Have you ever heard a well-known celebrity say, “I’m just happy to be working” in one of their interviews? That’s because Hollywood is one of the toughest industries to maintain a consistent career, let alone rise to the top. Pushing beyond the typical “15 minutes of fame” is an accomplishment. Stretching a career over five decades? Some would call it improbable.
Among that rare club of groundbreaking performers is Sally Field, an Oscar-, Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning actress whose career is full of daring, boundary-pushing roles, from the grad student with multiple personalities in Sybil to the fiery titular union organizer in Norma Rae.
That string of unique characters continues on AMC’s Dispatches From Elsewhere. The series, created by and starring Jason Segel, tells the story of a group of ordinary people who stumble onto a puzzle hiding just behind the veil of everyday life. They will come to find that the mystery winds far deeper than they ever imagined.
Field plays Janice, a former homemaker, now empty-nester, whose husband of 30 years is in hospice and is realizing that nothing lasts forever and that her life didn’t turn out quite the way she thought it would. As she’s beginning to question what life is without her partner, she needs to reclaim her identity. Watch this character profile to get to know a little more about Janice and how the Dispatches cast enjoyed working with Field:
The latest episode of Dispatches offered an emotional look at Janice’s backstory. So as we get to know Janice a little bit better, let’s take some time to re-examine Field’s storied career.
Gidget (1965) and The Flying Nun (1967-1970)
Sally’s big break came as the titular character in the 1965 sitcom Gidget, about a boy-crazy surfer girl learning life lessons from her widowed father. The show was canceled after only one season, but ABC quickly developed The Flying Nun as a new star vehicle for Field. She played Sister Bertrille whose problems could reliably be solved by taking flight with the aid of her cornette and the perfect gust of wind. Though not critically adored, the show ran for three seasons and cemented Field as a star.
After several years of being typecast as the girl next door, Field made a breakthrough with a dramatic role in Sybil, a two-part TV movie about a shy grad student who suffers from dissociative identity disorder stemming from severe child abuse. Field portrayed the character’s 16 distinct personalities, earning much critical acclaim and winning her first Emmy award.
Smokey and the Bandit (1975)
Though not Sally’s first foray on the big screen, this incredibly successful action-comedy hinges on the crackling chemistry Field’s hitchhiking runaway bride Carrie has with co-star (and eventual romantic partner) Burt Reynolds, who plays the beer-smuggling Bandit. A surprise hit (it was 1977’s second-highest grossing film behind only some little space oddity called Star Wars), the movie spawned two sequels and a series of TV-movie spinoffs. But it also proved once again just how versatile a performer Field could be.
Norma Rae (1979)
Field delivered another powerhouse dramatic performance as the titular Norma Rae Webster, a factory worker who spearheads a unionizing movement at a North Carolina textile factory where Norma Rae and her co-workers are suffering from health issues due to poor working conditions. The film solidified Sally as a bona fide big-screen star and earned her Best Actress honors at the Academy Awards. Field would go on to earn her second Oscar for 1984’s Places of the Heart, though that performance and win is often overshadowed by her now-infamous and oft parodied – even by Field herself – “You like me!” acceptance speech.
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Field led a stacked cast in this comedy-drama about a group of Southern women who reflect on the ups and downs of life while gossiping at the beauty salon. A pre-Pretty Woman Julia Roberts plays Field’s daughter, Shelby, whose tragic fate provides the basis for one of the most raw, powerful monologues of both the film and Field’s entire career.
Mrs. Doubtifre (1993)
Starring alongside legendary comedian Robin Williams, this movie’s premise – a recently divorced man dressing as an elderly British housekeeper in order to see his kids after he loses custody – thrives because of Field. Although ostensibly the antagonist of the movie, Field grounds the film and allows its comments on the difficulties of marriage and the impact of divorce on families to land just as effectively as William’s drag gags.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Five years after playing mom to America’s Sweetheart, Julia Roberts, Field was cast to be the mother of America’s Dad, Tom Hanks, who played the titular slow-witted character who found his way into the biggest moments of 20th Century American history. Though she doesn’t have a ton of screen time in the film, Field’s deathbed speech is both incredibly moving and also features perhaps the most lasting quote from the film: “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.”
Brothers and Sisters (2006-2011)
Although she had a recurring (and Emmy-winning) guest role on ER, Field’s major return to TV came on this ABC family drama, on which she starred as Nora Walker. Nora and her five children are rocked by the sudden death of the family patriarch, especially when his infidelity is revealed to have resulted in another child. Field earned her third Emmy win for the role, which she played with her signature mix of gravitas and maternal affection.
After a much-liked appearance as Aunt May in The Amazing Spider-man, Field made her triumphant return to the Oscars (this time only as a nominee) for playing contentious first lady Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s historical biopic. Field was attached to the film for years before it was actually made, but had to fight to keep her role after Daniel Day-Lewis was cast because of their age difference. Fortunately, Spielberg realized what Field has proven with so many characters throughout her career: She was the only right choice.
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