Over the years, Sally Field has created a wealth of memorable characters — indelible in our shared memories of her performances. Those range from her early, lighter fare, starring as the title characters in TV’s “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun,” to the dramatic roles that brought the actress her two Academy Awards: “Norma Rae” and “Places in the Heart.”
For Field, it’s all about getting the chance “to have the opportunity to do a character that’s this unique but also this three-dimensional.”
During a recent interview, Field said that an actress friend watched her performance in “Hello, My Name Is Doris” (opening Friday) and asked her, “Didn’t you have a blast playing her? Wasn’t it fun?”
The Oscar winner’s response was blunt. “I don’t think of it in those terms — I never do. Sure, there were some very fun moments making ‘Doris.’ There also were some challenging ones. But no matter what happens to the movie, this will always be one of the great experiences that I will always hold inside me. This was like a little diamond of a role — this little jewel of a work experience.
“And I have been lucky to have had a few of them.”
In the film, Field plays Doris Miller, a seemingly eccentric, sixtysomething, never-married office worker, largely ignored by her much younger colleagues. Having recently lost her mother — whom she’s always cared for — Doris changes her life dramatically when an attractive new executive comes to her company’s New York headquarters.
Having also attended a self-help seminar that gives her the confidence to expand her horizons, Doris interprets the new executive’s kindness and attentiveness to her as something far more. What makes the scenario intriguing as that the fellow (played by “The New Girl” TV star Max Greenfield) is half her age.
From the concept of older people continuing at jobs in the workplace to people devoting their lives to taking care of older parents, “there are many things here that are relatable to many people,” said Field. “That includes falling in love with a much younger person.”
Yet for the actress, now approaching her 70th birthday, the hook to signing on to “Hello, My Name Is Doris” was what Field called “the coming of age of it — especially the coming of age of a person of an older age.
“The reaching of a different stage isn’t just the stage of adolescence. Every stage of your life presents opportunities for growth. I believe they happen every 10 years or even every seven years or whatever. There’s a transition into another part of your life for all of us. It’s always a challenge. The question is: Are you going to accept that movement and explore it? Or is it going to be too frightening and you’ll just back away, and hang on to what you’re used to — or what you used to know about yourself, rather than embrace the newness that confronts you.
“This film is largely about exploring the vulnerability of being in a new place.”
Early on in filming, she and Greenfield shared a conversation. “The second day of work we had to do that big fantasy scene [where Doris imagines a very intense romantic interlude with Greenfield’s character.]
“I told Max before we even began, ‘First of all, I apologize and I hope you’re not repulsed.’ And he was great. He said, ‘You can bring it my way, Miss Field! I’m ready and willing!’
“He was so generous and welcoming. Immediately I was there. I had my body all wrapped around him. It was only a moment of thinking, ‘Oh my! Oh gosh!’ and then it was gone.”
The costumes were a big part of finding Doris’ personality.
“The costume designer Rebecca Gregg collected tons and tons of really old clothes — a lot of them were really disgusting,” said Field with a chuckle. “She brought racks and racks and racks of clothes. We started with a blank slate. I went in and played dress-up for like three days and Doris began to emerge. It was like a photograph in a dark room emerging from the chemicals. Doris eventually came to the surface. It started with one blouse, but then those crazy hair ribbons and scarves came along — and it all just clicked.”
Another key point: Scenes shot in Doris’ Staten Island house, where she lived since childhood, revealed she is a hoarder.
“I’ve talked to therapists about this,” said Field. “Doris has sort of a borderline hoarder personality. She lives in a fantasy world. She doesn’t completely see the reality that’s around her. She’s made a shell around herself. She’s emotionally inarticulate at first. You watch her sort of emerge out of that. … I figured a lot of this came from the dominating effect of her mother, who never really see in the film, since the opening scene is at her funeral.
“But I believe all that hoarding came from her being so dominated by her mother. Things took the place of people and friends in Doris’ life. She was so stunted emotionally. It wasn’t until her mother wasn’t there anymore that she finally came alive.”