Sally Field needed to find a way to get comfortable with Daniel Day-Lewis in a hurry.
Two-time Oscar winner Day-Lewis would be playing the title role in director Steven Spielbergs Lincoln, and Field, the veteran actress with two Oscars of her own, was cast as his troubled, complicated wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.
But Field was in L.A., and Day-Lewis was in Ireland, so to prepare to portray the iconic 19th-century couple, they employed a 21st-century form of intimacy. They began texting. In character.
It wasnt strange, Field said. It was quite lovely. We got a feeling of closeness with playful communication.
Field recently spoke to the Observer by phone to promote Lincoln, which opened here Friday. It centers on the last months of the presidents life as he works to push Congress to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
Field said it was an easy decision to sign onto the movie.
Mary Todd was one of the most misunderstood and maligned women characters in American history, Field said. And it was Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, (screenwriter) Tony Kushner. This is a once-in-a-lifetime gift. Who wouldnt want to be a part of it?
In the film, Mary tells Lincoln she worries that people will remember her as a crazy woman who ruined the presidents happiness.
But Field portrays a complex woman, one who is haunted by the death of one son while protective of another son who wants to join the war in its waning days. She alternately rages at and supports her husband. Shes also strong enough to parry with abolitionist leader Sen. Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones) in a White House reception line. Field relished the scene showing how Mary despised Stevens, who was often critical of Lincoln, but she twists the knife slowly with a smile.
To prepare for the role, Field did her own research about Mary, the daughter of a prominent Kentucky family. Field visited her homes, read biographies of her and examined memorabilia to better understand Mary. She said she also gained 25 pounds for the role.
As for the film, there are themes of ending a terrible war, vicious partisan fighting in Congress, a president looking for a lasting legacy in his second term all themes that speak very much to the world of today, Field said.
Its fighting for democracy, how difficult it is but how worth it is, worth dying for. The United States was founded on a magnificent dream, she said. Ultimately, you will go away with a feeling of hope and uplift, she predicted.
When asked where Mary ranks among her favorite roles, Field said, I dont do that. They are all like my children, although you have ones you would like to put in a back room and never see again.
Most characters I play stay with me and change me in some way, and Mary will always be with me, she said. I dont know how she will change me yet, but I feel very protective of her.