A two-time Academy Award winner, Sally Field is one of the most recognisable names, and faces, in Hollywood. An actor of remarkable range she has entertained and compelled audiences for more than five decades, from her breakthrough sit-com roles to her appearances in some of the most loved films of all time.
The playwright Eve Ensler once said of Field, ‘Sally is a true artist, she represents ordinary people and makes them deeply extraordinary,’ and as we take a look at just a small sample of her incredible range, it’s easy to see exactly what Ensler meant.
Having made her breakthrough in the surfer sitcom Gidgit, Sally Field became a household name in America in the late 1960s thanks to her role as Sister Bertrille in The Flying Nun. But the success would come at a cost, as Field would find herself type-cast in sit-com roles for the best part of a decade. All that changed when she successfully auditioned for the title-role in Sybil, the 1976 television mini-series about a teacher who’s psyche has dissociated into 13 different personalities in response to the abuse she suffered from her schizophrenic mother. Field’s compelling performance in the role earned her an Emmy Award for Best Dramatic Actress, helping her to break-free from the sit-com circuit.
A film that can arguably be considered more cult than classic, the 1977 box office hit Smokey and the Bandit was Field’s first major film role and one she only accepted after being advised by her agent that her CV could really benefit from a big film success. Starring alongside Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleeson, Field played the runaway bride, Carrie - nicknamed ‘Frog’ by Bo Darville (Reynolds) - although reportedly the distributors Universal initially resisted Field’s casting, claiming she was not attractive enough for the leading female part. Her co-star Reynolds championed her cause, and Field was now very much on Hollywood’s radar.
Two years on from hightailing across Georgia alongside Burt Reynolds, Field established herself as a dramatic actor with her performance in the title-role of Norma Rae. Based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton, the film follows factory worker, Norma Rae, who becomes involved in the labor union activities at the textile factory in which she works after the health of her and her co-workers is compromised. Field’s performance as Norma Rae Webster would see her win the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 1979 Oscars.
Five years on from Norma Rae, Field would win the Academy Award for Best Actress for a second time for her role in Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart. Field played the lead role Edna Spalding, a U.S. Depression-era Texas widow who tries to save the family farm with the help of a blind white man and a poor black man. But whilst her performance won due acclaim, it was her award acceptance speech which stuck most firmly in the memory, the often parodied, regularly misquoted ‘you like me, right now, you like me’.
Two of the most loved films of the early 1990s are lucky enough to boast Field among their cast; the first being the 1993 hit Mrs Doubtfire. Field played Miranda Hillard, long-suffering wife of Robin Williams’ main character and love interest of Stuart Dunmyer (Pierce Brosnan). Though her character’s ability to recognise her own husband may have left a lot to be desired, Field’s portrayal was typically on point, and particularly memorable for her brilliant reaction to Mrs Doubtfire’s big reveal.
A year on from Mrs Doubtfire, Field was again entertaining huge cinema audiences in her role as Mrs Gump, in the multi-Oscar Award-winning Forrest Gump. Despite being just ten years older than Tom Hanks - whom she had previously starred alongside in the 1988 film Punchline - Field’s versatility shines as she portrays the mother of Hanks’ Forrest Gump across two decades of the character’s life. (You might need a handkerchief handy for this next clip).
In 2000, Field returned to the small screen with the recurring role of Maggie Wyczenski, mother of Doctor Abby Lockhart in the hit American drama series ER. Her remarkable performances as Wyczenski, who suffers from bipolar disorder as well as a number of other mental health issues, earned Field an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.
In 2012, Field was back on the big screen, playing the role of First Lady Mary Todd in Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed Lincoln. As ever Field committed to the role and the opportunity as only she can, telling Vanity Fair of her performance. ‘If I was going to go down, I was going to go down in the biggest flame ball you ever saw’. Inevitably, as with so many of Field’s roles, the award nominations duly followed, as she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Awards at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes for her portrayal.
Ahead of the release of her memoir, In Pieces, Sally Field joined us at London Literature Festival to tell her extraordinary story in conversation with Elizabeth Day.
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