Interview transcript: Sally Field discusses her role as Mary Todd Lincoln
The following is a transcript of my recent one-on-one interview with Sally Field, who plays Mary Todd Lincoln in "Lincoln" (in theaters November 9). The interview took place in Beverly Hills on October 19, following a press conference with cast members of the film, including Daniel Day-Lewis, and director Steven Spielberg.
Meriah Doty: I'm personally curious -- and I didn't have a chance in the press conference [with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis] to ask -- how the height difference between you and Day-Lewis was depicted. Was he literally on stilts? Was it CGI?
Sally Field: Well, Daniel is about 6'2". And I'm 5'2" -- Mary [Todd Lincoln]'s real height. I've heard different things and all the things I've read it keeps changing. Mary's height was either 5 feet, two or 4'11", but I'm 5'2". I've read more books that say she was 5'2" than books that have said she's 5 feet or 4'11", so I go with 5'2". Mr. Lincoln was 6'4". So the height difference is actually very similar and the scenes -- I don't really know… Daniel created a walk and a posture that you just believed he was that big, gangly man. And I don't know what they did. I never saw it happen because I was so in my own world. I don't know and the scenes we -- there's one particular scene where you see me walk up to him and put my hands in his chest, which I do -- Mary does a lot of that in the scenes in the bedroom. I don't remember him being on anything or having anything on his feet. It's just that's what it was. I think that's just where they put the camera. But that seemed to be very much a real thing. Whether he had anything in his shoes or anything else — I didn't ask him. It didn't matter. All I know was by then, he was my darling Mr. Lincoln, who I was having serious problems with, and I was his Molly. So, I don't know what they did. I didn't do anything except gain 25 pounds which is what I had to do. He had to get tall and skinny and I had to get fat.
MD: Mary Todd Lincoln was kind of the original drama queen. She's highly intelligent and the woman behind the man, but in a way where, you know, she kind of needled him a lot. It seemed like there was a certain destructive quality there that oddly helped his presidency. How important was it for you to bring forth redeeming qualities in Mary Todd Lincoln?
SF: It wasn't my task at all. I simply played what the text was and what I had researched her to be. She was amazingly colorful but she was instrumental in his life. Not only in the presidency but to get him there… as I said in the press conference: Honestly, if there had not been a Mary Todd, there would not have been an Abraham Lincoln. She found him early on. He was very much a bumpkin. You heard Tony [Kushner, "Lincoln" screenplay writer] talk about where he came from. And Mary came from money and Southern -- she was raised by slaves and she came from a very political family in Lexington, Kentucky. That was a cutting edge city at the time and it was -- she grew up in all of this. She understood it. For a woman of the time, she was more educated than anyone — certainly [more] than [Lincoln]. He had taught himself but she spoke French fluently. She, like he -- and probably where they first met and fell in love -- is that they both could recite poetry — Keats, Shelley and Shakespeare. She was tremendously important to him. She was colorful. She wore all of her emotions all over her but she felt things that he would not and could not allow him to feel. So in a lot of ways, she was a very important part of who he was because she felt the things that he couldn't feel through her. He would tell her his nightmares because Mary shook all over when she heard them and it allowed him to be calm.
He would dash in and tell her his nightmares and she suffered for it, because she felt them deeply and would feel everything. [She] would be terrified that he would be assassinated and it allowed -- it freed him to not feel it. And yes, she grieved for the loss of her children and drove him to distraction because he needed her to get up, out of her bed and mother [Tad Lincoln] and she couldn't do it and she wouldn't do it. And they fought, they fought a lot, and he would walk away and she would be driven mad because she was somebody that talked back, and he was very reserved emotionally and they went very well together in all of that.