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Sally Field steps up to the bench in ABC’s new drama |

Sally Field steps up to the bench in ABC’s new drama

| Sunday, March 24, 2002 12:00 a.m

LOS ANGELES — Kate Nolan is stepping into a new career. The popular, politically savvy, 50-something ex-governor of Ohio has been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Nolan is played by Sally Field, who is taking her own “leap of faith” into new territory on ABC’s hourlong drama series “The Court,” which debuts Tuesday.

“It’s very, very challenging for me to try to step up to the plate and play someone like this — even though the character has a lot of ingredients in her that I understand — wondering, ‘I know I’m good, but am I good enough?”‘ the 55-year-old actress said.

Field has plenty of film and television experience to boost her self-confidence. She starred in “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun” TV series in the 1960s, and her films include “Steel Magnolias,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Forrest Gump.”

She’s won two Emmys — for “Sybil” in 1977 and for a guest role on NBC’s medical drama series “ER” in 2001 — and two Oscars, for 1979’s “Norma Rae” and 1984’s “Places in the Heart.”

“In my wildest dreams I could not have thought of a better scenario for me,” Field said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really played an intellectual before.”

She is quick to stress that the series isn’t built around her character.

“I don’t carry the burden of screen time. The stories aren’t all about this one character. … As a television viewer, which I am, I find that shows that are ensemble are much more interesting.”

It’s midafternoon at Raleigh Studios. Nolan’s fellow justices — played by seasoned actors Pat Hingle, Diahann Carroll and Chris Sarandon — are taking their places on the bench.

For Nolan, that moment is yet to come.

“This evening we do the last few scenes of the first episode which are actually me alone going to look at the court for the first time. She’s like, ‘Oh, my God!”‘ Field said. The exclamation reflects her character’s sense of awe at the task before her.

Learning Supreme Court history and procedures has been interesting, said Field, who also has immersed herself in thoughts about what “women who have reached a powerful position in their 50s have gone through to get there.”

Earlier this season, CBS debuted “First Monday,” also a drama series about the Supreme Court (Fridays, 9 p.m.). Field watched the pilot, but no later episodes. “They are a wonderful group of actors,” she said of the cast, which includes James Garner, her co-star in 1985’s “Murphy’s Romance.”

In comparing her show with “First Monday,” Field stresses the more feminist slant of “The Court” as well as its complex tone, which she believes will accurately represent the machinery of the judicial process and the family of relationships among the justices and their clerks.

Although her character has spent many years in politics, “it’s kind of unknown what she stands for. She doesn’t have a paper trail on a lot of current decisions. And in a lot of ways she’s unknown to herself,” Field said.

“Oddly enough, as far as Hollywood is concerned, she’s not politically correct. She creates all sorts of problems in that she’s not an arch liberal. She’s much more of a question mark.”

“The Court,” a John Wells production in association with Warner Bros. Television, was created by “ER” writer Carol Flint.

“This is very difficult material, you need to think about it, and if you feel Sally Field is thinking about it maybe that will lead you into understanding it,” Flint said. “Sally’s very accessible as an actress. She makes people feel comfortable. You want to watch her.”

Field, who famously exclaimed, “You like me. You really like me!” after winning her second Oscar, isn’t worried about the show’s success.

“We’ve got beautiful sets, a great cast and incredible scripts, but who knows• Life is a gamble.”

Twice divorced and the mother of three sons, she’s waiting in her dressing room, wearing casual clothes that any mom might wear to drive her child to school — as long as she doesn’t have to get out of the car.

“I am really just like any other working mother,” she said.

When she’s not working, she’s busy raising her 14-year-old son Sam, visiting her grandchildren in Seattle, and hanging out with friends.

She doesn’t fret over ageism in Hollywood.

“You know there is not an actress around who has a thirst and hunger and passion for their work who is in their 50s or late 40s who doesn’t worry about that, of course. There is no ongoing career path, it just doesn’t exist. So you just make it up as you go along.”

She shrugs off the notion that star image is important.

It’s the work that counts, not name recognition, she says.

“I’ve been around so long, who cares• I’m just an actor. I have no desire for it to be any other way.”

‘The Court’ airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday, ABC

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