Watching Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, wife and First Lady to the 16th President of the United States, it’s hard to think of another actress that could have inhabited the role as well as she did in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” The director had Field in mind for the role back when Liam Neeson was originally cast as President Lincoln, but the actress almost lost it when Neeson withdrew from the project and Daniel Day Lewis got cast. It wasn’t the first time Field had to fight for a role, and she fought long and hard for this one to where Spielberg granted her a screen test with Lewis.
“I heard commotion and looked up, and across the lobby came my darling Mr. Lincoln,” Field said of Lewis when she first saw the actor walking towards her. “He smirked at me, and I smirked right back. I gave him my hand, I looked up and said ‘Mr. Lincoln,’ and he said ‘Mother.’ That’s what they said to each other. I felt this audible hush in the room.”
After Field and Lewis improvised for an hour as the Lincolns, Spielberg informed her that the role was hers. From there, she took the time to visit Mary Todd’s home in Lexington, Kentucky. It was actually a low key visit for the actress, and she went about town with very few people recognizing who she was. Touring the Lincolns’ home came to greatly inform Field’s performance.
“What I wanted to really do was be inside of her house,” Field said. “I know what an important place that was for her in studying her, and I really wanted to step inside the house and look at all of that and have the feeling of space.”
“I had seen pictures of what it looked like in those days before, before there were like parking lots and things connected to it, so that I could have a feeling of where she came from,” Field continued. “It’s important in understanding her makeup as a person that you take a look at her home.”
Field also had to gain 25 pounds to authentically portray Mary Todd Lincoln, and it took seven months to add all that weight to actress’ 5′ 2 ½” frame.
“She was much heavier, or more round, so we tried to replicate her measurements,” Field said. “We had her dress size, because it’s documented when they made dresses for her… We replicated what she was, and it wasn’t easy. It was sort of horrifying to be a woman of a certain age and to put on 25 pounds.”
After all these years, Sally Field remains an incredible actress who works very hard to understand the psychologies of each character she portrays and you cannot (and should not) ever accuse her of being lazy in her preparation. Her performance is the latest example of how much we really, really like her work (sorry I couldn’t help it). Field also does a commendable job of giving Mary Todd Lincoln the respect she deserves as she is not talked about as much as her famous President husband.
“Had there not been a Mary Todd, there would not have been an Abraham Lincoln,” said Field. “She found him when he was a young lawyer and really a bumpkin. No one knew of him but she recognized his brilliance. She was so under-examined and misunderstood, and a very important woman in American history.”
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Lisa Gutierrez, “Stargazing | Sally Field had long lusted for ‘Lincoln’ role; justice rules on ‘Sesame Street,'” The Kansas City Star, November 13, 2012.
Rich Copley, “To play Mary Todd Lincoln, actress Sally Field visited Lexington home,” Kentucky.com, November 15, 2012.
“Sally Field’s body transformation for ‘Lincoln,'” CNN, November 1, 2012.
Andrea Mandell, “Sally Field locks on to ‘Lincoln’ role,” USA Today, November 13, 2012.