In the two days since “Hello, My Dame is Doris,” the new comedy from “Wet Hot American Summer” co-writer Michael Showalter, premiered at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, folks in Austin have been talking non-stop about Sally Field’s standout performance in the film.
SXSW: Sally Field on Going Raunchy for ‘Hello, My Name is Doris’ and Why She’s Never Felt Like a Great Success
SXSW: Sally Field on Going Raunchy for 'Hello, My Name is Doris' and Why She's Never Felt Like a Great Success
The project marks a rare opportunity to see the two-time Oscar winner give her all to a lead role. She recently anchored ABC’s critically acclaimed series “Brother & Sisters” for five years on the small screen, but on the big screen, Field has been relegated to supporting roles over the past decade, stealing scenes as Aunt May in “The Amazing Spider-Man” reboot and its sequel, and earning an Oscar nomination for her bravura performance as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” In “Hello, My Name is Doris,” Field is afforded one of the best and zaniest roles of her career, and it’s a thrill to watch her run with it.
“If the younger Edith Beale in ‘Grey Gardens’ — the insular middle-aged socialite still living at home with her mother — ventured beyond her insular world and pursued romance with a younger man, she might resemble the adorable, melancholic figure played by Sally Field in ‘Hello, My Name is Doris,'” Eric Kohn wrote in his glowing review of the film. The movie follows Doris, a 60-year-old Staten Island resident, in the wake of her mother’s death as she explores an unlikely courtship with much younger co-worker John (Max Greenfield of “New Girl”).
Indiewire sat down with Field the day following the film’s world premiere in Austin to discuss how she shaped her performance, and the need for change in Hollywood and elsewhere when it comes to women’s rights.
You said yesterday at the premiere that this film blew your skirt “way up.” Clearly this role was a godsend to you given the depth of the character and the quality of the project.
Well, it’s just so unique. You read a lot of scripts and it’s just kind of the same old thing – nothing to do. I often say, “You don’t really need me.” It’s boring. When this came, it’s so weird, it’s such a weird story. [laughs] I kept saying to Michael, how are you going to make this work? I was always skeptical.
I threw myself in it with a sense of finding a place of reality for her. It all made sense to her in her borderline personality way. But to me, the difficulty that Michael had was in putting this kind of film together. The tone of a screwball comedy, which it really is, is very physical, high comedy right next to very dramatic work. It’s hard to make those two blend together in the same film. He always said, “Trust me.” I just did and knew that my task was to root even the most outlandish physical comedy in just being real.
So much of who Doris is, is dictated by her outlandish style. How much freedom did you have in creating her unique look?
It was totally me. Michael said, “Go,” and did. I came up with the whole hairdo. I went looking of course on the Internet and I imitated a Brigitte Bardot hairdo, with the big ribbon in it. She did that; she had bangs and the whole thing. As far as Doris is concerned, she thinks she looks like that. She doesn’t think she looks like Bardot, but she thinks she looks just dandy. She paints her eyes on like that. She just picks looks she likes out of the magazines that she halfway finishes, and she gets her clothes from the trash and thrift shops, and she puts them together because she likes the colors. Since she’s so out of society all together, she just makes up her own fashion rules. Puts it all on at the same time and says, “I like this.” [laughs]
Did you like it?
No, I hated it! [Laughs] I knew it was the character. How she paints her nails all different colors. She has an artful sense about herself. She doesn’t have an inner mirror because she was always isolated.
How did Michael react to your vision of Doris?
Rebecca Gregg, our costume designer, she is a diamond of human being. She herself is a bit strange and it was just perfect! Except not Doris strange — just her own unique strange. We spent two days together, one full day from the crack of dawn till I couldn’t stand up any longer. She got racks and racks of clothing out of Hollywood lots – anyplace that would actually store clothes ’cause they don’t do it very much anymore. It cost next to nothing when you rent those clothes but they reek… eek! It was a task she had to pull off ’cause this movie was made for no money.
We just played dress up for a day, and it’s really how I started to find Doris. Of course we laughed ourselves sick half of the time. We just slowly found the character and had Michael come in on day three, and he just went, “Oh my god yes.” He never saw the hair or makeup until the day we started to shoot. I had cut out pictures of Brigitte Bardot, eyes, things I thought it should be. It was written in the script that she had her own unique style, but it didn’t say what.
We knew the fact that she was a hoarder; she was like a hoarder on herself. Everything she owned, she would just put on.
Do you always work this way, or did this project call for a different approach of really finding the character through the outer layers?
Finding a character, the exterior is incredibly important. It goes hand in hand with developing the interior. I do work that way when I get the opportunity. Sometimes you get a role that doesn’t call for much work at all. You feel like you could just show up. After 50 somewhat years of doing it, it’s not much fun as you think.
I can’t recall the last time you had a lead role this juicy on the big screen. Can you?
I don’t know! I did a television show for five years, which really took me out of that marketplace. I was so exhausted I thought I was going to die after every season. But it is true, with all of us. Young or old, but most especially as you get older.
Female actors —
Yeah, female — not male! Not male, young or old, they keep working. It just has to do with the industry, as you know. I’m hoping that this younger generation of female actors is becoming more vocal about it. I do know that the issues having to do with women on a world level are starting to be heard more loudly – thank god. It’s something that I’ve been a part of – not in Hollywood but on a world level. It’s time. The world won’t heal until women can come to the proverbial table in an equal way because we’re out of balance. There are a lot of inequalities going on in the world that I’m happy to say this country is dealing with. Gay rights, it has to be dealt with. This is ridiculous. We need the wealth of talent and ingenious people that happen to be gay. We need them as our partners in the human race to have children, to raise them to be happy productive people. But we need that for women and we need it now on a world level.
What did you make of Patricia Arquette’s rousing Oscar acceptance speech?
Everyone who watched it stood up and cheered. But it’s finally being heard. People have been saying that, just now it’s going, “Oh… oh!”
During your awards campaign for “Lincoln,” you were so open about the fact that you had to fight hard for the role — a fact that no doubt shocked many, myself included. What caused you to be so open about that process?
I would talk about the “Lincoln” thing because it was just part of the story of making the film. Just because I won awards or have been working for 50 years doesn’t mean that I should just get the role of Mary Todd – not in anyway, shape or form. I can’t stand the feeling of entitlement, not ever. I know people like Daniel [Day-Lewis] for example. He doesn’t have a feeling of entitlement, nor should anyone. No matter how anointed you might be, or how successful you might be in any area that you’re working in – anytime you sit back and go “I’ve arrived,” you’re dead – because you’re going to get struck from behind by your own arrogance. You won’t be able to move on.
When did you come to that realization? You have the right to have an inflated sense of ego. From a very young age, you were met with great success and acclaim.
Well, I don’t know. I just never have felt I was a great success.
I know… it’s crazy! But it’s true. It’s the thing that keeps me driving myself forward. I grew up in a show business family, working class – that probably has something to do with it. It’s not an easy business to survive in.
The scene from “Doris” we have to broach is the one where you have Max Greenfield pump up your yoga ball at your desk [watch it above]. I’m not going to lie… I got a little turned on watching it. It’s a sex scene, without the sex.
[Laughs] It is! It’s so wild. But in real life I’m a really raunchy person with a total foul mouth. Maybe I do that so people don’t feel intimated or shy [around me]. I don’t even know what they would feel that way. So I beat them to the punch. Max is such a gem of a soul. Working with him is so easy and fun. I just had to dive in. There’s a part of me that feels slightly embarrassed – I’m in my late 60s and he’s in his early 30s. So I kind of had to just sort of dive in and there and say, “Okay whatever, it’s just skin!”