Julia Gets Wise with Sally Field

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On the premiere episode of Season 2 of Wiser Than Me, Julia connects with the one-and-only Sally Field. With a spectacular film career spanning over six decades, Sally – now 77 years old – candidly discusses the introspection that comes with aging, shyness, and playing characters who are taking back their power. Plus, Julia asks her 90-year-old mom, Judy, when she feels most confident.

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Sally Field, Mommy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Julia Louis-Dreyfus  00:01

When I look back on playing Elaine on Seinfeld, Elaine Marie Benes, I don’t really analyze the character or my performance very much. I just think of how much fun we had doing it, though laughs that we had together. I mean, if, if you watch any of the blooper reels, you’re gonna get a sense of it. Just how lucky I am to have been part of something like that. Actually, there’s a lot of luck in the story of even getting Seinfeld on the air, and of me getting to be in it. See, they made a Seinfeld pilot before I was cast before there was even an Elaine character in the script. It was called the Seinfeld Chronicles back then. And the pilot famously tested very badly. And NBC was going to just drop the whole thing. But Rick Ludwin, a really, really sweet guy, who was the head of specials and late night at NBC tuck the network into making four episodes using money from his specials budget, but NBC insisted that they add a regular female character, I’m sure they said, you know, add a girl. And that’s why Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David wrote the character of when I had met Larry at Saturday Night Live, and we bonded because he was miserable there. And I was miserable there. And so we were happily miserable together, we really did get along and we became good friends in New York. So when they added Elaine to these four scripts that they are writing, He sent two of them to me. I think that I think people forget how different television was back then this sitcom, filmed in front of a live audience was the most popular thing going most of the top 10 TV shows were sitcoms. I mean, they weren’t all shitty, though. I mean, cheers was on back then. But there was a pattern there. They were all basically set up, punch line shows setup setup punchline, which is great if the jokes are great, but they were all pretty much variations on that theme. And the roles for women were mostly exactly what you think they were just crap. And then I read these first two Seinfeld scripts that Larry sent over. And my God, it was so completely different from everything that had come before or was on at that time. It’s, it’s, um, it’s kind of hard to even explain. I loved the scripts. And I was insane for the whole idea of the show. And I had an instinct that that’s what it was, it wasn’t a conscious well thought through thing but an instinct that I could play Elaine, like as a real person with real problems and faults, and that it wasn’t going to be a sort of a sitcom girl part at all. So anyway, I met with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, it wasn’t really like an audition. Even, we just sort of shot the shit and made each other laugh. I remember Jerry was eating cereal. I don’t think I’d ever met Jerry before it was even that familiar with his act, but it went really well, so well, in fact that a couple of days later, we start to make those first four shows which if you watch them, now, they’re a little rough. You know, the show didn’t find itself immediately. We didn’t really find our characters right away, but, but pretty quickly, it gelled and it got good. And then it got popular, really popular. And, you know, Seinfeld was a glorious experience, creatively and personally. And that’s what I remember when I think about the show. So, um, so recently, I stumbled onto one of my favorite episodes. And I actually watched almost the whole show straight through, which I hardly ever do. It was the contest episode, which we shot in season four, which is something like 35 years ago, which I actually cannot believe that that is the case, but it is. And if you’ve never seen the episode, here’s the basic plot. George gets caught masturbating by his mother. And so he tells his three friends Jerry, Kramer and me, Elaine about this, and he says he’s never gonna masturbate again. And we all laugh at that. And it leads to a wager a contest to see which of us can withhold from masturbating for the longest time. So not only was this terribly funny, it was also terribly risky. In fact, you know, when we shot it, I was certain certain that standards and practices the network sensors, were never gonna let this thing air, but they did. And it became a very, very famous episode of the show with the line Master of my domain becoming one of those lasting Seinfeld catchphrases. And it really is a fun episode I’d forgotten so much of it. It’s pretty great. And by the way, brilliantly, the word masturbation is never spoken. Never. But here’s a crazy thing I started thinking about as I watched it all these decades later. There’s a very subtle, wonderful thing happening underneath the comedy here, something new and unique. Most sitcoms of the era doing an episode like this would have made some joke, a joke like they would have had Elaine where something revealing and then she looks so much hotter than usual. So much so that one of the guys would make some joke about masturbating to the thought of her and then a contest between the three guys not to masturbate, thinking about her might emerge. That’s a sort of crappy, racy storyline that I can see being told on about 10 sitcoms that I can think of, but on Seinfeld, Elaine was in the contest with the other guys. She wasn’t a woman in quotes. She was just another human being with a very basic equity, the equity of sexual desire. It’s a sexual subject, sure, but it’s equal opportunity. It’s not gender based. It’s just human. This was absolutely groundbreaking, and hysterical and wonderful. It was huge. I mean, it would still be huge. Even now a masturbation jokes are a dime a dozen. And female masturbation is like literally an industry as well as a great pleasure if you don’t mind my saying. So. I mean, I wasn’t playing the president, the United States are a pioneer woman who saves her family or anything. But this was a real powerful young woman, not a perfect young woman at all. But a woman with agency, a woman who knows herself, who very much is herself. Watching the episode, I was just laughing so hard to Jason, and Jerry, and Michael, they’re all just so fucking great. But the show put a little smile on my face for another reason I was I was a little proud of a very subtly progressive message about women. That was woven right into the comedy. Which leads me to wiser than me. Doing this podcast has been a game changer for me in so many ways. And here we are, we’re starting season two. So I’m looking back at the conversations I got to have last year in season one, and thinking about the themes, you know, the common threads we found that tied those women together. One major thread is this. All of these women have all struggled and fought and worked to earn the right to be themselves. And here they are 70, 80, 90 years old. And they all say in different ways that they are now in this late chapter of their lives themselves at last. That is a superpower, and it’s what I loved about playing Elaine, she was just able to be herself. And God dammit. Isn’t that what we all want? I’m wiser than me talking to these inspiring, thoughtful goddesses. We’ve heard so many wonderful stories of women reaching deep inside of themselves to find the sustaining, deep, resonant power of self realization of women finding agency and strength and resilience. So how perfect then to begin season two, talking to a woman who has lived just this kind of life and has built one of the greatest careers in cinema history, creating just this kind of powerful character, Sally Fields.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  09:11

Hi, I’m Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and this is Wiser Than Me the podcast where I get schooled by women who are wiser than me.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  09:34

Before we talk to these awesome ladies on Wiser Than Me we do a big old serious deep dive into their work. We read a lot of interviews and all of their books, we listened to their music, we watched them on the screen we watched their everything. So with today’s guest, I got to watch her dance on the beaches Gidget fly around San Juan, Puerto Rico was The Flying Nun, The Flying Nun Jesus Christ. Try pitching them that series today. And then I got to see her transition from TV to movies of feat so few women pulled off back then, and make these crazy 70s action comedies like Hooper and Smoking The Nandit, and then I watched her transition again into the Oscar winning star of Places in the Heart and Norma Ray, and I get a lump in my throat just thinking of her standing on that table in that textile factory holding the sign that she’s made that says union, one of the most recognizable moments in cinema history. These are the movies that just killed me when they came out. There’s something about her vulnerability and goodness, that makes me root for her. I want her to win. But she doesn’t stop there. She then goes back into comedy for Mrs. Doubtfire and Soap Dish and fuck do you have any idea how impossible it is to have that kind of range? To disappear into that many iconic roles to be just excellent all the time. I bet she doesn’t even know how many movies and TV shows she’s been in. But it’s a staggering number and the breadth and scope of her performances Steel Magnolias, Lincoln, Forrest Gump, My name is Doris. I mean, it’s Coco bananas. It’s no surprise then that last year, the Screen Actors Guild gave her their lifetime achievement award. Oh, and she can write her autobiography in pieces. Well, I honestly I couldn’t put it down. It’s a spectacular read. She has always been an advocate for mothers and women’s rights and gay rights. And in fact, during her 2007 speech, when she won the Best Actress Emmy for her role on brothers and sisters, she said, if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamn wars in the first place, which Fox famously cut from the broadcast first shutting off the sound, and then going to commercial until she was off of the stage, idiots, on the screen, and in life, she puts herself on the line for what she believes in. I just love her, I love her. And I’m crazy about everything that she does. Yes, the great, great Sally Field is here. And she is so much wiser than me, hello, Sally.


Sally Field  12:09

Hello, Julia.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  12:10

Hello, thank you so much for being here. What a treat it is to talk to you today.


Sally Field  12:15

Thank you.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  12:17

So Sally, are you comfortable if I ask your real age?


Sally Field  12:21

Yeah, I am.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  12:22

And what is your real age, Sally?


Sally Field  12:25

My real age is is 77, I had to think for a minute. You know, I find that every one of the big decades are really monumental, not only in how you are physically, but who you are. I mean, how you see the world how you see yourself, you change so much from decade to decade. And it’s almost like, it isn’t until you really get up there in the numbers that you can look back and go, wow, that really is true when I hit 40. When I hit 50, when I hit 60. And when I hit 70. And so there’s part of me this going, Gee, I wonder what 80 is going to be?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  13:07

How old do you feel?


Sally Field  13:09

It depends, it depends on the day. Because I want my body to be what it was when I was in my 40s and could run and do all of those things. But I can’t. I have a little frame. And I’m very lucky and the things that are challenging me are not the big ones, not the big ones, where you just lean down and kiss your ass goodbye, it’s you know, osteo arthritis, and that I don’t have any more cartilage in my body so.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  13:41

Is that true?


Sally Field  13:43

So, yeah so I first was the shoulder that I needed replacement. Because my I couldn’t lift my arm up. I was on stage and started to notice. Oh my god, I can’t lift my arm up to hug, and and it just got worse and worse. So I had to do that one. And then slowly now it’s going to be I need the knees and then I’m hoping that it’s just knees and I can I can hold off on any of the others and just then just be old for goodness sakes.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  14:12

Do you still have your hips?


Sally Field  14:13

I have my hips. My hips are good, my hips are okay, so far.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  14:17

I’m so happy you’ve had this good luck with your health. And you’re still working. So okay, let’s talk about acting, the the craft. I certainly feel as an audience member watching you. When you perform, people are rooting for you, Sally, no matter what character you play, they’re rooting for you. And I think that’s because there’s an enormous amount of vulnerability in your work. You wear your heart on your sleeve. Do you think that’s why do you think what would you describe that quality? If you can, I don’t know if you can step outside yourself to recognize something like that, can you? I don’t know.


Sally Field  14:57

I don’t know. Um, sometimes I rarely look back or rarely even recognize that I’ve accomplished anything. Because I’ve always felt, I’ve always felt I had to keep my head down that you can’t look up, you can never pat yourself on the back. You just have to look for the next place to land. But I guess lately or over the last few years, I go, oh, ha. Is that right? Is that me?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  15:26

What do you mean when you’re watching yourself?


Sally Field  15:28

No, just when, you know when I like you said the SAG Awards or whatever. And then I have to write about myself, I have to write about when you get an award, you have to give a speech?  And then I have to think, well, okay, and then forces you to look at what you’ve done. I don’t know, part of me always likes to think it’s because people have known me so long. And maybe it’s my way of sort of discrediting the work and saying acts just because they’re confusing craft with endurance.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  16:02



Sally Field  16:05

I studied with Lisa Trosper, the actor studio. I was lucky enough, at that time when the Actors Studio had just started a wing of their work in Los Angeles, and Lee would spend six months out of the year there. And that was right smack dab when I was doing The Flying Nun a nd I was so depressed, because I didn’t want to be doing it. And so the wonderful Madalyn Ward, who played the Mother Superior took me to the Actor’s Studio and it changed my life, because I saw what I wanted, what I wanted to do is learn how to do this, learn these tools. And I think that forever after I’ve spent my life exploring those tools, and those tools were always about exploring yourself, you know, of finding how the characters pieces in a wove with your own shower.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  17:01

Yeah,  exactly.


Sally Field  17:03

And it made you recognize how connected we all are. We’re all these humans, that you may interpret your life differently or behave differently, but you have the same feelings and drives and longings and loss and anger and rage and confusion and sadness. Is everybody else.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  17:03

Right, exactly, and I think you’re really talking about being empathetic, and finding your truth in the work. And that is seen as an audience member watching you. And it’s what certainly I tried to do. You try to find an in to a role that speaks truth to you, you know, I know sometimes people have said, well, you know, if you’re playing a bad guy, if you’re playing a villain, you as an actor don’t approach playing that role, like a bad guy. You know, there’s no judgment, you’re trying to figure out, how does this character who’s made terrible choices come to these terrible choices? And how can I find some overlap there? In my own experience?


Sally Field  18:08



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  18:09

Do you think about Lee Strasberg a lot? Is he on your mind a lot?


Sally Field  18:14

Now him particularly, but certainly his words, and he would say things that just stayed with me.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  18:20

Like what, Sally?


Sally Field  18:22

I mean, things that you’d have to be there to understand, say things like do not do not capitulate to the moment. Now, people would go, what why does that mean? Well, it means if you’re saying something sad, it does not mean you necessarily need to go. Because many times, saying something sad, and not going with it. Holding it back, is much more do not capitulate to the moment, you know. He also taught these things of, you know, repeating yourself in your body behavior. It was very interesting, very hard to do. If you talk very fast, you’re a person that’s giving this whole speech and you’re talking very, very fast, very, very fast. And he said, if you’re going to do that, then move very slowly at the same time. Yes, it’s extremely hard to do.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  19:15

Yes, it’s you’re talking about there’s always you’re always pushing against something. Watching somebody try not to cry, it’s often much more moving. Than seeing somebody bawling their eyes out, right?


Sally Field  19:26

Right, exactly.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  19:27

That’s so interesting. By the way in pieces, your book and pieces is a real work of art, congratulations.


Sally Field  19:35

Oh my goodness oh my god.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  19:37

Sally, really, honestly, I just it’s just beautifully written. And you are so insightful about human behavior and so honest, and anyway, I thought it was a real work of art. You talk about in the book, you talk about finding your voice in character, and having confidence That’s while you’re performing. So, when you’re in between jobs, does that sort of fade away? Does your confidence? Where does that voice the Sally feel? confident voice live?


Sally Field  20:16

In reality, I think I am more confident as an actor than I am as a human.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  20:26

v still to this day?


Sally Field  20:27

Yeah, I think probably. And I think probably part of it comes from that I still suffer from so much social anxiety and shyness. That part of me just as backed away from pushing, constantly pushing to change that and make that different. It’s just who I am. And when I’m working, that’s all gone.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  20:57

Even like in between takes or on down days. You’re not on set. It’s gone then too. Is it because you’re part of a team? Do you think?


Sally Field  21:07

Yeah, it’s because I’m in this family? You don’t have to make friends with the family. They don’t have to like you. You just, you need to be there. And everybody needs to do their work. And everybody knows what their work is. And sometimes you you flub up, and then you’ve got to get back in on the horse and do it better. And, and so you, it leaves off any kind of social norms, as you well know, you go from meeting someone that you don’t even know. And all of a sudden, you’re intimate friends. There’s no barrier between stranger and close friends. It’s just there’s no guard gates, they’re all gone. There’s an intimacy and closeness there that I don’t think I’ve ever found anywhere else, except with my children, and my grandchildren. But even then, there’s a different dynamic. Sure, you know, they’re my children. But in work, there is a safety in the danger of it all.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  22:08

Yeah, I totally get it. I think also, because to your point, it’s a sort of a singular focus. And it requires the intimacy that you speak of, because everybody’s assuming their worth their salt. Everybody’s doing that work that we discussed earlier, going to the most true, honest, authentic place to bring your best work out. And you’re doing that with other people. So they’re there for you have to trust them. And that is the intimacy I think that you’re speaking of. But I mean, like, with your family, with your kids, there’s it’s multi leveled. It’s, you know, I mean. It’s a straight up fucking relationship.


Sally Field  22:48

Yeah, right.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  22:49

Yeah, exactly, and, you know, also the other thing that, in fact, you may even speak about this in the book, I can’t quite remember but so many of the roles that you have so carefully taken in your life are about women who are trying to take back their power. You know, and I’m assuming that’s something that you’re aware of, right?


Sally Field  23:13

You know, I am I could see that now. I could not see it at the time. But I have to honestly say wasn’t like I was sifting through, you know, five or six really good scripts and pick that one. I would be lucky that one came my way. Every single solitary year of my life, and my career was such a goddamn arcing struggle. And especially getting to work that I wanted to do. I mean, there was a few things that came my way. Places in the Heart came my way. glory, hallelujah. And you know, and then Mrs. Doubtfire came my way. But then again, I had no idea what it was going to be. I just thought it would be great, I’ll work with Robin. But it was hard for me to accept to do Mrs. Doubtfire because I at that time was at the height of my career. So I was like, okay, so I’m going to take a supporting role? Wait a minute, is this a good idea? And then part of me sent back just go with the work is, and the work was it was this high comedy, it was Robin, who, you know, I had such admiration for I did Mrs. Doubtfire and then went right into forest. Oh, okay. They were like, right on top of each other practically. And I did it because Tom called me and I had worked with Tom when he was a baby in his career in his movie career in a movie that I had produced called punch line. And I played a struggling a housewife who wanted to be a comedian. And he was the Troubled, dark, but incredibly talented comedian. He sort of takes me under his wing because I kind of mother him, but then he gets confused as to what am I am I? Am I a mother? Or am I am I a girl? And I had done that with him previously. And so he called me to be in Forrest Gump. And I just loved the script so much, and it was Tom, so I said, yeah, okay, who knew?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  25:29

What about saying no? Are you good at saying no?


Sally Field  25:33

I am, I say no, a lot now because seems like who’s making this movie? Who would be making this?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  25:43

I have to say no to something this afternoon. Can you do it for me?


Sally Field  25:47

Yeah, tell him to give me a call and.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  25:52

Is there any role that you really wanted but you didn’t get it?


Sally Field  25:55

I don’t think so, I don’t think so. And also, I am incredibly competitive and a real creep. Many times I don’t go watch movie. I don’t I don’t want to watch the movie, I don’t want to see or do that, I don’t want I don’t want to watch it. I’m not, I’m not very I am not exactly generous. I mean, if I ran into that actor face to face, I wouldn’t be a total creep. But I hope but like I say I am so always saddled with this social anxiety and shyness. I probably wouldn’t be out to meet them in first place.


Sally Field  26:30

Oh dear.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  26:30

Got it, I had a one hideous experience once, do you remember that movie? Oh, god dammit, what was the name of it? It had Jim Belushi and it was a play in Chicago and they made a movie about it. Okay, it’ll come to me. Yeah, it’s gonna come to me. But anyway, okay, I was up for a part. And I went in and I read and I read terribly, like terribly. And I knew that I could do better than that. So and so I did this bold thing. I say an air quotes. And I wrote a note to them, and I left it they were at a hotel and I left at the hotel what would you give me a chance to come in again and read? Because I you know, I was off my game [….] , and they very kindly did. And I went in, and as I got there, Demi Moore was there. And I sort of entered and she was about to exit. But as she was exiting, she did sort of this little twirl of a confident twirl. She was owning the room.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  26:44

And I thought, oh, fuck, I’m fucked. And then I read I read and it was worse than the day before.


Sally Field  27:44

Oh, no.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  27:45

Yes, anyway, didn’t get the part. And I’m going to, it’s called About Last Night. That’s the name of the movie.


Sally Field  27:51

Oh, yeah okay.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  27:53

Anyway, I wasn’t in it. And I didn’t see it either.


Sally Field  27:58

I remember one though, actually, in the 60s or 70s. This was early on. I was still stuck in early television when you were before you were born. I wanted to do True Grit so badly, but they wouldn’t even consider I mean, I was doing the flying now, no one wanted to see me, what are you crazy? I knew I this was my baby. I could kill this, I could kill this. But no, they wouldn’t even let me in the room. I was not in them, I showed them.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  28:25

You showed them those motherfuckers. We have to take a break, now my conversation with Sally Field continues in just a bit.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  28:46

So let’s talk about ageism and sexism. How about that?


Sally Field  28:50

Okay, that’s a that’s a happy subject.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  28:52

Wait a minute, did you? Did you ever happen to see this sketch that I did on Amy Schumer show called last fuckable day?


Sally Field  29:00

Yeah, of course I did.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:01

Well, the only reason I ask is because you’re mentioned in the thing. You’re meant […]


Sally Field  29:05

I was like, shocked.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:07

Yeah, anyway, I did it with Tina Fey and she actually references you in punch line and then Forrest Gump six years later. Let’s just talk about ageism in the industry. What’s your experience with it? Why do you think that that happened that six years later, but what’s your take now that here you are 77 on ageism? In Hollywood?


Sally Field  29:33

Well, obviously it’s awful.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:35



Sally Field  29:35

Just awful, I don’t think that was I mean, I’ve always had to defend forest and all of that and punch line. Because the nature of the story. I mean, in forest, for instance, I got to play younger than I was and I got to play older than I was. So that is an actor, I mean.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:55

Who cares right, yes.


Sally Field  29:57

Yeah, I just wanted to do that, but have of course it’s hideous. And always since I’ve been here, which is then long enough now to know, there’s just so few real stories written about women of any age, but certainly, certainly as you get older that it gets less and less and less and less and less. And it’s usually women who are looking for a man. All women who are dating several guys are a young, really pretty woman who is trying to figure out her sexuality. But all of that is good. But women do more things than worry about who they’re going to fuck.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  30:36

That’s exactly right.


Sally Field  30:37

Yeah, so it’s just been hard. That’s been, I think every woman, every actor who has who is female, they will tell you the hardest thing has just been how do you find any roles? Because the industry will constantly say, well, you know, women don’t bring in the money. Well, you don’t put any money behind any women’s films guys. You don’t pay for the stories you don’t pay the writers you don’t you know, you make it so the only stories about women are about women, dating men.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  31:14

What’s in relation to men always.


Sally Field  31:17

There was so many other stories you could have told I remember in the good just to go on a tangent in my own. Yeah, I had a production company early on in the in the early 80s, mid 80s. I had this production company with the great Laura Ziskin was my partner. And we had these projects, and one of them was so good. And it was before the film’s really started to come out about Vietnam. And we had this book called Home Before Morning, which was about nurses on the frontline of Vietnam. And it was jaw dropping. It was who knew? And it was the first time you took a look at the trauma of war. And of course, we would go to the studios and they would go we don’t want to see our little sadly to this whacked and you just it was so hard to get any serious films about women made.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:17

And yet here you are age 77.


Sally Field  32:19

Here I am, yep still working. Still doing it.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:22

Any other industry, you’d be like retired, you might be playing golf, I don’t have fucking.


Sally Field  32:28

I know, well, not with my knees.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:33

Anyway, going back to in pieces, you said that you started writing it after your, your mom, your ba passed? And because it inspired a lot of digging into your own life. Can you talk about that process of discovery, Sally?


Sally Field  32:51

Yeah, it was an interesting thing that just sort of shook me and woke me up. I had always been writing just always, always, always spin writing in journals or, you know, taking writing classes and you know, little short stories. And it was just always writing. And I was I always had my journal with me. And I would I would go and in the bathroom and write I would go.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  33:17

Do you still write? Do write today?


Sally Field  33:19

It’s funny, since I did the book so intensely for so long. It lessened my need to talk to myself like I would do on page. I do some but not to the intense level I used to. So when my mother passed away, it was sort of starting to come out as she was you know, was coming to the surface as she was so ill for a while. And I think I say in the book, what happened was this, one of my really good friends is Elizabeth lessor who started the Omega Institute in upstate New York, which is a wonderful place. Beautiful campus, and you go for like weekends, and she would do these things, women in power conferences where I mean, the most jaw dropping woman on the planet would be there, whether it was you know, the poet’s or the, you know, Nobel Prize winning women who were fighting for their country or and I would go and sit in the back and go wow, oh my god, wow, wow, wow, and this one year, she called me and said, I want you to get the keynote address. And I said, what are you crazy?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  34:29

That’s making me sweat, yeah.


Sally Field  34:31

I said no, she said yes. And she knew me well enough to know she said you have a story to tell, tell it. And I went I do. And I knew she was right. And it ultimately is the last chapter of the book.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  34:48

No shit.


Sally Field  34:50

Yeah, about my needing to talk to my mother. And so I wrote this speech and I think they were expecting me to have a little you know, warm up little five minute speech welcome everybody turn to your neighbor and say hello, you know, shake hands. And off we go for a great weekend. It was a 45 minute speech about the darkest, most, you know, heart ripping out of your chest story about your mother, about my mother, and about finally coming to the truth. And, you know, I sent it to my friend Elizabeth and her partner when it’s a little bit long. And Elizabeth said, do it, just like it is do it.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  35:40

And in this speech, did you broach the subject of the sexual abuse that you had endured? You told that story within it?


Sally Field  35:48

Yeah, no kidding, yeah, and Oprah’s people were there. And I wouldn’t let anybody record it. I wouldn’t let anybody record I felt very careful of myself, you know, I didn’t want I wanted to just be with this group of this dark thing that I know called an audience. And let me be with this audience, my friend, this audience that I’ve known my whole life, and let me just talk to them. But it was the turning point where I knew I had to write the book. I knew I had to tell a story, because I had to uncover my mother in a way that I wasn’t able to uncover her when she was alive. And I must have known somewhere because I had things that would happen or that my real father sent me that he didn’t have the strength to look at at the time. In my 20s, and 30s, I can’t look at this. I can’t know what he thinks I can’t know what he feels. I can’t do it right now but it didn’t throw it away. I put it away in boxes that I kept in drag along with me from house to house from place to place. Until I started to write the book when I was, you know, in my late 60s, early 70s.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:03

Sally, do you still have that reaction to certain aspects of your life, which is I can’t look at that now. I’m going to put it away for later. Do you still do that, about?


Sally Field  37:13

Yeah, I kind of do it, I kind of have to gear myself up to like, okay, okay, I’ll do it now. I’m just going to look at it, I’m going to know it, I’m gonna own it, it’ll be fine. But I can’t always, sometimes I just say I can’t do that right now. I’m going to do it later, a nd I think, you know, for someone who has learned to survive in a really tough business, from a young age, and also in my childhood, when there were things that were really hard. And I think that I learned a mechanism to deal with things as I could deal with them, I can’t deal with that right now so I just won’t know it, I won’t know it. And it took a long time for me to realize that I had actually divvied up parts of my personality, you know, it’s a civil esque, kind of thing. Where I, I saw, I won’t feel that right now, and I’ll only feel this, and I would separate the parts of myself so much so from my earliest memories of my that trauma and my early life, that it it took me a long time to understand my process and make them come back together, and you know, the pieces of yourself are supposed to speak to each other and to collaborate on what you do. But when they’re all individual, you don’t collaborate enough. And sometimes you’re firing temper is all you hear. And you could be in real trouble. If that’s all you hear, and you don’t have the voice inside of you that says maybe you don’t want to say that to this person right now because he might hit you right in the nose, perhaps you shouldn’t turn around and walk away. That’s anything, so it took me a long time to put them together.


Sally Field  37:41

It took a long time. But you could also argue that way of surviving as a young person, in even as dysfunctional as that is, if you want a word that’s overused, but it was also functional. It worked for you, it worked at a certain point.


Sally Field  39:26

Well, it you know, the brain is incredibly creative, the brain and the brain figures ways to help the child survive. And that was a way my brain taught me how to do this to help me survive but you know, the task is a grown up person.  Is to realize what garment you have knit for yourself to survive as a child the winter of your childhood, but when you’re in the summer, so to speak of your adulthood, you’re boiling hot, and you can’t figure out why am I so fucking hot all the time is because you can’t take off this garment that you needed for yourself as a child and you no longer need. And you can’t realize, you don’t realize that this way of behaving, this functional way that your brain taught you to behave to survive, it gets in your way, now, it keeps you from really being able to move forward. And you have to be able to, in most cases, it takes a really, really good therapist, to help you see how a pattern of behavior from childhood is no longer serving you is in your way, and it’s making you suffer.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  40:37

It’s like Jane Fonda was, you know, we talked to her on this thing, and, you know, she talks about life and review and you’re discussing, this is what it seems like a lot of women, your age, and younger and older, both. I talk about this review, looking back reviewing and the benefit of the review, right, to understand where you’ve been and how you’ve come to be here now.


Sally Field  41:07

I think that’s partly what aging does. You don’t need to do it, it just you when you have so much more life behind you, certainly than you have ahead of you. You can’t help but gather up the things, you know for sure. And try to sift them and put them in a little pile. And then sort out the things that you still realize you don’t know how to do. And maybe you never will. Or maybe you really like to still try to figure that one out. It’s those, you know, unconscious people who’s just sort of blindly go along in the same rote pattern and complain about whatever life forever after and never looked back. Never have any introspection or never have any rearview mirror that you can look and say, Oh, that was a really dumb move, huh? Well, I can see why I did it. But I can also see that it was for shit.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  42:09

Do you still have a because you talked about a lot about this in your book? Do you still have that yearning for your mother? Or is that something that’s has that morphed into a different kind of a feeling now? How does that work?


Sally Field  42:21

No, I still, I will still have moments. When I say stop and say out loud. Why are you here? Where are you? What would you say? I wish you would hear I miss you so much. Talk to me just talk to me. Yeah, sure, yeah, I always will, I always will. Just saying that out loud, makes her feel closer. Because then again, if she were there, she might be critical. Like, oh, you know what? Nevermind, stay where you are. That’s fine, it’s fine, I’ll get by.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  43:00

Don’t go anywhere, we’ll be right back with more wisdom from Sally Field after this quick break.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  43:17

It seems like once you had your kids, you have three boys. I have two boys. I mean, you had similar obstacles to your mom but except that you didn’t give up you kept pushing through. But it seems to me that once you had your kids, least my impression from the book is that it was kind of a lifesaver for you.


Sally Field  43:36

Oh, absolutely.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  43:38

Do you feel like having your children in those boys was in a weird way, an opportunity to almost reparent yourself? Does that make sense? Or talk about why that was a lifesaver for you? It certainly has been for me, but I was interested about that.


Sally Field  43:56

It’s I think partly, certainly as time went on, I was mothering myself, but I was so young.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  44:03

Oh, right, yeah.


Sally Field  44:04

I was just 23, but having my first son Peter, it was because first of all, I wasn’t alone anymore.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  44:13



Sally Field  44:14

And it was also because there was something in me that felt so fiercely about him that I felt if I can take care of him, I can take care of myself. And God dammit, I’m gonna take care of him. I don’t care if I go down. So that it started to connect with a fierceness in me that I didn’t recognize. I didn’t recognize the fierceness in me. I I recognized I knew I had this rage. I knew I had that, but what I didn’t see is that the rage and the fierceness went hand in hand. And he you know, Peter, and I’ve said this to him this big grown up like now middle aged man, you know, he saved my life. Because it is also who he was, he was so gentle and compliant. He wasn’t like the kid who was always sick or always, you know, crying all the time, and you just didn’t know what to do you want to tear your hair out. It was too much, so he was always listening to what you wanted, you know, he was this little boy’s little baby, and you can’t do that. But he was like sleeping through the night it you know, two weeks or three weeks, I go in there and poke him, what are you?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  45:37

Yeah, to make sure he was okay, yeah.


Sally Field  45:39

Yeah, he was always this, this creature brought into my life that just forever after was my savior.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  45:48

And you’ve also talked about the inherent tension of supporting the ego of men in your life, and seeing that men need to have the need to be supported, etc, etc. How did all of that translate into the mothering of boys and then boys into men? How did that work for you? I’m curious about that. Because you you had to take care of men in your life in a way that was maybe unhealthy. But I’m guessing with the boys something kind of balanced out your own boys? I mean, to say.


Sally Field  46:21

Yeah, I didn’t know I was never really good at picking a partner for myself, and so I can’t blame them, man, it just, we were not a good match and, you know, they, several people that I was dating are around would would say, you know, why can’t you treat me the way you treat your sons? Oh, because you’re not my son?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  46:52

Red flag.


Sally Field  46:53

That would be one reason, right? Yeah red flag. Yeah, oh, I don’t know what that meant, except that I treated them with more respect or more. I don’t know, so I can’t really even answer that question because I just, I’ve just never been good at picking up a real person, a partner, to be with who would be loving and know me and not want to change me and also be challenging to me, but wouldn’t be hoping that I would be less than what I am. You know, be less so that I don’t feel like I have to be more. Meaning the man would say feel that.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  47:37

So I’m guessing you don’t have any interest in getting married again, in your life, do you know just based on what you’ve said, am I right? I mean, maybe.


Sally Field  47:46

I can, I can’t? I can’t imagine, I mean, it certainly all depend on meeting somebody I wanted to spend more than 37 seconds with, and I can’t imagine that either, so I don’t know.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:01

Oh, my God, what about being a grandma? How many grandkids do you have?


Sally Field  48:07



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:09

Wow, what’s it like being a grandmother? What’s that relationship all about?


Sally Field  48:16

Well, that’s that that’s hard. I really speaks in these idealic terms of like, oh, it’s so wonderful. You just get the kids and then you get them back to the parents and goodbye. I don’t think that’s the way it goes. I think the parents drop them off and say, we’ll be back in a week, you know. Or a weekend come get in for the weekend or, and that’s all great, except, you know, you have to get to know a whole different group of people and they are raised by different people, so you have to know what they’re, you know what that framework is with that. And then you have to find a place that you land together a place someplace that belongs just to the two of you, and that this is what you do together. That’s just yours, otherwise, you’re just a glorified babysitter. You know, what do you want for dinner?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:15

Well, that’s so fascinating. And have you found that place with each of these kids?


Sally Field  49:22

Yeah, I have, well, certainly that the oldest two, we meet on adult terms. And then Noah, my oldest grandson, he and I always had a place where we live together. And that was we would play computer games together. From the time he was little, he would come I would take him over to my house for the weekend,nd I would say don’t tell him but we’re gonna play computer games all weekend and not do anything else. And so we would sort of take a quick walk around the neighborhood and tell them oh, we went for a walk. We just had such and all we did was play Zelda, you know.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:56

That’s so nice. Yeah, so you have to sort of cultivate the relationship that comes in and out and in and out. You’re not the parent.  Uhuh. Um, I’m going to just take this moment to ask a couple of very quick questions that I like to ask the ladies, when we’re talking on the show. Is there something you go back and tell yourself at 21?


Sally Field  50:22

I would say, you know, don’t worry about your thighs that much that they’ll, your body will start to adjust things into what was always so worried about weight?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  50:33

Yeah, I know that you have called yourself a people pleaser? Are you still that? Or have you reconciled that?


Sally Field  50:43

I don’t think I’m that that much anymore. But I do know that I have pulled away from the feeling that I have to be better, is socially inept to get out. I used to just push myself to do things, and I go.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  50:56

No more.


Sally Field  50:57

I just felt, so I would probably be out there pleasing more people, if I were out there.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  51:05

So what would you then say to those who struggle with that with people pleasing and want to find their voice? Just tell them to go and forget it?


Sally Field  51:15

No, it’s something I say to my granddaughter, who’s also anxious about socializing. I would say listen to what they have to say, if you were talking to somebody, somebody, you’re thinking you’re pleasing them. Ask them about themselves, wonder in your own mind, even like this person? Say, you know, what do you do? Where did you you know, where do you live? Where do you? Did you go to school? I mean, what, are you reading any good books, are you? And if they have nothing to say to you, if they’re just literally, you know, and not, you know, engaging you in a conversation that’s interesting, then why are you worried about whether you’re placing them? You know, what’s the deal? Why are you worried about that they’re not going to like you, if you don’t like them.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  52:02

It’s good advice, ask them questions, find out who you’re dealing with, I think that’s really.


Sally Field  52:07

Who they are.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  52:08

Yeah, exactly.


Sally Field  52:09

Who are you? Do you, are your parents still alive? Where do they live? Do you ever see them? You know.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  52:16

The list goes on and on.


Sally Field  52:18

Goes on and on, I could send them a list.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  52:23

God, is there anything you want me to know about aging? Not that I’m that much younger than you are but is there anything?


Sally Field  52:30

Yes, you are, I do think in this society, it’s so hard to use, and it becomes less and less as more of the my generation the baby boomers get older and older and it makes, you know, we grease the wheel for you. But there is a sense that you should feel ashamed. There is a sense in society, that you should feel ashamed for being old. It just, it’s like a goo that just sort of, you know, that greases up blends a little bit. And I realized what a crock that is. And who made that who made that feeling that women should be ashamed about being older. And it is, it is there in this quiet underbelly and then don’t have that. But that no matter what I do, my waist is just going to thicken. I can’t make it not I could starve myself to death. And then I think I don’t want to starve myself to death anymore. It’s just what age is doing in my, my body needs to react like this. And I will still keep it healthy, and I will still do what I can. But I have to constantly keep myself from being slightly the color of whatever color that is of shame creeping in.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  53:59

Well, you got nothing to be ashamed of, woman, and that’s why we’re doing this podcast for this very reason to talk about exactly this, and to debunk those nasty myths about aging and about women in particular. And you were just a glorious human being. And it’s been a pleasure to talk to you certainly. Even though it wasn’t your intention, you’ve certainly pleased me as a person today.


Sally Field  54:33

Thank you, thank you, it’s so it’s so great to talk to you like what and how glorious, your work has been.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  54:41

Oh Sally.


Sally Field  54:42

Oh, my God, no.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  54:46

Thank you. So much wisdom kicking off season two. I can’t wait to tell my mom all about this conversation with Sally Field, let’s get her on a zoom.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  55:03

Hi, Mommy.


Mommy  55:04

Hi, love.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  55:05

How are you?


Mommy  55:06



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  55:07

So I just had a fantastic conversation with Sally Field. Aren’t you a fan of hers mom?


Mommy  55:14

A complete fan of hers, how could you not be? There’s something so authentic and and dear about her.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  55:21

Yeah, you know, she wrote the most extraordinary memoir called In Pieces. And in this book, it’s an autobiography. And she talks about her putting the puzzle pieces together of her childhood and her life. It’s interesting, because writing the memoir really freed something up for her, you know, sort of after the fact. And she talks about this in the memoir, and she talked about it in conversation, too, about the fact that when she’s playing a character, when she’s performing, that’s when she is, I think, most confident, and most at ease with herself. And that’s even I think, still the case to this day. And I was wondering, for you, Mommy, when do you feel most confident? If you know, when you feel most confident?


Mommy  56:20

When I feel I’ve gotten to some, some point of understanding, you know, when when I feel I’ve written a poem that works that revealed something, and I carry that with me, in order to sometimes put up with things, you know, and I think about that. And sometimes when I’ve accomplished things, just, you know, daily things that are hard for me, but when I’ve accomplished them, then I feel like oh, okay, now, you know, I’m, I’m okay. Did Sally do, did she had a tough upbringing?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  56:51

Well, she had a loving upbringing, up to a point she was very close with her mother. Her stepfather abused her, her entire childhood. And so that is just informed so much of her life moving forward. And it took a long time for her to understand that damage. But she was able, at the end of her mother’s life, she was able to talk about it with her mother, and able to tell her mother that it had happened her mother was only slightly aware, but not entirely aware of the the scope of the horrible abuse.


Mommy  57:33

Well, that’s something to reckon with, Oh, my God. But no wonder why being another character was a huge relief for her.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  57:41

Totally, yeah, she had agency, you know, she was the person in charge of this person, as opposed to her own life, which she was not, didn’t have any power over. And I pointed out to her, as I’m sure others have, that so many of the characters in my view, the characters that she really fucking nailed, perfectly like Norma Rae, and like, Places in the Heart, which I recently rewatched, and boy, does that movie hold up. But she’s playing women who are struggling to find their power. And she really, she comes by that, honestly.


Mommy  58:22

Oh, for sure. Oh, for sure.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  58:24

She has five grandchildren like you. And she’s had to work at cultivating separate relationships with her grandkids. So, you know, as she goes, otherwise, you’re just a glorified babysitter. And I thought that was interesting that she was talking about cultivating a separate relationship. You know, have you found that to be the case?


Mommy  58:48

Yes, because getting to know your grandchildren is such an interesting task. I mean, really getting to know them getting so that so that you feel they’re talking to you. And I don’t mean that they’re not just talking to our grandmother, but that they are really talking to you. They’re really telling you something about themselves that they want you to know. And it makes you feel so good to know them.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  59:10

Okay, mommy, so that’s good. I think we’ve we’ve done it, we’ve discussed Sally Field, and we’re happy, very happy, yes I’m very happy too, and unlike that everything okay, there?


Mommy  59:22

Yeah, everything is fine here, honey, just fine, son, you can’t believe how gorgeous the day is so sunny.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  59:29

Oh, how nice. All right, bye, mommy.


Mommy  59:31

Bye sweetheart.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  59:32

Love you.


Mommy  59:33

Love you.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  59:43

There’s more Wiser Than Me with Lemonada Premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content from each episode of the show. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. Make sure you’re following Wiser Than Me on social media. We’re on Instagram and Tiktok at @Wiser ThanMe, and we’re on Facebook at Wiser Than Me podcast. Wiser Than Me is a production of Lemonada Media. Created and hosted by me Julia Louie Dreyfus. This show is produced by Kryssy Pease, Jamela Zarha Williams, Alex McOwen, and Hoja Lopez. Brad Hall is a consulting producer, Rachel Neil is VP of new content and our SVP of weekly content and production is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Paula Kaplan, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and me. The show is mixed by Johnny Vince Evans with engineering help from James Sparber. And our music was written by Henry Hall, who you can also find on Spotify or wherever you listen to your music. Special thanks to Will Schlegel, and of course, my mother Judith Bowles. Follow Wiser Than Me wherever you get your podcasts. And if there’s a wise old lady in your life, listen up.

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