NEW YORK — It sounds like a misprint, but it's not: Sally Field has headlined just one movie in the last two decades.
The reasons why are many. Hollywood doesn't exactly churn out good parts for middle-aged or older actresses, even for beloved two-time Oscar winners. Field has also been drawn elsewhere, back to television, where she got her start in the 1960s on "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun." And then there's the fact that Field isn't much inclined to play, as she says, "the traditional mother thing."
"I'm certainly at a point in my life where I don't do anything that I don't want to do," Field says. "There are things that come to me, maybe the script is good but you don't really need me in this movie to stand at the door and say, 'Drive carefully.'"
"Hello, My Name Is Doris" is a reminder of what the movies have been missing out on. In the film, directed and co-written by Michael Showalter, Field stars as a spinsterish, daydreaming New York accountant who, after her mother dies, cautiously begins seeking out new experiences and pursuing — comically, awkwardly, sweetly — a much younger man: an art director at her Manhattan office played by Max Greenfield.
The film, which opens Friday [at Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington], is a blend of tones — broadly funny, dramatically tender — and populated by veteran performers like Tyne Daly, Stephen Root and Peter Gallagher. Holding it all together is the ever-plucky Field, outfitted with two pairs of eyeglasses around her neck and a nest of hair, Field's intentionally messy version of a Brigitte Bardot doo.
Made for only about $1 million and shot in three weeks, it's an unusually indie project for Field, who jumped at the chance to play Doris. The hunt for such characters in a male-dominated industry, Field says, has been the story of her career.
"It's always been a struggle. It's not a new struggle to me," she said in a recent interview. "But certainly as I've gotten older, put it this way, it doesn't get easier."
Field has followed the rising outrage over gender equality in the movie industry with a mix of optimism and wariness. She's spent years watching women filmmakers fail to land big movies and female-led films be passed over by studios.
"Certainly you can't say that nothing has happened. There has been a lot of movement," says Field. "But it has been SO gradual. I've been here for going on 53 years. It's been so incredibly, incrementally gradual."
In person, Field, aside from looking stunning for a woman nearing 70, is disarmingly direct. Those who work with her say that straightforward matter-of-factness is how she approaches making a movie, too.
"As soon as you say anything to her that has to do with her status or stature, she'll just say 'Oh shut up!'" says Greenfield. "She doesn't let you treat her that way for more than half a second."
"Hello, My Name Is Doris" began as an eight-minute short by Laura Terruso, then a film student at New York University. Her teacher, Showalter, thought it was worth developing and the two stretched the story into a feature screenplay.
Showalter, an alum of the sketch comedy troupe "The State," considered Field the "pie-in-the-sky" casting option, and was flabbergasted when she agreed. Her presence and focus, he says, led the cast and crew to "raise their game to meet her."
"She walked into a situation — a tiny little indie movie with a bunch of young people wet behind the ears — and she came in so funny, so crisp and so brilliant," says Showalter. "She hasn't lost it one bit."
Field would seem to have little in common with the timid Doris, but she acknowledges having "terrible social anxiety." "I am incredibly shy and I am sort of a notorious hermit," she says. "My sons push me, and I have a few friends that say, 'OK, time's up. We're coming to get you.'"
Field, who has three sons, splits her time between Los Angeles and New York, where she's expected to return to Broadway this fall in a production of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."
Most recently, Field was Oscar nominated for her Mary Todd in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" and spent five seasons in ABC's "Brothers and Sisters," winning an Emmy in its first season. Though there are numerous exceptions, Field's career has been largely populated by "regular" people: underdogs and strivers like her union-forming Norma Rae, her split-identity Sybil, her Texas widow of "Places in the Heart."
"I don't seem to be — even though I can play my version of it — like royalty," she says. "That's fine. There're lots of good characters to play in the working class world. You work within the vein that you were given when you were born."
Doris is one that will stick with her, she says, an inspiration for embracing the next stage of her life.
"She's a wonderful person to look at as you're entering your 70s," says Field. "As human beings, I think our challenge is: Will we be open to what's waiting for us to find out about ourselves?"