LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Academy Award-winning actress Sally Field doesn't shy away from taking on emotionally charged and challenging roles. Think "Norma Rae" and Edna Spalding in "Places In The Heart." In Field's latest film, "Hello, My Name Is Doris," she takes on another complex role.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS")
SALLY FIELD: (As Doris Miller) Just me and the cats now. I hope I don't end up like one of those weird old New Yorkers you read about that chokes on a peanut and dies and no one even misses me until the smell of my decomposing body seeps through the walls.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Doris is a dowdy older lady who's mourning the death of her mother. She also has a thing for hoarding and for her much, much younger co-worker. Sally Field joins me from NPR West. Welcome to the program.
FIELD: Thank you so much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So please describe this character Doris for us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She is something else.
FIELD: Oh boy, how - where do I begin? Well, she's a woman who's my age, which is not young, late, late 60s. And she has spent her life really taking care of her mother but suppressing herself in every way. Doris has some borderline personality issues so she's not totally present in the real world. The story really is a coming-of-age of a woman of age.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What attracted you to playing her?
FIELD: It's just so unique. It's such a unique story and a look at so many things. It looks at age. I mean, what is age? And it looks at transitioning. How do people - you know, human beings, our task in life is to constantly transition from one stage into another, whether it's toddlerhood into childhood into adolescence and then young adulthood and the middle age. It's this constant movement, and certainly as I head into this big part of my life, you say how do I embrace my 70s? What is there of me that I haven't experienced yet? And that's what Doris is doing but for the first time in her life. And because she meets a very young man at a moment in her life where she thinks that's what's going to make the difference for her, that's what she wants in her life. And because she lives only in her head, she doesn't really see who she is and how old she is - not until the very end.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk a little bit about bravery and age. A lot of the critics have talked about your portrayal here and they've called it brave. And one of the elements they've mentioned is your appearance in the film. You look your age. And apparently that, in modern Hollywood, qualifies as bravery.
FIELD: I know. Isn't that sad? I mean, I appreciate them saying that rather than, you know, trying to chop me to pieces. But yeah, I feel that way. I'm an old woman. I mean, you know, 70's old and that's OK.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're not an old woman. But - well, I say that but at the same time, is it OK to be an old woman?
FIELD: Yes, I am. It's OK. I've gathered strength behind my years. I own them. I deserved them. I have a right to have them. And I don't like my neck. I don't like a lot of things. But, you know, it's OK. It's OK. Behind my years I have value that doesn't come when you're 50 or 40 or 30 or 20. It doesn't come until you've been in that saddle for a number of years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what is it, do you think, when - you've talked about that transition that you go through at different stages in your life, what is this stage in your life right now about?
FIELD: I don't know. I'm just entering it. And certainly Doris is part of it. I think in a lot of ways, it's my challenge to find what's there for me that I don't see right now. I know that I felt that in my 50s, I felt that in my 40s, that there's something there that I can't see yet. And I can't see until I'm there. But I won't see if I'm not willing to let go of what I was and open up to what I will be.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things I thought was very poignant about Doris's relationship was her - with her best friend played by Tyne Daly. There's this tender, really quiet scene where you both sit together talking on the sofa. You know, Doris, she's yearning for love. And I think she's actually found it in her friendships. Are these some of your strongest relationships as we all grow older?
FIELD: Absolutely. And Tyne and I really - and a lot of that scene is improved because when we were sitting and talking about it, you know, to me that's part of, I think, Doris's revelation to herself is that she's had this friend always and she's a part of her friend's family, you know, sort of dysfunctional, wonderful, loving group that they are. And I think that is part of the realization, certainly for me, that I thought, you know, you may not ever have the soul mate you were led to believe that that was where you wanted to go, but you have other things that are equally as valuable.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've said that you've never had your heart broken
FIELD: Except by work and my children (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That said, who do you sit on the sofa with? Who do you turn to?
FIELD: I turn to my children, much to their chagrin maybe. But I don't think so. They're always there. My friends, I have, like, this little tiny group, not a big one. And now it's interesting transition - my granddaughters - they're my oldest of my grandchildren. My oldest one is 18 and the second-oldest one is just turning 15. I'm finding this transition happening where I'm talking to them and they're hearing me and asking...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you tell them?
FIELD: I was talking to them about when I was their age and that this was happening to me. And I watch them now hearing me and I feel a different relationship opening to that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Casting has come under a lot of scrutiny in these conversations about the gatekeepers in Hollywood, who decides who gets what roles. How do they deal with aging actresses in your view?
FIELD: Well, they don't. You know, the gatekeepers, as you say, aren't necessarily about casting, and that is true too. But really the gatekeepers are about what do they put into development, what writers do they hire to write what stories? Forget, you know, whether they will be, you know, for what actresses or for what talent will go into it. It's what they put their efforts in to develop in the first place.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why aren't certain sectors of society being served, do you think?
FIELD: You know, I can't really answer that question accurately because I've spent my whole life in it and the frustration of it. And I think the way I've dealt with it is just to keep my head down. And the minute I started railing it and wanting to jump up and down, I found it just wasted energy and it hurt my feelings and that I had to just find the work where it was and not spend a lot of time going (groaning). I remember once a long time ago, Diane Keaton one time in sub-publication complained and said this is outrageous. Look at how much product there are for men and look at what there are for women. And everybody rose up and called her a whiner.
FIELD: I will never, ever forget it. And I remember in my oh so not brave way, I tucked myself under and went OK, I guess we won't be speaking up, will we, instead of standing up, as women are doing - young women are doing today - and saying wait a minute. Wait one minute, folks. But I think that the conversation about women is aided by the fact that it's now diversity issue altogether and that helps that it isn't just women 'cause if it were just women, I honestly don't think people would be paying that much attention still.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of all the characters you've played over the years - and I have to ask this of course because I've seen so many of your films - what's the one that stayed with you?
FIELD: You know, they all stay with me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are they like people that you sort of take along with you?
FIELD: They are. I'll be, you know, walking down the street or cleaning the house or, you know, in the market and a vision, a memory, will, you know, just flash through your head, the way you do. You know, you'll see the oranges or something and something will flash through your head of an experience that you had or something. And then I - sometimes I stop myself and say, wait a minute, that wasn't my experience. That was, like, a character's experience. It was Norma's experience or, you know, Edna's experience or Celeste's experience and it wasn't mine. But I portrayed it so it registered in my head as an experience that I had. So it's an odd thing that actors do when you have the opportunity to really work on a character that you have to somehow plant inside of yourself. They stay in me and they have always changed me in some way.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sally Field, she's starring in "Hello, My Name Is Doris." It comes out next week. Thank you so much.
FIELD: Thank you.
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