Sally Field to make history as Mary Todd Lincoln

Just like you can’t schedule an epiphany, you can’t plan an “a-ha” moment, and that’s what makes them so enjoyable when they do occur. This was a casting news “a-ha,” so it wasn’t a moment in time that will alter my life or anything, but it still brought a smile to my face at the sheer “but of course!” reaction it brought about. Last week, it was announced that Sally Field has been cast as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s yet-to-be-named Abraham Lincoln movie.

See, not life-altering, but my goodness, is that perfect casting or what? Look at this picture of Mary Todd Lincoln. Look closely.

There’s actually a Sally Field resemblance — you know, give or take 140 years or so. Oh, and the bad dowdy clothes and hair ornamentation. And did you know that Mary Todd Lincoln’s story and struggles have a lot to do with her mental health issues? Well, Sally Field has built her career on her portrayals of women with mental health issues. It’s her bread and butter, toasted or plain, with jam or without, sourdough or … well, you get what I mean.

Field has been somewhat of a lightning rod since the Emmy telecast, during which she used an expletive in relationship to her own views on the Iraq War and had a portion of her acceptance speech censored.

Now if we could just censor a choice few of our politicians by bleeping them out or playing some loud sweeping music and cutting to commercials right when they begin to open their collective mouths, then I’d believe in free speech again! Free to not hear some folks speak! Now that’s America, baby! Heh. Anyway, given the controversy and criticism recently tossed Field’s way in response to her anti-war sentiment, I found the announcement of her casting as the First Lady of the United States — during the Civil War, when the United States wasn’t so united — even more interesting!

One can say whatever one wants about Sally Field and her infamous award acceptance speeches, but saying that the woman can’t act would make a person lose all credibility. She’s been at this acting thing for 40 years, and I’m always amazed at her performances. She’s not a method actress, like, say, Meryl Streep, who can transform her voice, her style or entire existence into whomever she is portraying. But when you watch Sally Field in a role, you clearly see that it’s Sally Field and you hear that it’s Sally Field, but then all of a sudden the performance transforms and she becomes the character she’s portraying and she incorporates these personas so well that it’s a little weird.

She still looks like Sally Field and she still sounds like Sally Field, but her name is Sybil or Norma Rae or Edna Spalding or Maggie Wyczenski, or, most recently, Nora Walker — and these are just her award-winning roles, not including the many more for which she has been nominated.

As for the movie itself, it has been in the works (which is also known as development hell) for years. Spielberg and Dreamworks bought the rights to historian and Pulitzer Prize–winner Doris Kearns Goodwin’s then-unpublished biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, back in 2001. That’s practically last century! (By the way, some may remember Kearns Goodwin’s wit and charm from the Ken Burns Civil War series that aired on PBS.)

Spielberg immediately hired writers to turn the biography into a screenplay and in 2005 cast Irish-born Liam Neeson as Abraham Lincoln. The studio set 2006 as the target year for production. Except by 2006, there was still no script that Spielberg wanted to work with. Uh-oh. Back to the drawing board. Earlier this year, Spielberg hired screenwriter Tony Kushner, who co-wrote Angels in America, as well as Spielberg’s last Oscar-nominated feature, Munich. The Lincoln film is now set to start production in 2008.

So, in review, let us see who we have present and accounted for, shall we? Mega Hollywood studio? Check. Oscar-winning producer? Check. Oscar-winning director? Check. Oscar-nominated lead actor? Check. Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated screenwriter? Check. And now, three-time-Emmy-winning and two-time-Oscar-winning lead actress? Check. OK, everyone associated with this film should probably start planning what they’re going to wear to the Academy Awards in what, say, 2010? Goodness. I wonder what Field will say during THAT acceptance speech. Cue up the orchestra for the big sweeping you-have-run-over-your-allotted-time G–dammit musical number!

The movie is obviously more about Abraham Lincoln rather than Mary Todd Lincoln, because after all, the guy remains one of the most revered American Presidents in the history of the country. But as we all know, behind every good man is an even better woman, and behind every better woman is a line forming to criticize her! Admittedly, I am a little bit of a history geek, so I can’t wait to see Spielberg’s cinematic depiction of Lincoln. Now that Sally Field will be a principal factor on screen, I’m even more excited. Come on, is it 1861 yet?!