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Sally Field overcomes ageism to land role in Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln'

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TORONTO - Ageism in Hollywood? It's an issue "Lincoln" star Sally Field apparently managed to overcome when she convinced Steven Spielberg to cast her opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in the presidential biopic — despite the pair's 10-year age difference.

Field, 66, had secured the part of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln when Liam Neeson was set to play the 16th U.S. president.

But when he eventually dropped out of the much-delayed project and Day-Lewis came aboard, the role was suddenly up in the air.

"(Steven) really just didn't see me working with him and I knew that probably part of it was age and part of it was like a chemistry thing," Field said during a recent stop in Toronto.

"I'm 10 years older than (Day-Lewis) and Abraham Lincoln was 10 years older than Mary and I thought that could very well be an issue. But I felt that we would both be 'worn' and I felt that you wouldn't ultimately be able to tell the difference."

She added: "If you look at the pictures between Abe Lincoln and Mary it really is hard to tell who's older. I mean they both look tired and worn."

Field continued to fight for the part and says eventually "the great, generous, brilliant" Day-Lewis flew from Ireland to California to do a screen test with her.

Spielberg was convinced and the "Norma Rae" star set about immersing herself in the role, packing on 25 pounds to play the famed first lady.

"Lincoln" doesn't open until Friday, but Day-Lewis is already being called an Oscar lock for his astonishing performance in the film, which traces the president's battle to end the Civil War and pass the 13th amendment to abolish slavery to his assassination at Ford's Theatre in 1865.

The movie — based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" — also boasts a stellar supporting cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, John Hawkes and Jackie Earl Haley.

And then there is Field as Todd Lincoln, whose life was infused by tragedy (in addition to witnessing her husband's death, she outlived three of her four sons).

Despite theories that Todd Lincoln may have been bipolar, Field says she approached the character with "no agenda whatsoever."

"I think it was my job as an actor to not make any definitive decision as to what she was," said the actress, whose three Emmy Awards include trophies for her turns on "ER" and "Brothers & Sisters."

"She was a colourful person. We didn't have the means with which to diagnose her with anything in those days and (Abraham Lincoln) was never diagnosed as being depressive so who knows what either of them were, except incredibly important people in American history."

It's clear that Field is fascinated by the historical figure she's brought to life, her voice growing animated as she talks about the legacy of Todd Lincoln.

"She found him early on when he was a young lawyer, and a kind of bumpkin — a nobody — and she was very well educated, came from a powerful political family in the south and she kind of picked him, honed him, recognized his brilliance," she said.

"And when he had his very, very dark spells — which he did — she brought him up, she reassured him, she believed in him ... So she was complicated and colourful and a woman that refused to fit into the mould that was set up for her."

Added the actress: "If there had not been a Mary Todd Lincoln, there never would have been an Abraham Lincoln. That's just the truth."

"Lincoln" opens in Toronto on Friday and across Canada on Nov. 16.

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