What Sally Field Really Meant in Her Infamous ‘You Like Me’ Oscar Speech

Actress Sally Field has graced both the big and small screens for over 50 years. With a list of recognitions that includes two Oscars, three Emmys, and two Golden Globes, Field can now add Kennedy Center honoree to her already impressive resume.

The multi-award winner recently spoke with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King on her childhood, her storied career, and the message her legendary Academy Award acceptance speech was supposed to convey.

Sally Field | Erika Goldring/WireImage

Troubled childhood

In her interview with King, Field discussed her youth and how she had to overcome her shyness despite lack of encouragement from family members. “I was a colorful little character in there,” Field said. “But I wasn’t allowed to be it. My grandmother would say to me, if I got angry, she would say, ‘Don’t be ugly.’ And she was from the South.”

She revealed that acting, which she started at 12 in a school production, became her saving grace. “The stage, when I first got to a stage, something cleared and I could be me,” she said.

Field shared that she was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather in her 2018 memoir “In Pieces,” which took her years to process. “It has, you know, certainly haunted me, guided me throughout my life, my childhood with my beloved, complicated mother and my stepfather,” she said. “And I think a kind of traumatic childhood, you are sorting it out your whole life long.”

The actress was able to find healing in her work. “Acting has healed me in a lot of ways,” Field said. “Each time it asked me to find something inside of myself I didn’t wanna know. And to own those pieces of myself is freeing.”

Iconic roles

Shortly after graduating high school, Field landed the infamous role of All-American girl Gidget, a character the actress felt she could master. “Gidget was a character inside of me that I had already perfected to hide behind, you know?” Field said. “I knew how to be that kind of bubbly, because I could keep all the other parts of me carefully hidden.”

The Oscar winner then went on to play the title role in The Flying Nun, a part she didn’t relish taking on. “I didn’t want to be a nun! I wanted to find my own madness and craziness and sexuality,” Field explained, commenting that she wasn’t a fan of her own character. “She was a jerk! You know? She was a mindless idiot – there was nothing real to play.”

Field made a dramatic career shift with her starring role in the 1979 film Norma Rae, portraying a cotton mill worker fighting to unionize. “It certainly changed who I was in the industry,” she told King. “And in some ways was a tiny example – this one woman standing up for her dignity – was about me standing up for my own dignity… I had worked so hard to learn how to act, to get to those roles, to fight for them, in many cases tooth-and-nail.” Field received her first Oscar for Best Actress that year for her work in the film.

‘You like me!’

When footage of memorable acceptance oratories from the Oscars are revisited, Field’s comments from her Best Actress Award speech for 1984’s Places in the Heart still lives in infamy. Sharing the sentiment “You like me!” to her audience of peers and millions of viewers when receiving her award, Field’s exuberance at the time was practically contagious, yet went on to be mimicked and misconstrued over the years. King brought up the topic with the actress during their sit down.

“I always thought you said, ‘You like me, you really like me.’ That’s not what you said?” King asked.

“No, no. I got up there and all of a sudden, this light that was a new thing, the light started flashing in my face to get off, get off, get off,” Field explained. “And I just went to the truth and that was that I had worked so hard, I had such an unorthodox career. And right now, I cannot deny the fact that you like me. It means that the work worked.”

Today, the actress is grateful to still be successful in her craft and enjoying the roles she gets to embody. “I guess in reality what I’m most proud of is that I’m still here… that I still deeply, profoundly care that I’m an actor,” Field expressed. “I am so lucky to be able to do something I love.”