Based on her radio and TV appearances to promote Hello, My Name Is Doris, Sally Field is done with playing by the old Hollywood rules. Kindly nod when interviewers ask if it was weird playing a love interest to a much younger male? Nope. She’ll want to know why you didn’t ask Daniel Craig if it’s been weird romancing so many young Bond girls. Simply walk to a couch and sit down for a structured chat with a nice, white dude on a talk show? Sure, but if she wants to lay a big kiss on him beforehand she will, even if Helen Mirren started it. Say nice things about movies and parts she didn’t particularly enjoy? Heck no. She’s been doing this too long to worry about burning bridges.
So when Howard Stern had her on his show the other day she saw no need to hold back when asked to reflect on her time playing Aunt May in The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2 (as transcribed by Hitfix):
Howard: “You didn’t like that movie?”
Field: “Not especially. It’s not my kind of movie. But my friend Laura Ziskin was the producer, and we knew it would be her last film, and she was my first producing partner, and she was a spectacular human.”
Howard: “How much thought do you put into playing Aunt May?”
Field: “Not a great deal.”
Howard: “Is that right?…Why, because it’s a superhero movie and it’s frivolous?”
Field: “Because it’s really hard to find a three dimensional character in it, and you work it as much as you can, but you can’t put ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag.”
Howard: “Explain that to me. In other words, it’s kind of like The Flying Nun. When they say to you, play Aunt May, it’s not the Aunt May movie, it’s Spider-Man’s movie. Spider-Man’s all CGI, special effects, the guy’s wearing a mask…you come in and you prop up Spider-Man once in awhile. It’s like playing the wife at home.”
This probably wouldn’t be quite as noteworthy if she hadn’t used the phrase “you can’t put ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag.” That was a gift she gave to headline writers at every entertainment news site. Otherwise, she simply acknowledged comic book movies aren’t really her thing, and it’s no fun playing the doting wife or mother (or, in this case, aunt). Plus, she likely drove traffic to Wikipedia’s page for Laura Ziskin, who died of breast cancer in 2011 after a long producing career which yielded hits like Pretty Woman, What About Bob?, As Good As It Gets, the three Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and the first Amazing Spider-Man.
But, again, Field’s use of the word “shit” in reference to the material given to her as Aunt May is the attention-grabber. Her performance in those movies was one of the few things which seemed to receive universal praise. Even so, was her Aunt May ultimately undeserved? ASM2‘s subplot of May re-entering the workforce as a nurse to help support herself and Peter screamed “Come on, people. We’ve got Sally freakin’ Field in this cast. She has two Oscars! We need to give her more to do this time around.”
Still, no one’s ever going to thank you for playing Aunt May. Spider-Man movies aren’t about her. Even if Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal give Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May far more to do in the new Spider-Man movie due out next year the reactions afterwards will still likely center on Tom Holland’s performance as Spidey, the performances of the love interest(s) and villain(s), the special effects, etc.
Field only ever signed up for this as a favor to a dying friend. We know that because she told us. It’s usually more mysterious than that because everyone agrees to play by Hollywood PR rules.
Last month Benjamin Lee of The Guardian tried to cut through the bullshit while looking at why exactly so many respected women over 40 have been agreeing to appear in blockbusters lately:
- Julianne Moore will play the villain in Kingsman 2
- Toni Collette will appear in a supporting role in xXx: the Return of Xander Cage
- Cate Blanchett might play the villain opposite Thor and Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok
- Laura Dern has joined Star Wars: Episode 8
- Laura Linney will be seen later this year as a bureau chief of organized crime for New York City in TMNT2
- Charlize Theron is attached to play the antagonist in Furious 8
- Charlotte Gainsbourg has a role in Independence Day 2
Other than Gainsbourg, they’re all Oscar-nominees, with Moore, Blanchette and Theron being Oscar-winners. Technically, they’re overqualified to be taking supporting parts in action sequels, but Lee argued, “We’re often too quick to assume that female actors who have excelled in more serious fare aren’t going to be challenged or even interested in starring in films where special effects take centre stage. It’s a base thought process and one which recalls a stereotypical view of genre and its relationship with gender.”
Moore, Theron and Blanchett potentially playing villains in action sequels is actually progress. Those roles have been historically reserved for white British dudes (or white dudes who can pull off a Russian accent). Plus, as Henry Cavill recently admitted it’s not all art, all the time for actors. You do the awards movie for no money or perks, and then you leverage the notoriety you gain on the awards circuit into a payday on a big budget blockbuster. Guys have been doing this for decades. Why not women, especially considering how appealing a nice paycheck might seem in light of the well-documented gender gap in pay?
The paycheck didn’t seem to factor into Sally Field’s decision to play Aunt May, and actresses like Moore and Theron have done exceptionally well for themselves through multiple endorsement deals. The same can’t be said for the countless other actresses over the age of 40 who struggle for work in film. According to a San Diego State University analysis of the top 100 grossing movies in 2014 (via TakePart), “Just 30 percent of female roles were written for characters age 40 and older, whereas the rate of male roles for characters over the age of 40 was nearly double. Similarly, the percentage of male characters in movies increased between the ages of 30 and 40, while it had the opposite effect for female characters within that same age range.”
You either turn to TV, humble yourself by working for peanuts on the indie circuit or take a gig which you feel is beneath you. However, you play nice about it because if you speak out you risk being labeled a diva or worse. It’s already tough out there; don’t give producers further reason not to hire you.
But sometimes the best way to call for better parts is to be honest about your displeasure with the work you were given. That’s what Field did.
She’s not alone. Of her brief time as the doomed mother in Godzilla, Juliette Binoche told IndieWire: “I don’t know how much fun you can have when you have to die in two seconds, and you’re the one real woman character and you’re dead in three minutes and 45 seconds.”
Lee concluded his Guardian piece: “If equality is to become a standard in Hollywood, it means that women have the right to star in brainless popcorn fodder just as much as men do.” Give it a couple of years and some of the actresses might actually tell you what they thought about their time in “brainless popcorn fodder” land. Personally, I can’t wait to hear Diane Lane’s honest thoughts on playing Ma Kent.