One of the breakout discoveries at this year’s SXSW Film Festival is “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” the latest from director Michael Showalter (“Wet Hot American Summer”) that crosses genres — from dramatic comedy to comedic drama — and pushes Hollywood out of its comfort zone. Sally Field plays the title character, a sixtysomething who falls in love with her much younger co-worker (Max Greenfield). The movie keeps the audience guessing, in the best possible way, until its bittersweet finale, with echoes of “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Something’s Gotta Give,” although it’s an entirely unique love story.
“Hello, My Name Is Doris” marks the first time in nearly two decades that Field has headlined her own movie, and she uses the spotlight to fully reinvent herself at 68. “I’ll never have a similar character offered to me again, I know that,” Field says. She spoke to Variety about the film, Hollywood sexism and why the industry doesn’t appreciate women over a certain age.
You said after the screening that it’s rare to get material this good. Is it because Hollywood doesn’t write roles for women in general or women over 30?
All of that. They don’t write roles for women anyway, and they certainly don’t write roles for women of age and women of color. It is the way it is. There are a lot of theories about when that started and why. In the ’30s and ’40s, when women were under contract, the studios saw them as a viable commodity, and they wrote films for them — like Bette Davis or Rosalind Russell, whoever. They knew they made money off these stars, so they put money into them. They don’t have that anymore.
Why has Hollywood’s attitude changed?
Since the industry is run by men, men have a tendency to want to make stories about themselves and things they identify with. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But there must be an audience for a movie like “Hello, My Name Is Doris.”
There’s totally an audience. They are wrong about that. It has to do with women getting into better positions. It isn’t just the motion picture business. It’s politics. Women have to come to the table in every arena, in every single country all over the world. Until they do that, the world won’t be a healthy place — we’re out of balance.
The other thing you rarely see on film is a woman over 40 with sexual desire.
She’s filled with desires. It’s very rare, absolutely. It never gets looked at. One of the things I thought from the second I read the script — it’s about the illusions and delusions of age. Age is this thing that happens to you. It happens to your body and your face, but people are still in here. And the 16-year-old girl is still in here. The difference is my face is sagging and my body is not the same and my knees hurt, but I’m still here. Human beings are lonely, and we need connections.
Doris sets up a fake Facebook account in the movie to stalk her crush. Were you familiar with Facebook?
I am familiar with it, but I don’t do it. My son made a page for me. I don’t have my name on it. It’s fictitious, almost like what Doris did, so I can see pictures of my grandchildren. One time I tried to say something to my granddaughter Isabel, and she told me I did it wrong. I didn’t do it in the chat place, so everybody could see it. Oh no!
One of the most hilarious moments in the film involves Doris, Max Greenfield’s character and an exercise ball. How did you pull that scene off?
You have to hold on to the character really hard. It’s a very comedic moment and you know it could go way over. What we were doing was so sexual, she thought she was going to pass out. Oh my god — for someone who hasn’t been touched in a very long time, his smell and proximity and the maleness of him. You just really try to stay in character.
Were you nervous kissing Max Greenfield?
I was sort of embarrassed. I’m in my late 60s — 68 now, and he’s not. I am aware of that. It is a societal thing. Believe me, I got over it, because I’m an actor and I dive in. It’s just skin, after all. It’s flesh. Mine is a little older, all right.
But if the situation were reversed, most older actors are fine doing love scenes with younger women.
I don’t know. I think some men wouldn’t be. I did a movie with Paul Newman once [“Absence of Malice”]. At the time, he was 20 years older than I, and he was very uncomfortable with it. I was very young — in my early 30s — and always looked younger than I was. I tried to let him know, “Hey baby, I’ve been around.” We had some kissing and he was embarrassed. I could tell, because he was a very gentle, genuine man, and it wouldn’t be what he wanted to do.
I was trying to remember the last time you starred in a movie.
I don’t know. I did a television series [“Brothers & Sisters”] for five years so I was out of the arena.
You did television because—
The roles weren’t there. I had been doing theater. I was going to take a play to London. The television series came up, and I said, “This is a good group, I’ll give this a good shot,” thinking it wouldn’t go out of the gate. And then it went out of the gate for five years. Certainly it was a long time between starring in films. That’s what women do with long careers. There will always be a time when you’re scrambling and a transition time.
How does that feel when you’re not being offered lead roles?
It makes you sad and grieve — like, it’s part of my soul. This is what I do.
Does it actually feel like you’re grieving?
Yes, but then you dig down like Doris and you say, “OK, what do I have to change? I have to do something different.” And that’s what you do. It’s not your fault, but you can find another spot.