967 se­ries The Fly­ing Nun. It be­came a big hit, but ac­cord­ing to Sally was an ‘in­sipid, stupid sit­u­a­tion com­edy… I was a walk­ing sight­gag. He said I prob­a­bly wouldn’t work again if I didn’t take it. The as­sump­tion was that I wasn’t good enough. I wanted to study and be­come a se­ri­ous ac­tress.’

She spent all her spare time tak­ing classes with renowned act­ing teacher Lee Stras­berg (who also taught Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe) and drew the at­ten­tion of lead­ing di­rec­tors. She ap­peared in sev­eral TV movies be­fore win­ning an Emmy in 1977 for her role as a schiz­o­phrenic in the TV drama Sy­bil. Her im­pres­sive cred­its since then in­clude Ab­sence Of Mal­ice with Paul New­man and 1994’s For­rest Gump with Tom Hanks. She won two Best Ac­tress Os­cars in the 1980s for Norma Rae and Places In The Heart and Em­mys for the TV se­ries ER and Broth­ers & Sis­ters. She also played Aunt May in The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man and re­turns in next year’s se­quel.

Now sin­gle, Sally has two sons — Peter, 43, and Elijah, 40 — from her first mar­riage, to builder Steven Craig. She mar­ried her sec­ond hus­band, film pro­ducer Alan Greis­man, in 1984; they had a son, Sam, 25, and split up nine years later. She was also fa­mously in­volved for sev­eral years with her Smokey And The Ban­dit co-star Burt Reynolds. ‘I’m not good at re­la­tion­ships; what can I tell you?’

Pe­tite and very pretty, Sally or­ders a prawn salad, as­sid­u­ously avoid­ing the cakes and pas­tries laid out for us on the cof­fee ta­ble. She had to gain 25lb to play Mary Todd Lin­coln — all of which she’s now lost.

‘It was not easy,’ she says. ‘It took six months and there was no way on earth in my mid- 60s I could take off the weight just by di­et­ing. I had to work out a lot. I had two train­ers; I did a lot of car­dio, weight train­ing and pi­lates — ba­si­cally a lot of huff­ing and puff­ing.’ Her dark hair is shoul­der length, fram­ing her heart-shaped face and large eyes. There are faint lines around her eyes and mouth. ‘Do I want to do ar­ti­fi­cial things to try to make my­self look younger? No. I think if I weren’t an ac­tor, I’d be tempted be­cause there are th­ese signs I should look younger,’ she smiles, touch­ing her fore­head. ‘But I have to look like a woman my age or it would be weird. I would never get the great roles like Mary Todd Lin­coln.’

My mother was a real work­ing- class ac­tor. She was never as good as she wanted to be, but she loved act­ing. She had been dis­cov­ered and put un­der con­tract to Para­mount Pic­tures stu­dio in the 1940s and was lucky enough to study act­ing with Charles Laughton [the English ac­tor and di­rec­tor] who was bril­liant, ar­guably one of the finest ac­tors who ever lived. His legacy is be­ing chal­lenged now by Daniel Day-Lewis! My mother had a col­lec­tion of lit­tle ‘por­ta­ble li­brary’ hard­back books of Chekhov and Ib­sen and Shake­speare, which I still have. She played the maid in The Cherry Orchard and her scenes are marked off with di­rec­tions: ‘ Cross down­stage right…’ She quit act­ing in her mid-30s but her love of lit­er­a­ture and the classics was in­stilled in me. I think she was very proud of me. She was al­ways ter­ri­bly sup­port­ive and loving.

When you have par­ents who are strug­gling fi­nan­cially, you watch what it’s like. My par­ents were both ac­tors. It’s a re­ally hard life be­cause you have a job one week and then months go by, you don’t get hired and you won­der how you’re

go­ing to pay the rent. It meant ter­ri­ble in­se­cu­rity. Since I grew up in that en­vi­ron­ment, the ex­pe­ri­ence stays with me as a cau­tion­ary tale. You think you have some po­si­tion in the in­dus­try, then you don’t and there’s al­ways the fear that you will have to sell the house and the cars. That hap­pened to my fam­ily and it does some­thing to you in­side.

I hated The Fly­ing Nun. I was ter­ri­bly de­pressed and the se­ries ran for three years. I was 19 and didn’t want to play a nun. It was the Six­ties. Ev­ery­body was tak­ing acid and drop­ping out. As far as my gen­er­a­tion was con­cerned I rep­re­sented the es­tab­lish­ment that they were re­belling against. They were wear­ing miniskirts — I was wear­ing a habit. Work­ing with Daniel Day-Lewis is heaven. We all do the same thing as ac­tors — the dif­fer­ence is that Daniel does it bet­ter than any­one else! He does mag­nif­i­cent char­ac­ter work. He seems to wrap him­self up in silk and hang up­side down from a tree un­til he emerges as a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son. He also has the abil­ity to bring his own per­sonal emo­tional life into the role, so he never cre­ates a car­i­ca­ture as other ac­tors might do who are sort of im­i­tat­ing an­other per­son. Daniel is able to cre­ate an­other hu­man be­ing. When we were film­ing I called him ‘Mr Lin­coln’. He called me Molly mostly, some­times Mother. Tom Hanks still calls me Mama [she played his mother in For­rest Gump] and I’ll go, ‘Tom, stop!’ He’ll pick me up and hug me like For­rest would do.

Daniel is a hys­ter­i­cally funny ras­cal. He al­ways wants to do some­thing funny and I’m al­ways go­ing, ‘Daniel, we can’t do that!’ He’s out­ra­geous. He’s also a phe­nom­e­nal fa­ther and as good a man as he is an ac­tor. So there you have it. It’s dis­gust­ing, ac­tu­ally! He has it all. It was hard to put on weight to play Mary Todd Lin­coln. She was around my height [5ft 2in] but she was heav­ier and rounder. I did it in a very dis­ci­plined way — I didn’t eat ba­nana cream pie and cheese­burg­ers. I went to a nu­tri­tion­ist, who made me eat re­volt­ing things. I’d have a milk­shake sort of drink twice a day; I had to add two scoops of nut but­ter and a ba­nana to up the calo­rie in­take. At meals I ate lots of brown rice and nuts and av­o­ca­dos. I thought, ‘If I just do this willy-nilly and eat French fries, I’ll die of a heart at­tack halfway through the pro­duc­tion — and that won’t be good.’

Mrs Doubt­fire has be­come an iconic work be­cause it is about fam­i­lies be­ing torn apart

when their par­ents split up. Chil­dren want to love both their par­ents and don’t want to hurt ei­ther of them. But in a lot of cases di­vorce is re­ally for the best be­cause it’s not healthy for chil­dren to be in an en­vi­ron­ment where their par­ents are re­ally not happy. At the same time the film is re­ally, re­ally funny.

To have a suc­cess­ful di­vorce is a dif­fi­cult

task. I’ve been lucky to have kept con­tact and close friend­ships with my chil­dren’s fa­thers. When they were grow­ing up we’d all go on va­ca­tions to­gether and we were one great big ex­tended fam­ily. I’ve spent a lot of time with my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. I’ve al­ways been very hands- on with them, even when I’ve worked. I’ve never been a worka­holic. I think I was a bet­ter par­ent to my youngest son, Sam, who is 18 years younger than my old­est son, Peter. I had Peter in my early 20s. I say to him, ‘Gosh, I’m sur­prised you’re do­ing so well and are such a happy, pro­duc­tive hu­man be­ing. You had a young mother.’

I cam­paign for gay rights for my son Sam

and all the par­ents of gay chil­dren. There are par­ents who shut their chil­dren out of their lives, and a hor­rific num­ber of th­ese young peo­ple are com­mit­ting sui­cide. Gay mar­riage is a hu­man rights is­sue. God knows, mar­riage is hard who­ever you’re with — and, God bless you if you get mar­ried, I hope it works.

There are very few roles for women of my

age or any age. It’s just the way that it has al­ways been. I don’t ac­cept it, but I just don’t think change is go­ing to come by ask­ing for it. I don’t know what the an­swer is. Just be as good as you pos­si­bly can. If I felt as though I had done my best work, I re­ally would quit, but you can’t feel like the best work you’ve done is be­hind you. Yikes. That would be aw­ful — what would you do?

I don’t re­ally want to be mar­ried — I’m gun shy — but I wouldn’t mind hav­ing a

play­mate. I would love to know what it’s like to have a good re­la­tion­ship. I would sure like to meet some­one; that would be great. I never meet any­one, though, be­cause I am not very so­cial. So if some­body knows any­body who might be right for me, just speak right up!

Lin­coln is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 10 June

High flier Right: Sally as Sis­ter Ber­trille in the 1960s TV se­ries The Fly­ing Nun, a role she hated. Far right: As Mary Todd Lin­coln along­side Daniel Day-Lewis in Spiel­berg’s film Lin­coln

So­nandSon and stars Above: Sally with her youngest son, Sam Greis­man, who in­spired her to cam­paign for gay rights

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