By TRACY E. GILCHRIST
LOS ANGELES (The Advocate) — She’s “another mother,” Sally Field says, explaining her character Marilyn in Spoiler Alert, the film based on TVLine founder Michael Ausiello’s memoir about loving and losing his husband, Kit Cowan, to a rare form of cancer in 2015. It’s true that double Oscar and three-time Emmy winner Field has played a slate of moms in her 50-plus-year career, but she’s never been just another mother — not on screen and not in life.
On the big screen, she’s starred as the fierce mother to Julia Roberts’s terminal Shelby in Steel Magnolias, the loving, supportive mother to Tom Hanks’s Forrest in Forrest Gump, and as an avenging mom in Not Without My Daughter and the thriller An Eye for an Eye. On TV, she won an Emmy for her portrayal of Abby’s (Maura Tierney) schizophrenic mom on ER and another for starring as a loving mom (Nora Walker) to a gay son played by Matthew Rhys on Brothers and Sisters at a time when gay characters on prime time were rare. In life, Field is an outspoken equality activist for all marginalized groups, and along with her son Sam Greisman, who is gay, she’s been particularly outspoken about pushing to pass the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and more.
Field credits Brothers and Sisters showrunner and Spoiler Alert writer David Marshall Grant and director Michael Showalter (who directed her in the indie gem Hello, My Name Is Doris) for bringing her on to Spoiler Alert to play mom to Ben Aldridge’s Kit and mother-in-law to Jim Parsons’s Michael.
“It’s a lovely piece,” Field says of the film that dropped in theaters in December. “And right now, important and timely,” she adds, referring to the increased attacks on LGBTQ+ people and rights in recent years.
“It’s just a human love story. People love each other, and there isn’t a bad guy in it. It’s just about how complicated and how hard it is to love anybody — your parents, your children, your spouse, your partner. And how important that love ultimately is,” she says.
Spoiler Alert follows Michael and Kit’s 13-year relationship from their first meeting to moving in, getting married, an amicable separation for a time, and a reunion amid Kit’s cancer diagnosis. While Marilyn and Kit’s father, Bob (Tony winner Bill Irwin), love him and their son-in-law Michael unconditionally, there’s a scene early in the film where Kit struggles to come out to them. It’s a scene familiar to Field, not merely because her Nora went through it with her son Kevin on Brothers and Sisters nearly 13 years ago, but because she understands the power of having difficult and honest conversations with parents.
“It’s hugely important, not only to own yourself but to the people you’ve known the longest and you feel the most complicated relationships with,” Field says of bringing full honesty to the people you’re closest to. “Whether you think they will be accepting or whether they will be critical, or whether they will be even worse than that, you have to own within yourself. You have to do that for the relationship with your parents if it’s ever to continue long into your adulthood.”
“I didn’t have the same issue to broach. But I did have issues that I finally had to stand up to my mother,” Field says.
She’s alluding to a chapter in her memoir, In Pieces, in which she bravely shares her story of child sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, and eventually confronts her mother with the secrets she’d kept.
“I couldn’t let her go and not have her know that and allow her the space to embrace me. That’s really important.”
Throughout her storied career, Field has played a teen surfer girl in Gidget, an airborne woman of God in The Flying Nun, and a union activist in Norma Rae, but her first groundbreaking role as a mom to a gay son is the one that seems to resonate to most lately. She recalls her son’s coming-out scene in Brothers and Sisters, where Kevin asks why she didn’t just ask him about being gay if she knew, and she responds that it wasn’t her journey to take.
“I would go into airplanes, or I’d be in the market or in the theater, and some person would come to me and say, ‘Thank you. Because I watched that show with my mother. And she didn’t know I was gay. And when you and Matthew [Rhys] would have those scenes, I was able to then say, Mom, it’s me,’” Field says.
In her downtime, Field is an ardent activist for women’s equality, LGBTQ+ equality, and the environment, to name just a few causes she donates her energy to. And she’s a self-confessed major sports fan. She cites the Los Angeles Dodgers as one of her favorite teams. Coming up, she stars in the comedy 80 for Brady (about friends who win tickets to the Super Bowl) with Rita Moreno, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda; lately, Field has joined her friend Fonda’s weekly climate protests. And although that film is a comedy, Field has her activist hat on when discussing it. She touts the rarity of depicting older women on-screen outside of them seeking a man.
“Not only are they some of my best friends in it and people that I would like to work with. It said something much more fun about older women than, you know, Who am I going to marry next?” she says.
Regarding her activism around the Equality Act and her full-court press for equal rights for marginalized people, she says, “I’m fighting for the future of my son. I’m fighting…against the right to choose being taken away — fighting for my granddaughters. I’m just outraged,” she says about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June.
“I certainly fight for my son’s future, to love who he chooses to love, and to get married and have children,” she emphasizes before proving once again she really is a tried-and-true mom. “Oh, God, would he please find somebody, for Christ sake?”
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