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If you like Sally Field's story, you might also like:
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Sally Field can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

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Sally Field
Sally Field
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Sally Field Interview

Two Oscars for Best Actress

July 4, 2008
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

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  Sally Field

Long before your Oscar-winning roles in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart, you were a teenage star in sitcoms like Gidget and The Flying Nun. We understand that your mom was also an actress. You kind of grew up in show business. What was that like?

Sally Field: I come from a real working-class acting family. It's not a glamorous life. My stepfather, who I grew up with was a stuntman-slash-actor, but basically a stuntman. My mother, interesting, she was a working-class actor that would one week go to work on Bonanza, and then not work for a few weeks, and then get a job on Perry Mason, and then not work for a while, and then get another job on another television series. So it was really the typical, dangerous working-class actress life, in that you never knew if you were going to have an income.

Most actors live that way, don't they?

Sally Field: They do. It's very difficult.

Life is so incredibly insecure. And when I grew up, part of the really important ingredients to my becoming in the industry is that twice we had all our things in our house repossessed, and it was extremely influential to me to live in a house one day and then not the next, and have to move to a littler sort of tract house thing, understanding that kind of real insecure existence.

Wow! Did your mother dissuade you from acting?

Sally Field: No. My mother certainly didn't.

My mother was under contract to Paramount. She was in the days when they had contract players. She was spotted in the Pasadena Playhouse because she was incredibly beautiful. And then she studied with Charles Laughton. She always had a great, deep love of the 'craft' of acting because she sat in a small classroom with Charles Laughton and watched him perform all the time. He was a phenomenal actor. So I grew up with her loving the classics, reading Chekhov and Shakespeare and loving the real art of what acting is -- and acting is story-telling. So we had this kind of secret language between the two of us -- from the time I was little -- of acting. And when I finally found an acting class -- and thank God they had them. I underline that. They don't have them now. But I went to public school in the San Fernando Valley in California and they had acting classes. And in junior high even, I found the stage for the first time, and she and I would work on things together. I would work on scenes, with my little Romeo and Juliet soliloquies and the improvisations I was supposed to bring in. So it was a real communication that she and I had together, and she always supported that love that I had of it.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Sally Field Interview Photo
Sally Field Interview Photo

You said you were on stage in junior high. What was your first performance on stage?

Sally Field: My first performance on stage was some scenes from Romeo and Juliet when I was 13. And I was truly...I must have been dreadful. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was so seminal, so incredibly important because -- I wanted to speak about it today but I left it out. I had this magical thing happen to me. I had no idea where I was going and I didn't know how it arrived, but I had this glorious out-of-body experience. I was on stage, saying words that I really didn't quite understand. I had no idea of what a technique was or anything, and I simply floated away. I didn't exist. There was no Sally -- little 13-year-old Sally -- on stage. There were hands and feet and a mouth, working and saying things, but they weren't mine. And it is this blissful glorious high that I had early on in my life, and it is what has taught me and guided me forever, because when I lost sight of what on God's green earth was I doing here, why was I doing this, why was I beating myself up, I remembered that moment. And my whole life has been trying to understand how to get back there, trying to own that gift, that ability that human beings have to float away to some creative place that is simply God-like.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Actors get to be more than one person.

Sally Field: Well, yes and no. It is a very interesting profession, or craft, or art, or whatever you call it.

When you learn to do it, if you study and you have a lot of techniques, you learn to step in someone else's shoes. Part of those shoes are created by history. You do research on who this person, if they existed or not, might have been. You use the text of the writer who has written it. You use the text itself, and all of the information that the writer has given you. But you really instill it with your own life. You find parts of yourself that actually link with that human being, even though there may be so...on the page... you could... I mean, how am I going to do this? There's no way I can relate to this person. And it transforms you as a person to stand in those shoes, because you realize how you are linked to everyone, profoundly, deeply, emotionally linked. And I have been changed by the strong roles I've gotten to play, of Norma Rae or Sybil and others, and I go away not the same. And it has made me wonder, "Was John Wayne John Wayne before he played those roles?" Or did Red River change John Wayne and help him to develop to be the person that he became as a human being? I think it has to go hand-in-hand.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

That's an incredible description of the art of acting. You said you also found drama in high school. What kinds of things did you do in high school?

Sally Field: I kind of lived in the drama department, very much lived in the drama department. And I was so lucky, again, that I had the drama department, but that I had these wonderful teachers. Mr. Culp was one of them, a remarkable fellow who was dedicated to the arts and theater arts, and taught us all about theater in high school. We performed scenes, and we also performed a term play. But I got so hungry and aggressive with it that sometimes he would call me to his office and tell me I had to be nicer to the other students because I just was hungry to do the roles. I just was hungry to work. And I would pick for my scenes the people who I thought, "Hmm, who will take this most seriously?" It was a terribly important time to me, because I went right from that "Who knew?"-- right from that into the big bad world. I really clung to this image of myself that I had created in high school of being strong enough to pull it off, when really I was just a little kid.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Did you like to read?

Sally Field: No.

I was a bad reader. I was uneducated basically. Completely and utterly and totally uneducated. I barely went to classes. I only went to the drama classes. I wasn't really encouraged in my home, as a female growing up in the 50s, to be educated. It was a real lock. My mother did a lot of great things but she wasn't educated so she didn't know how to support that. And my brother, who became an elemental particle physicist -- one of the finest physicists in the world -- and I never went to college. And it really is, in a lot of ways, indicative of what our society was then. I survived and I taught myself, but deeply, as a 61-year-old woman -- and my sons would be here in the room going, "Here she goes" -- I have been possessed with this longing to have an education, a formal, "Sit in the classroom, write-the-paper, turn it in, get a B, wish for an A" kind of education.

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This page last revised on Aug 21, 2008 12:24 EDT
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