Actress Sally Field On Hollywood, Family and Aging Academy Award-winning actress Sally Field has played many roles on-screen in a distinguished career that has spanned five decades. The star of the ABC television program "Brothers & Sisters," who's also a real-life grandmother, talks about longevity in Hollywood, her battle with osteoporosis and why, unlike many actors, she's embracing her senior years.
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Actress Sally Field On Hollywood, Family and Aging

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Actress Sally Field On Hollywood, Family and Aging

Actress Sally Field On Hollywood, Family and Aging

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our Wisdom Watch. That's the part of the program where we talk to people who have made a difference through their work and have wisdom to spare.

Today we speak with two-time Academy Award-winner Sally Field. She's brought an array of very different characters, ranging from a flying nun to a union organizer. She currently stars as Nora Holden Walker in the dramatic television series "Brothers and Sisters," which airs on ABC. She won a Screen Actors Guild Award for that role earlier this and earlier won an Emmy.

(Soundbite of television program, "Brothers and Sisters")

Ms. SALLY FIELD (Actor): (As Nora Holden Walker) "A Family in Politics" by Kitty Walker.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Did she write that?

Ms. FIELD: (As Nora) Oh yes, she wrote it, and we all come off like a bunch of ridiculous caricatures. Okay listen: My mother, easily a blue-stater, claims to be socially progressive. She's even got an arrest for possession of marijuana under her belt. My criminal record is now public knowledge?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) You know, it's a misdemeanor, mom.

Ms. FIELD: (As Nora) Says the drug addict.

MARTIN: Away from the screen, Sally Field has been outspoken on a number of issues. We caught up with her when she came to town to accept an award from the National Osteoporosis Foundation, which was given in recognition of her efforts to bring awareness to that condition. You must have a lot of room on your mantle. So thank you for visiting with us.

Ms. FIELD: Well, thank you for allowing me to visit with you.

MARTIN: First of all, what is osteoporosis?

Ms. FIELD: Well, osteoporosis is a bone disease, and what it means is that your bones lose their density. They become porous, like wet chalk, basically. Bone is a living tissue in your body, and it is constantly refreshing itself like skin is. You have dead skin cells that fall off, well bones are the same way. You have the cells that are sloughed off that are shed from your body, and new bone builds, and osteoporosis happens when your body is shedding more bone than you're able to build.

MARTIN: It is a condition associated with aging, right?

Ms. FIELD: It is because it has to do, as you get older, with a loss of hormones that do so much to keep your body healthy in a lot of ways. When you lose those hormones, some things need attention.

MARTIN: And maybe the reason I was curious about this is I was interviewing a young actress, and she had been offered a role where she would play the mother of three young children, and she initially told her agent, she said you know what? No. Call me when you get something sexy, because even at her young age, she was worried about being cast as older. And so I wondered, you know, you've taken on a lot of issues over the course of your time; you're interested in a lot of things. Did you hesitate to take on an advocacy role to bring attention to something like this, which is associated with aging? Age is such a tricky thing in Hollywood, especially for women.

Ms. FIELD: Yes it is, but it isn't like I can deny that I'm getting older. That would be humiliating.

MARTIN: Well, a lot of people do.

Ms. FIELD: Well, that's humiliating, and I wish they wouldn't. I am 62, and there's parts of being 62 that I am so proud of, that I've lived this long and that I'm still upright and that I've continued to work. And being an older woman is so valuable in this country, in whoever you are, whatever community you live in, whatever city, whatever town, whatever country. Older women have something great to offer, and…

MARTIN: Are you ever tempted to lie about your age?

Ms. FIELD: No, I'm never tempted to lie about - probably because I started so young. Everyone already knew my age. It wasn't like when I was in my 40s I could say I was in my 30s. Everyone already knew how old I was, and I've never been one of those people, and then therefore actresses, that you know, walks in the room, and the part of me that I exhibit the most or sell the most or am the most is sexuality. I mean it's there, trust me…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let's hope so.

Ms. FIELD: …but it was never what I identified myself as being, you know, that's what I am, just a sexy being. So that was never - glamour and sexuality was never what I walked into the room with. So getting older - I'm an actor, and that's what I value most. I want to be able to play those old women, and I want to be able to play them standing upright and not hobbling around, and I want to have choices.

I don't want to be stuck in a chair. And you know, I don't want to lose years off my life because I didn't take the time to notice or to have checked that I had osteoporosis, which is a huge, huge issue for women my age, and I didn't know it was there. I didn't know that one out of two women - that half over the age of 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture.

MARTIN: Talk to me about your latest role. What attracted you to the role of Nora Walker?

Ms. FIELD: Oh boy. Nora is so fabulous because she's real. Not a lot of roles I think today really showing the life, you know, full rounded life of a woman in this country in her 60s. Every now and again there'll be a film that has a little bit about what a woman's life is in their 60s as they get older, but not like Nora. Nora is really the whole enchilada. You know that what is important in her life, and how she got to this point, and how she moves forward. And I honestly feel that they're not enough examples in this country for people to look at, for women to look at who are either older or some day going to be older that says hmm, okay, aging is not a bad thing. It is actually what...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: ... humans do; they age, and the choices are really grim. You know you either age...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: ... or you die. I mean what are your choices here? So you have to say this is the way it was supposed to be and I will find the value in it, and there's like tremendous.

MARTIN: One of the things I think, one of the positive qualities I think that many people associate with older women is outspokenness. I'm thinking, of course, of Barbara Bush, who was famously known to speak her mind, and so are you. When you won an Emmy for your role in 2007 you famously said, and ending to your acceptance speech, let's face it...

(Soundbite of Emmy Award ceremony): ... if the mothers ruled the world there would be no (bleep) wars in the first place.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of cheering)

MARTIN: Did you plan that?

Ms. FIELD: No. No, I didn't. I had won that year for Nora Walker. And Nora's story that year was really centered around her being the parent of a child who was going into harm's way. And that had to do with sending a child into Iraq or Afghanistan. And I wanted to pay homage to how brave that is and how incredible that is for the parents or the loved ones who stay and send their loved ones into a danger. And it could be into war. It could be being a firefighter or a police officer. There are all sorts of heroes, who really risk their lives to take care of others, and being the mother of someone who does that, I wanted to pay homage to that, and out of it came...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: ... you know, a bit of Sally.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know it's interesting because the whole question of when celebrities choose to speak out and what they choose to speak out about is something that always stirs up a lot of interest. I mean sometimes people say, oh yes, finally they're taking on something and using their stature to call attention to something, and you are a citizen, and you have every right. But then there are those who say well why don't you guys just you know look pretty and just keep far away.

Ms. FIELD: You know and why don't you shove up it where the sun don't shine?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Yes. Exactly. Why don't you just sit down? Thank you so much. You know, we don't need your commentary.

Ms. FIELD: I don't care about that. I mean that's what I say. Those are the people that you can just say you know I don't care. If someone says to me you know, sit down, and shut up, and look pretty well, too bad because I couldn't do that in 1964, so. And especially because I in that case I had just won an award and I wanted to address really why I had won it. I won it because it's a very powerful subject that people were really going through...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: ... and are today.

MARTIN: How do you decide what's worth your time? I think this is something that a lot of people, particularly women struggle with they're so many things that could command your attention. How do you decide when something is worth your time?

Ms. FIELD: I think something just strikes you in your heart, in your gut, what's right. I have always been drawn to working for women and children, whether it be this or you know several of the other groups I work for. I really do believe that the voices of women in this world are very, very needed. You know when you look at all the women in various countries that are so horribly -marginalized is a kind word, and used as weapons of war. And you know and it's, I really think that as humans on this planet we must address this and must have the voices of women more at the table.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm visiting with Oscar and Emmy Award winning actress, Sally Field. It's our Wisdom Watch conversation. I noticed that one of the groups that you're involved with is a group that helps women around the world particularly, emerging women leaders...

Ms. FIELD: Yes.

MARTIN: ...around the world to develop skills...

Ms. FIELD: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: find their voices. It's a group that we work with so...

Ms. FIELD: Vital Voices.

MARTIN: ...(unintelligible) it caught my attention.

Ms. FIELD: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Did it take you some time to find your voice? I mean you were a star very early in your life.

Ms. FIELD: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: At an age when gosh, I think you know a lot of us were just trying to figure out how to pick our major.

Ms. FIELD: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: You know and whether we should go to a mixer or not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: Yes.

MARTIN: You know, on Saturday night.

Ms. FIELD: Yes.

MARTIN: And here you were already a major star. So did it take you a while to find your voice?

Ms. FIELD: Oh yes. Oh goodness yes. I mean you know there's all sorts of voices. The voices that you speak out in a public way against things you feel are wrong or need to be right or to serve in some way. But then there's the personal voice. The voice that says you know, no I don't like that. Please don't do that to me. No, I don't want you to treat me that way or...

MARTIN: How about as a performer though? I mean one of the things that's always you know in my field that I'm always amazed by a star of your stature is always surrounded by so many people. I mean there's, you know there are 18 people around who I'm sure are happy to give their opinion about what you should do next. How do you sort through all that...

Ms. FIELD: I don't really have 18 people around me.

MARTIN: I'm exaggerating. But you know what I mean.

Ms. FIELD: No, I don't even have two.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: I don't - but I've never been that way. I think because I've always been kind of a hermit and really shy, so I don't have a lot of people around me giving me, or I turn to and ask opinions of or, I just never have.

MARTIN: Well your parents were very dominant in your life early on choosing.

Ms. FIELD: My mother. My mother's...


Ms. FIELD: ... always been you know the person I talk to. And honestly, it took me a long time to be able to say no, that's not really right. I don't really think that way. You know for a long time it was she had such weight, and still does. Luckily she's still here. She still has so much weight, her opinion, that many times I don't ask her opinion because I'm afraid that it will sway my own instinct. Because she has had so much weight, and I think no, I better just go with my, if I hear what her opinion is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: ... it may mean too much to me. I'm just going to move forward. Lots of times I wish I had asked her, but...

MARTIN: But was there a critical moment when you realized you know, my decision, it's got to be my gut; it's got to be what I want? Was it when you became a mother, for example?

Ms. FIELD: You know that is a big part of anybody growing up, I hope. I mean it had a lot to do with my growing up. I had to, but I had children very young. So I had my first child when I was 23, which is really young in today's world. But, you know, finding your voice is just knowing what you think and feel without anybody else's opinions on you is what human beings fight their whole life to do. You struggle your whole life to really get to - it's an oowy(ph) word - but to get to your core. You know, to know who am I really; what do I really feel without anybody else on me. Or without trying to appear to be something other than what I am - this is who I am - and you spend your whole life trying to be more at that place.

MARTIN: But a lot of times when you're a public figure, when you do express yourself authentically...

Ms. FIELD: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ... people will just slam you down so hard...

Ms. FIELD: Yes.

MARTIN: ... just for fun. And I'm thinking about your 1985 Oscar, with your acceptance speech for "Places in the Heart..."

Ms. FIELD: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ... and, as I recall, because I've read interviews where you talked about this. You were saying what you felt.

Ms. FIELD: Yes.

(Soundbite of Oscar Award ceremony): I haven't had an orthodox career and I wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it. But this time I feel it and I can't deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. FIELD: You learn how to do this. Because I've been you know I started when I was 17 in kind of in varying forms of the public eye. I mean I've never been the sort of Brad and Angelina kind of hotbed of, you know have the paparazzi all over you all the time.

MARTIN: I think you're pretty famous.

Ms. FIELD: Well I am famous, but I've sort of dealt with it all my life and I really strongly believe in how safe and secure it feels with your head deep in the sand. I really don't listen to that. I don't read reviews. I just don't look for anything. I have a really strong family. I really hang out with my kids, and my grandkids, and my own little self, and...

MARTIN: You're doing a pretty good job with faking it for a person who's not a people person.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: Well I can go out and love to see you and meet you, but then I go home and do my little thing. And it has nothing to do with what anybody's saying about me or you know, thinking.

MARTIN: We just don't care.

Ms. FIELD: We talked about not wanting to, you know you're on radio now and you don't have to put on makeup. And I say, oh boy, a day without mascara, you know it's like just heaven. And yes, I just live my life. So I think you have to learn how to handle that and how to walk away from it. And I think because I started so young there's a part of me that just learned to survive it and not let it slam me. Because I think early on, it was confusing - is, how do I step away and? And I found it, you know at 17, 18, 19 depressing, because I, it was at 17, 18, 19 you're so busy trying to figure out who you are anyway. And then when I had other people's opinions of who I was placed on me, I thought that was hard. And I think it's a lot of trial and error. You know you, oh really was lousy; that didn't feel good, and say I won't do that, and then you go a different way, and now that felt better. Just trial and error. That's not life.

MARTIN: What's next for you? You've done already so many things. You already...

Ms. FIELD: (unintelligible).

MARTIN: We were having trouble figuring out what to talk to you about because they're too many things.

Ms. FIELD: Oh dear. Oh no. This is terrible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So they're too many things so.

Ms. FIELD: What's next for me, I don't, I'm doing "Brothers and Sisters" for, we start again fourth season, which is hard to believe, in July and I don't know. It's so much about my family. Little things. I mean things I've never, I haven't told anyone. You're, it's an exclusive here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: This whole time I've been off since we've had two months off, we'll have another month so we get all of three months off, I've been studying French like mad. People say why are you doing that? I have no idea. I want to speak French. I've always wanted to speak French. I've always wanted to play the piano. So, by gum, I'm going to learn to speak French. If you ask me to say anything right now I couldn't say a single thing. Uh-uh.

MARTIN: I couldn't help you. I couldn't, I interviewed the governor general of Canada...

Ms. FIELD: This is going to take a very...

MARTIN: ... and she completely embarrassed me by addressing me in French.

Ms. FIELD: ... very long time it's going to take. I mean it's just, my 60 year-old brain trying to learn a language. I mean I have brain cells dying off faster than...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: ... I can be like learning this stuff.

MARTIN: That's great.

Ms. FIELD: But my whole, I have been possessed with my homework and with listening to all this stuff and taking my, I have a tutor and twice a week I, for three hours I take, so my life is so not...

MARTIN: That's fantastic.

Ms. FIELD: ...about anything you would think it was about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FIELD: And...

MARTIN: What about the piano? I was excited about the piano.

Ms. FIELD: ... and then next is going to come the piano. That's coming next. I figure I couldn't like slam it all on myself at the same time. I think I would discourage myself, so I thought I'd get a little basis of French and then I'm going to have the piano. I don't know what I'm going to do with this except, speak French and play the piano.

MARTIN: That is awesome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And finally, we ask all of our Wisdom Watch guests this, do you have any wisdom to share?

Ms. FIELD: Hmm.

MARTIN: You've been sharing wisdom all along so, why don't you just put a little...

Ms. FIELD: If I have any wisdom to spare.

MARTIN: ...cherry on that Sundae for us?

Ms. FIELD: Well, let's see, I believe a few things to be absolutely true and I've found it to be true. When you hit a wall and you feel that depression of something goes terribly wrong in your career, in your life, that like Joseph Campbell said - who I think was so incredibly brilliant - that right there as you stumbled on that rock, there's something gold planted right at your feet and that it is your task to find out what that is. There's something blessed there for you to find; another path, another road that you would never have taken had you not stubbed your toe badly right there.

MARTIN: Sally Field, an award-winning actor and activist. She was kind enough to spend some time with us in Washington, D.C., where she came to receive an award for her advocacy work around osteoporosis.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. FIELD: Thank you.

(Soundbite of "Gidget Theme Song")

Mr. BOBBY DARREN (Singer): (singing) If you're in doubt about angels being real...

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

Mr. BOBBY DARREN: (singing) Wait till you see my Gidget. You'll want her for your Valentine. You're gonna say she's all that you adore. But stay away, Gidget is spoken for. You're gonna find that Gidget is mine.

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