One of the first things anyone learns about Mary Todd Lincoln is that she was difficult to be around, even if you were Abraham Lincoln. But Sally Field was determined to ensure that was not her only legacy.
“I had my eye on Mary for a long time,” says Field, who plays the first lady in “Lincoln.” “We fit together in some weird way.”
Perhaps that’s thanks to the route the two-time Oscar winner’s career has taken: She escaped giggly teen roles on TV to wow Hollywood dramatically in films such as “Norma Rae” and “Places in the Heart,” but it wasn’t easy.
“Everything that’s ever really mattered to me in my career I’ve had to struggle for,” she says. “If this had been an easy casting, it would not have been the same.”
Little about turning Sally into Mary went smoothly. Though director Steven Spielberg liked her for the part in 2005, by the time casting started and Daniel Day-Lewis was set as the president, the iconic helmer wasn’t sure and called Field to tell her she wasn’t the right candidate any more.
“I hung up, and didn’t throw myself out the window,” she recalls. But the next day, he phoned her back, unable to get Field’s screen test out of his mind. Day-Lewis and Field soon met in full costume to improv “and we had some mysterious magical afternoon,” recalls Field. The role was hers.
“I’ve played period before, but part of the task of an actor is to link some of your own humanity with theirs,” she says. “I felt she belonged to me.”