Sally Field dares to compete at the Leadership Conference

By Haley Costen
Staff Writer

pic of sally being interviewed
Photo: Haley Costen

Oscar-winning actress and activist Sally Field reflected on her career, motherhood, and her advocacy work as the ending keynote speaker at the Simmons Leadership Conference.

The 36th annual conference was themed “Dare to Compete” and closed with a conversation between Field and moderator Joyce Kulhawik,  a Simmons alumna and WBZ’s arts and entertainment critic.

After a montage of several of Field’s most recognized films, including “Norma Rae,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Forrest Gump,” and “Lincoln,” Field spoke about how hard she had to campaign to get the role of Mary Todd Lincoln.

While she was one of the first in talks to join the cast of“Lincoln” when the project was announced, at the time casting began, director Steven Spielberg thought she was too old.

Despite being ten years older than her co-star Daniel Day Lewis, and her character Mary Todd Lincoln being ten years younger than Abraham Lincoln, Day-Lewis’ character, she fought for her role, insisting that she was right for the part.

“‘You’re wrong,’” she recalled saying to Spielberg. “‘I’m it.’”

Fields auditioned twice for the role before she was chosen for the part and was later nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

“What do you have to lose when you push yourself out of the envelope?” she asked the audience.

She also spoke about her own upbringing, as well as learning resilience and how to fight for her dreams.

Field recalled being unable to go to college, or a place where she could “learn to be strong.”  Instead, she found inspiration from her mentor Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in Los Angeles.

After starring in sitcoms like “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun,” Field wanted to move onto serious work but was often typecast. At one point her manager told her she wasn’t pretty enough and not good enough for film.

“I said, ‘You’re fired,’” Field said.  “And at the same time, I also left my husband because he was like, ‘Well, what will we do? We don’t have any money.’ And I said, ‘Well, get out.’”

Besides winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for “Norma Rae,” in 1979 and in 1984 for “Places of the Heart,” Field has made a career as an activist, working with the international women’s NGO Vital Voices and co-hosting the Global Leadership Awards six times.

“If you’re not reaching for something, you’re dying,” Field said, adding, “I think all human beings have a need to do something well that can contribute to the world.”

Field also won the Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality award in 2012, and was presented with the award by her son Sam, who is gay.

“I consider it a privilege to be a part of my youngest son’s journey to own himself,” Field said. “There are too many families who don’t embrace children that are gay. Their struggle is a hell of a lot worse than the parents’ struggle!”

She also shared her experience reconnecting with her son Eli while attending the World Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 and a Vital Voices trip to work with women and children in Nepal.

“It [Vital Voices] is phenomenal for what it does for women,” Fields said.

The organization was founded in 1997 by Hillary Clinton and aims to  invest and bring visibility to women around the world.

“Not only did it bring us incredibly closer, but it made me realize women’s rights issues,” Field said. “We are out of balance and it must be addressed.

Field also took questions from the crowd on her motivation, her work, and on aging.

“Your thighs right now are as good as they’re gonna get, so bend over and kiss em!” she said. “And stop criticizing yourself over them.”

Other keynote speakers featured at the conference were Dawn Hudson, the chief marketing officer of the National Football League (NFL), Christy Haubegger, the founder of Latina Magazine, and Arianna Huffington, the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post.