If you’ve seen anything starring Sally Field in the past five years, chances are she was either playing an overprotective aunt (The Amazing Spider-Man), an overprotective mother (Lincoln) or an overprotective grandmother (television’s Brothers & Sisters). But in the sharp new dramedy Hello, My Name Is Doris, Field finally gets the chance to play a woman who isn’t defined by her maternal status. The film, co-written and directed by Wet Hot American Summer’s Michael Showalter, casts Field as a lonely office drone who, thanks to the arrival of an adventurous new boss (Max Greenfield), begins to embrace a side of her life she long repressed. The Globe spoke with the Oscar-winning actress over the phone from L.A.
After playing supporting roles in recent years, were you on the lookout for a chance in the lead?
It was incidental. To have a long-term career, you have to go for whatever material comes along. Since I’m older, and female, the journey has led me all over the place. I didn’t look at this screenplay as a starring vehicle – I just loved it and said yes. It could have been on television or the stage for all I care.
Are the roles for women over 50 getting better? I’m thinking of headlining projects for the likes of Blythe Danner, Maggie Smith, Lily Tomlin – women who’ve had standout lead roles over the past two years.
No, I don’t think it’s getting better at all. I don’t think Blythe or Lily or Maggie would say that either. Maggie, bless her heart, she’s in England, and the English theatre and film industries have always been more embracing of both women and women of any age. They are more interested in talent, and are more interested in character-driven films. They don’t make the huge comic-book blockbusters. Lily, Blythe and myself, we have all had to find those little projects that we can support. This film has no budget whatsoever, so it’s very hard.
Yet there is an audience for these films. Blythe’s movie [I’ll See You in My Dreams] made almost $8-million, which is pretty high for such a small film, and Doris has already made more than $10-million.
I think it’s an outlier. I’m not pessimistic, but I am realistic. Doris is really in your hands. I’ve worked so hard to talk to you and others who can get out the message that this film is worth seeing, because this doesn’t have a studio machine behind it to shove it down your throat. I love the fact that people are going to the movie and it’s growing – it couldn’t be anything other than food for my soul – but I don’t think it’s going to change anything. Hopefully more people will be offering Michael Showalter the opportunity to make more films.
So there’s not much of a future in indie films at all, then?
I don’t know, it really is up to the media, to you guys, the journalists, to constantly beat that drum and demand that films about a human being be made in the first place. As you well know, most of the films coming out of the United States film industry are for China, and I don’t know that China wouldn’t love Doris. It’s an industry, but it’s also an art form, so it’s a struggle to find the blend of that.
And you would know that better than most, thanks to your days on Spider-Man.
I was in that film because my friend Laura Ziskin was the producer. And while the movie was being made, just as we wrapped, we lost her. But I loved the experience because I loved her and I loved Andrew [Garfield]. But would that have been my pick? I don’t know. You do things for different reasons.
Were you at all disappointed the franchise was cut off mid-stride?
No. It didn’t have anything particularly unique about it, but I’m not a fan of those things anyway.
Back to Doris, what I found rare was that this isn’t only a film with a lead female character over a certain age, but also a film that showcases her sexual desire.
It wasn’t specifically about sexual desire for me – she was a three-dimensional character, a real, full, older woman. We weren’t hedging our bets. She’s a woman at the tail end of her 60s, and having her first adolesence, almost. There’s something universal about that.
And she’s a bit of an oddball, but the film never mocks her or views her as an outsider. There are characters, such as Tyne Daly’s, who are Doris’s close friends. It’s a sympathetic portrait.
The film really is about the depths of friendship she has with Tyne’s character. They’re both kind of oddballs in their own way, but they have clung to each other. The friendship feels very real, the physicality of it .
Did you know much about Michael Showalter’s career before signing on? He’s known more for his absurdist comedy, so this is a surprise.
My younger son, who’s 28, absolutely loved him, and I had to educate myself. But having spent so much time around Michael now, I can say Doris is very much his voice and his awkwardness. Even though he said to me that all the comedy he’s done has been collaborating with others, Doris is purely his voice.
You’re already garnering Oscar talk for this role, even though the awards race doesn’t usually start this early. Do you pay much attention to such conversations?
I just do the work and promote it. I do feel, though, that the industry has created an end-of-year crunch that is awful, because it tries to hold all of its films that are worthy till the end of the year, and all of a sudden all the films you might want to see that aren’t made specifically for young men are crammed into a three-week period. Some smaller distribution houses are developing a new paradigm to release little films. But as a moviegoer, I feel so manipulated by the industry.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail