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If you like Sally Field's story, you might also like:
Edward Albee,
Julie Andrews,
Carol Burnett,
Olivia de Havilland,
Whoopi Goldberg,
Ron Howard,
Jeremy Irons,
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Hilary Swank
and Robert Zemeckis

Sally Field can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Related Links:
The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute
Sally Field on Osteoporosis
Sally Field talks to Congress about Women's Health

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Sally Field
Sally Field
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Sally Field Interview (page: 6 / 8)

Two Oscars for Best Actress

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  Sally Field

You mentioned having a strong side and a shy side and a sexy side. The sexy side came out very early in the movie Smokey and the Bandit. What was it like to show that side of yourself?

Sally Field: I don't know if that was really sexy as much as it was just there.

I did Smokey and the Bandit because Sybil was coming out, and everyone said, "Whoa, the work is extraordinary. It's really good work..." or something like that, "...but man is Sally Field ugly! Man!" And I thought, "Oh God, okay." And then Burt Reynolds, who was this really big box office star at the time, called me and said would I consider doing this, which I was completely flabbergasted that he would call me and do that. And there was no script. There was virtually no script. Since I wasn't a person that had come from the New York stage, and I came from this sort of weird unorthodox background, I wasn't one who stood on principle and said "Hmm, there seems to be no script here." So I just took a leap of faith, and thought, well, you know, "If I play this character that Burt is supposed to think is attractive, maybe the world will think I'm attractive, and somebody else will hire me." So I did it. And it was a great fun romp, journey, and certainly a good experience. And then it was all improv. It was almost entirely improvised.

Who was the director?

Sally Field: It was Hal Needham, who was a stuntman, and he was never there because we would go off with the car and the camera mounts and it would be Burt and I. "Bye! We'll let you know how it turns out"! We were just gone. So it was a very peculiar experience. But there it was, this iconic '80s film that people loved.

Did not having a script mean you had time for romance to blossom?

Sally Field Interview Photo
Sally Field: Yep, he and I dated for many years. It was an important influence in my life, an important character in my life. But ultimately not the character in my life. He was a great deal like my stepfather, interestingly enough. I haven't spoken to him in a gazillion years. Oh, what am I saying? This is not true. He's very much like my stepfather, and I think there's a lot of sadness about Burt as a person. I think the country feels that about him. I think the country loved him, and I think he's a very damaged person that couldn't move on out of it in a lot of ways. I think the nation wanted him to be okay, and I think he's an example of someone who couldn't be. He couldn't be okay. And I think the country feels sad about him.

Can you tell us how you got the part in Norma Rae?

Sally Field: I was working, just as a working actress, doing the girl roles in most of Burt's movies, which luckily is keeping me alive, 'cause now I have two little children.

I get a call when I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, doing like a "girl role" I call it. And that Marty Ritt, who at the time I knew, and considered one of the great acting directors. He really was offering me a role. I mean they were offering a role! Offering me a role? It wasn't an ordinary event. I hadn't read the script. I said, "Okay, I'll come home." I got to go home for two days. I hadn't read the script. I didn't have it; they couldn't send it to me. I got home, my mother was there with my two sons while I was three weeks in Alabama, or wherever the heck it was I was. So I'm dashing about trying to get ready, not knowing what character to play as I go in. I know I have to be the character, but I don't know what the character is. So I just decided to go in in beige. I remember, "I'll just be beige. I won't be anything. I'll just be nothing." And my mother sort of screaming to me that she read the script. And it's about this like Southern girl, works in a mill. "What kind of mill?" So I went to meet Marty Ritt, and I hadn't even read the script. I was just trying to fake it. But Marty Ritt was Marty Ritt. He was maybe more influential even than Lee Strasberg. He was a very, very important person in my life as a person. He taught me who I wanted to be. And as an actor, he took me on a journey.

So he got more out of you maybe than you knew was there?

Sally Field: No.

Everyone always says he got more out of me than...he would be the first to say that isn't true. I knew it was there. He complicated my work in ways that I hadn't done. And more than anything else, I think he applauded me. And I don't know that I heard that kind of respect that I had worked for so hard from anyone as I did from him. He would watch me do my work as I created a character, and he directed me in the most subtle of ways to complicate things. He would add things. And in acting terms he kept throwing balls at me to see how many I could keep in the air, how many things I could do at the same time. Because now I had gotten adroit at being able to do, at complicating the work. How many things can you actually be working on at the same time? And so it became our language together of -- when he would give me one too many. Would I mess it up or could I keep them in the air? And it was this love affair of the father I didn't have, really, the real father. I mean what you want a father to be is someone to be a task master in a way, but to be...teach you in the most loving... but he was a terrible curmudgeon.

Sally Field Interview Photo

If anybody knows Marty, he was known for being this, like, curmudgeon. So it wasn't like ooey-gooey loving. It wasn't at all. It was, you know, if you complained about anything, he'd say, "Hey Sal, I'll run you a benefit." You know, it was about pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep on moving. By then it was a kind of practicality about life that I understood, that I appreciated, that I would rather live by. There was no sniveling. You just did your work and then you went home. But you did your work. You didn't make any excuses, you did your work. And I became Norma. I lived there. I learned how to work in the mill. I learned, I lived with the people. I didn't look for anything, I just did my work. I didn't look for anybody to say anything to me, 'cause I wasn't used to anybody saying anything to me really, except, "Get out of the room." And one day Marty came into my little motor home. I was scared that he was coming in, like, what had I done? Had I done something bad? Still terribly afraid and intimidated that somehow I wouldn't be good enough. Somehow I would be found out. I wouldn't be good enough. And he came in and, and sat down for a minute. And I was drinking a coke or something, getting ready to get back out in the heat, and he said, "Sal, I want to tell you..." I said, "Yeah?" "You're first rate." And I was so utterly stunned. It was all he said. "You're first rate." And he got up and left. And then it was shattered. It was the most important thing anyone had ever said to me. It changed me and I was forever his daughter, his other child, his protégé. He said few things to me of encouragement, but I knew how deeply he cared. And all I ever did, all I wanted to do, was to be enough for him.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

He must have been more than proud when you won an Oscar for that role.

Sally Field: He was sitting right there. He was nominated. He was nominated for best film. And it was his, in that the work was mine and I don't give that to him, and he wouldn't allow me to give that to him. He would be the first one to not allow that. I owned that. I earned it. It was mine. But he was Norma Rae. I played Norma Rae. He was Norma Rae. He was this amazing hero character in this gruff, curmudgeon kind of goofy character. He was. He walked the walk and talked the talk. And few people are like that today in my industry. He made films about people that mattered, about people who struggled. He made films that couldn't be made. And he almost couldn't get them made. And I think ultimately they killed him, but he got a lot of them made. And that kind of director, with such a clear knowledge and appreciation for acting and for cinematography, he didn't take over to be the cinematographer. He loved the people that he hired, and he nurtured them the same way he did me -- not by going "ooey gooey" or giving you a whole lot of, you know, blowing a lot of air up your skirt so you went, "Ah!" Ultimately, you didn't believe anything they said. He said so few things, but he so deeply meant it that, it took a while before you could come back to the planet. He was rare. I hear him with me all the time. He talks to me. He says things. I hear him.

You've mentioned that he helped you become more socially aware. Is that so?

Sally Field: Yes, he did. He was very political. He'd been blackballed. He was around the set, the wonderful Ravitches -- Harriet Frank and Irving Ravitch. They wrote Norma Rae and they were tremendously political. Wonderful writers, very good friends of Marty. And the set was alive with political thought. I had never been around that. I had never been around political thought, and I just absorbed it. I heard what it was like to care about your fellow man, and maybe more than that, for the first time I stood in someone else's shoes that struggled in a way that I hadn't. I had struggled, but not like this. And Norma changed me. To live in that kind of environment, with that kind of struggle in that kind of life, changed me.

She changed a lot of us. It was a very inspiring movie. It looked hot there. Was it hot?

Sally Field: It was very hot. It was real, it was what it was. We were literally in the mill. Most of the people in the film are the people there. They're the people in the town, which was so incredibly invaluable to me because here you are -- this Los Angeles kid who grew up in a working show business family -- living for months on end. I'm living all day long, every day, sitting on the ground, eating lunch, going to have dinner, going to the drug store with so-and-so, and, "Hi, how are you?" You talk that language. You have that accent. You are one of them. You wear those clothes. You know them and love them. And it's only acting that does that. Name another profession where you go do that. You live in their homes, you understand their lives, you eat with them, you shop with them. An economic state that luckily I haven't had to endure. The way our country is going I may have to, who knows? But to understand them, and they talk to you. And a lot of people in the film that Marty used -- you knew, when you had scenes where people were sitting around and talking about their problems -- they didn't know you were doing a movie. They would just raise up and start talking. They were really talking about what really... you know, that they didn't have any opportunities. It was a town, that one industry, and they were stuck in it. They went in it early and they died young, and they had no other opportunities, and that particular industry was eating them up. And they weren't given a chance to even go pee during the day. You don't live that for three months and go away and be the same person.

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