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Sally Field: “You Find a Way to Do the Work You Want to Do”

March 28, 2016

Two-time Oscar winning actress Sally Field recently revealed to BuzzFeed that she’s felt like an underdog throughout the course of her 50-year acting career. Considering the worthwhile roles she’s played over the years, her career momentum has appeared to come easy for the A-list star. But that’s not the way she would describe the evolution of her acting journey. “I can’t remember when I didn’t feel like the underdog. Actually, underdog is the understatement of my career. Maybe that’s something I put in my own head…but I don’t think it is something I put in my head. Everything I’ve ever had that mattered to me, I had to be such a scrappy fighter to get.”

Field’s early roles were in television shows as a teenager playing Sister Bertrille in The Flying Nun, and the surfer girl Gidget. But she felt like the “mutt of the group” as she didn’t come from a prestigious acting school, she didn’t feel respected by some directors, and then faced the challenge of being typecast as the TV sitcom version of the girl next door. She experienced six years of rejection when she tried to find work in film, only to discover that it was the male actors that the industry permitted to make such a transition during those times in the early 1970s. “So I had to fight, “ Field asserts. “I had to overcome that. I had to be very honest with myself: How can I get good enough that they can’t say no?” It wasn’t long before she studied with Lee Stasberg at the Actors Studio, and pushed past these barriers. Field was soon after cast as a young woman with multiple personality disorder in the TV film Sybil–a break through role that both earned her an Emmy and got her foot in the door as a film actress. She’d go on to win Academy Awards for Best Actress for her performances in Norma Rae and Places In the Heart, and be celebrated for many other roles in films like Mrs. Doubtfire, Forrest Gump, and Lincoln.

As she progressed in years, however, Field was faced with a shortage of worthwhile roles for females her age. “Even when I was supposedly at the top of my game or in my prime, or whatever they call it, even then it was very hard to find projects,” she insists. But still her passion remained unceasing. “There’s a relentless forest fire inside of me [and] I wish my fires would begin to dim,” she says in jest. “You find a way to do the work you want to do, whether it’s on the big screen, the small screen, the stage, you just find a way.”

Although she prefers acting in films, she’s grateful for any opportunity to act, and so has learned to be glad to take on TV roles in shows like ER and Brothers & Sisters. Today, Field remains as driven as ever, describing her desire to act as screaming, “Let me in there, boss! Let me off the bench! Let me do it! Let me do it! I can be bad, I can be short, I could be blonde, I could be old, I could be young, just let me loose!”

Her latest role is Doris Miller in the independent film Hello, My Name is Doris which was released earlier this month. Field is paired with a much younger love interest played by Max Greenfield. She insists, “It’s kind of a miracle this got made” both because it features a older female lead and because the film is unusual and not easily defined. “I’m fighting for Doris,” the 70-year-old Field says.

Here is a clip of Field explaining how she told Steven Spielberg, “You’re wrong, Steven…you’re wrong” as she fought to attain the role of Mary Todd Lincoln opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.