Sally Field very nearly lost the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, even though Steven Spielberg, the Academy Award-winning director of Lincoln, had already offered her the part in 2005. During a recent telephone interview, she told me how she fought to hold on to a role that could well earn her a third Academy Award—and how two-time Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Abraham Lincoln, helped. My article about this astonishingly gifted actress, and her role in the epic bio-pic that is being called “Oscar-bait incarnate” (The Hollywood Reporter), appears in the November 11, 2012, edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“Mary Todd Lincoln was a feisty little thing,” she says. Listening to Field discuss America’s 16th First Lady—and her approach to playing her—reminded me of another real-life character she once portrayed—union organizer Crystal Lee Jordan, more commonly known as Norma Rae.
That role earned Field her first Best Actress Oscar, and is one of the “steel magnolia” parts blooming at the centerpiece of her career. Mary Todd Lincoln takes her place alongside Edna Spalding (Places in the Heart, and a second Oscar win), M’Lynn Eatonton (Steel Magnolias) and Mrs. Gump (Forrest Gump).
At 66, Field is steeped in the methodologies of Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio, employing those processes throughout most of her decades-long career. She called upon her craft as a Method actress, prodigious research, and “every bit of life that I know” to bring Mary Todd Lincoln to the screen. She adds that the work of the “brilliant” costume designer Joanna Johnston also contributed, as did her own physical transformation—Field gained 25 pounds for the role.
Watch the trailer for a glimpse of the majesty and moving humanity of this film, and to see a great actress at work.
Lincoln was filmed on location in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, last year.