Sally Field on Almost Not Getting Her ‘Lincoln’ Role: “I had a feeling they’d want someone who had less baggage”
Starring in a Steven Spielberg film opposite Daniel Day-Lewis might be as close as it gets to a “dream role” for an actress, and for two-time Oscar winner Sally Field Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd in Spielberg’s Lincoln was a role she wasn’t going to accept being passed over for. While she was long considered for the role during the film’s ten year period of development, she reveals to Moviefone that she almost didn’t end up with the role after Day-Lewis was cast as Lincoln.
Spielberg has been trying to develop a film about Abraham Lincoln since he got the film rights to the book Team of Rivals in 2001, with Spielberg hoping to cast Liam Neeson in the lead role. Before the script was even completed, Sally Field was the director’s choice for Mary Todd. However, Field reveals that as time passed she worried that her age would keep her from the role, explaining, “They asked me to do it in 2005 but there was no writer. Many scripts came and went and Liam came and went. Tony Kushner became the writer and delivered an exquisite script and then when Daniel Day-Lewis came on board, I knew there would be a problem. I just knew it in my head. I’m 10 years older than Daniel and Lincoln was 10 years older than Mary. And then I have a lot of baggage on me as an actress, I’ve been doing it for 50 years. I had a feeling they’d want someone who had less baggage.”
However, Field was right to be concerned because after Day-Lewis was cast Spielberg nearly passed on her for the role. But she persisted, and says, “I called Steven and said, ‘I won’t let you walk away. I won’t let you do it.’ He told me, ‘I saw you with Liam, but I don’t see you with Daniel.’ So I said, ‘Then test me.’ He graciously did test me, but by myself. He put me in old footage with Daniel and said, ‘I just don’t see it working.’ Daniel was in Ireland and he wasn’t ready to test with anyone because he wasn’t Lincoln yet, he was still cocoonizing himself. Steven told me, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ but then he called me back and said he couldn’t get it out of his mind and he’d spoken to Daniel, who’d seen the footage and I was like, ‘Oh, sweet Jesus, can someone just disembowel me?’ And Daniel said he wanted to meet me. He knew Steven needed to see us together, so he flew into Los Angeles for the day and tested with me. He was very much in the early stages, but very much my darling Mr. Lincoln, and I was the early stages, but very much Mary. We did some weird hour-long improv with Steven and I said, ‘Thank you both more than I can ever say,’ and when I got home, the phone rang and Daniel and Steven were on the phone and they said, ‘Will you be Mary?’”