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Editor's Note: This interview includes discussion of sexual abuse that some listeners and readers may find disturbing or offensive.
Most know Academy Award-winning actress Sally Field for her onscreen performances, from the comedic "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun," to more serious roles in "Norma Rae," "Steel Magnolias" and "Forrest Gump." But in her new memoir "In Pieces," Field reveals how a haunting past guided, influenced, thwarted and ultimately shaped her life and career.
Here & Now's Robin Young talks with Field (@sally_field) about the book.
- Scroll down to read an excerpt from "In Pieces"
On her stepfather sexually abusing her as a child
"There's a saying that, 'What's fired together is wired together.' So ... when my stepfather came in and picked me up and held me — and he was big and bold and loud and I was tiny and shy and frightened — and I wanted my mother to take me into her arms and put me safely on her hip. But I could sense she wanted me to show that I was happy in his arms, because she needed him to be pleased. And I was being seen, I was being held and seemingly adored. [I thought,] 'This must be love,' and yet I'm terrified.
"So early on in my life those two things got wired together — love and terror. Understanding the mechanisms that I used to survive and how they served me for so long in my early career they served me. But I had to unweave them so that I could then try, at 72, to leave them behind."
"I learned to send myself out of the room. The terror was not there. And the sadness was not there. The rage was not there. And the part of me that was the taskmaster could stay and do the tasks that were required."Sally Field, on how being sexually abused shaped her approach to acting
On getting into acting
"When things would happen at 7 [years old] and 8 and 9 and 10 that were just too much for me to handle, I learned to send myself out of the room. The terror was not there. And the sadness was not there. The rage was not there. And the part of me that was the taskmaster could stay and do the tasks that were required. And as I started my early career I was still able to send out the parts of me that were overwhelmed. Luckily when I was 12 years old I found a stage. I went to a public school in the San Fernando Valley and they had a theater arts department and I did my first scene when I was 12 years old and, bam, something cleared, a bell rang. Everything was quiet. I could hear myself. Something that happens when you're really in a craft, and you're not in your body anymore. So that went hand in hand with coming out of being in the kind of traumatic childhood place that I was in. But it was acting."
On connecting with her character Sybil in the miniseries "Sybil," who had multiple personalities
"I knew I knew her. And I didn't connect with how deeply Sybil and I belonged together, and yet I knew so well how she glided from one character to the other. But it took me till so recently to go, 'Oh, oh, I see.' Sybil and I had very similar survival mechanisms. Doing that, being in her shoes, connecting with pieces of myself, it did change me at the end."
On the Kavanaugh confirmation and the #MeToo movement
"It doesn't surprise me. I don't think it surprised any of us, but I think we're enraged. I think it's time to get mad. We have to stay mad. But this can't be about the Democrats and the Republicans it isn't it's about our country. It's about all of us. There has to be something else on the other side of it. We have to look at how we teach our little boys and our little girls to talk to each other. This bad behavior from boys [and] men that we're hearing about now, it was taught to them. It was taught to them. It disallows so much of the humanity of little boys early on, and certainly as little girls, I was taught that I couldn't speak out, and now we're outraged. And let's stay outraged, and let's get to the polls."
Watch: Sally Field Clips From The Segment
Book Excerpt: 'In Pieces'
by Sally Field
There was no proscenium arch, no curtains or lights to create an illusion, no proper stage at all. It was just a classroom with all the chairs and their seventh‑grade occupants pushed aside in disorganized clumps.
It wasn’t even a real classroom. The entire school had originally been part of an army hospital built at the end of World War II, specializing in central nervous system injuries, syphilis, and psychiatry. It had once even included a small com‑ pound for prisoners of war—a building now stuffed with classrooms and students held captive until the sound of the bell. This particular room was long and narrow, each side lined with windows, which made it look exactly like a hospital ward and nothing like a junior high school drama class. But on that day, through my twelve‑year‑old eyes, I saw only the faint interior of a swank apartment.
I remember watching my feet as they stomped across the worn wooden floor, and for one instant the feet weren’t mine anymore. Then I was back in the classroom again, wondering what to do with my hands, my armpits sweating so much I dripped. I stopped at the door (a wobbly contraption hinged to a freestanding frame made by the boys in wood shop), took hold of the handle, then turned back toward the thirteen‑ year‑old playing my uncouth gangster boyfriend. With one clammy hand gripping the knob, and my whole body twisted around to face the actor—my arm awkwardly wrapped in front of me—I stood listening to the boy deliver his dialogue. When he had finished spraying words through his braces, I paused a beat, then yelled, “Drop dead, Harry,” and exited in an indignant huff, slamming the door behind me. That was it, my first moments as an actor, a scene from Born Yesterday and my pubescent version of the brassy Brooklyn bombshell Billie Dawn.
I wasn’t good. I knew I wasn’t. It was like Heidi, the little goat girl, had taken a stab at Hedda Gabler. But it didn’t matter. A new sensation had brushed past me and for one moment, I felt free. My body moved—maybe not gracefully but all on its own—without me telling it where to go, tiny flashes when it didn’t belong to me at all, and I was watching from far away with no anxious sense of time. In those cracks of light, the pressure of what people thought of me or didn’t think of me, who they wanted me to be or didn’t want me to be, completely stopped. A bell had rung, everything focused and sharpened. I could hear myself. Then it was gone again.
In the eighth grade—a year later—I had my first performance night in the school auditorium. For the first time I walked on a stage in front of an audience of parents and friends, there to watch, among other things, my Juliet—not the whole play, just two scenes: the potion scene and the death scene. My mother drove me home afterward, and I clearly remember sitting in that dark car beside her. I desperately wanted to know what she thought but was afraid to ask, so I just watched her drive. Sometimes the headlights of an oncoming car would light up the whole interior, making it seem even darker after it passed. But when her face was bright with light she looked at me, and as if we were hiding from someone, she whispered, “You were magical.”
I whispered back, “I was?” Then everything was dark again and I could barely see her at all.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Just that.” Another flash of headlights lit up the front seat and I could see her mouth edging toward a smile, the light bleaching her beautiful face white, then slowly fading to black.
Excerpted from IN PIECES: A Memoir. Copyright © 2018 by Sally Field. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
This segment aired on October 18, 2018.
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