LINCOLN directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner based on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones. A Disney release. 150 minutes. Opens Friday (November 9). For venues and times, see Movies.
Sally Field has just blown my mind.
She's in town for a Lincoln press day, and I've asked her about playing Mary Todd Lincoln opposite Daniel Day-Lewis's Abraham Lincoln - a challenge I imagine would have been much harder given all the makeup Day-Lewis would have required for his role.
"We had very little makeup on," she says. "There are no prosthetics or anything. I had no padding; he had only the tiniest bit of makeup. There were times in scenes where I rubbed my hands all over his face. Trust me, I couldn't have done that with latex."
In person, much as she is onscreen, Field is a smallish, lively woman with an undercurrent of steel. Her curious mixture of vulnerability and fortitude has won her two Oscars - for Norma Rae and Places In The Heart - and perfectly suits the famously complex persona of Mary Todd Lincoln.
Steven Spielberg originally cast her in 2005, when Liam Neeson was to play the lead. But it took a while to develop the script, and when Neeson dropped out and Day-Lewis signed on, Field's participation was suddenly up in the air.
Spielberg "did not see me with Daniel," she says, "whereas he saw me playing with [Neeson]. So he was generous enough to let me fight for it, and Daniel was generous enough to fly to Los Angeles from Ireland for a day so we could test together. He felt that Steven really needed to see us on film together; he had to see us as Mary and Mr. Lincoln. And that's what we did."
Once her position was secured (again), Field immersed herself into the character.
"We all did so much research," she says. "I know Daniel did, and I did. Steven read a ton. But my research had to be just specifically Mary. I read nothing on Lincoln; it wasn't my task. I read books on Lincoln and Mary and their relationship, but there's a lot less written on Mary than on Mr. Lincoln.
"[But] the task of the actor is to piece together all you can. You draw your own conclusion as to what actually might have happened or what ingredients in this person's personality would lead her to behave in some way. You try to add this little piece and that little piece, never thinking about a finished product. You then face this towering husband, and he has his own energy, and you've gotta deal with him."
And her storied co-star?
"People ask about his process all the time," she says. "But that's how actors work. I mean, that's not an unusual process, really. They call him method; well, I actually am method, because "method" was coined from the Actor's Studio, from Lee Strasberg, and that's where I studied."
Yet she never talks about being a method actor.
"I hide it, because people will talk bad about you," she laughs. "They will think you're weird. And besides that, you don't wanna reveal your process. You don't wanna say what you're doing. You just want everyone to leave you alone and let you always be in it.
"But Daniel and Steven created this bubble where I didn't have to hide my process. From the time I arrived in Richmond, I'd done so much research, I just was this person. Whatever was gonna be on the screen was already there with me. It never left."