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Sally Field On Fighting For Her Role in 'Lincoln'

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Sally Field On Fighting For Her Role in 'Lincoln'
Photo Source: David James/DreamWorks

There are few female actors more highly regarded than Sally Field, winner of two Academy Awards and three Emmys. Yet Field says she still has to fight for roles, including her current turn as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Though Spielberg had approached her in 2005 about the part, he had a change of heart when Liam Neeson dropped out of the title role and Daniel Day-Lewis stepped in. Field called Spielberg and made a case for keeping the role. “I said, ‘Steven, I know all your concerns. I’m 10 years older than Daniel. Lincoln was 10 years older than Mary. But I won’t look it. And Daniel will look old and worn and thin, and I will look old and worn and fat, and that’s what they were,’ ” Field says. “He said the lighting will be harsh, and they weren’t doing any prosthetics. I said, ‘I don’t care what I look like; I only care that I will be Mary. I won’t let you walk away. You have to test me.’ ”

But even after a screen test shot by Spielberg’s DP, Janusz Kaminski, the director wasn’t convinced; he told Field it wasn’t going to work. “I thanked him, I let it go, and I tried to live through the rest of the day,” Field says. It was Day-Lewis, who offered to fly from Ireland to Los Angeles to test with Field, who changed Spielberg’s mind. The two actors tested together in a screening room, meeting each other for the first time in full costume and character. “I curtsied, and he kissed my hand, and I said, ‘Mr. Lincoln,’ and he said, ‘Mother.’ That’s what they called each other,” says Field. “We did some weird, hourlong improv. I then thanked everyone for allowing me the opportunity and went home, and when I got there the phone was ringing, and it was both Daniel and Steven on the phone saying, ‘Will you be Mary?’ ”

The hardest part of the shoot for Field was gaining 25 pounds to play Mary, something she admits “no actress wants to do.” With the help of a nutritionist, Field ate a high-protein diet and drank ProGain, which bodybuilders use, mixed with nut butter. To get into character, she read several books, including Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” on which “Lincoln” is partially based. And she spent time texting with Day-Lewis. “We had seven months before we began to shoot, and he would text me all the time, in character,” Field says. “I would have to then answer back in the language of the time, which was really hard to figure out but great fun. And we were very much our characters. I would criticize him for the language he just used, as Mary would, and that was really the beginning of building a relationship that you see onscreen.”

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