Melanie Field on Being a "Fat Hero" in "A League of Their Own" — and Rosie O'Donnell's Guidance
Melanie Field grew up playing sports, though she tells POPSUGAR she wasn't particularly good at them. She would spend Sunday afternoons watching games on TV with her dad, avoiding homework while he explained the rules of baseball or football. She never would have guessed that she'd one day be the one on screen playing baseball. Field stars as Jo Deluca in Prime Video's "A League of Their Own," an adaptation of the 1992 film, which she's long adored.
"To be plus-size on television is already such a surreal thing for me because it's something I never, ever expected growing up," Field says. "The representation was just not there. I had no reason to believe that there was any place for me on screen."
There were a handful of exceptions to that rule, though, when Field was a kid in the '90s. She can name them in quick succession: Roseanne Barr, Ursula the Sea Witch, Queen Latifah, and Rosie O'Donnell. So Field had a "full fan-girl moment" when she found out O'Donnell was going to appear in the "A League of Their Own" series. The comedian doesn't reprise her role from the original film but rather plays a new character, Vi, a lesbian bar owner.
Field remembers the first time she saw O'Donnell on set. "[I] walked into the green room where she was sitting, and she was talking to someone, so I waited my turn, and then we locked eyes," she says. "And I'm not making this up. She looked at me and she said, 'Oh, you're the me of the show,'" meaning her role as Doris in the original. "It was pretty obvious that my character nodded toward Rosie," Field says. "So her saying that — I was just like, 'Is that the greatest compliment I could ever receive? You're the me.' Oh my God."
"We had a great time on set and sharing stories and just hearing about her experience on the movie," Field remembers of their experiences together. "And she's a really, really generous person. She knew how enthusiastic we were about it and shared a ton of stories with us. Just having her stamp of approval on the whole thing as such an iconic member of the original cast, it was exactly what we needed."
Ultimately, Field's character, Jo, is pretty different from O'Donnell's Doris. Jo, who — like many of her teammates — is queer, is one of the Rockford Peaches' main stars, and she hits monster home runs all over the ballpark. "To get to play a fat athlete is so empowering," Field says. "She's not the slow one on the team, or the person who's not that good. She's the star. She is so good. And I just felt so much pride being able to inhabit that, and to be able to put the vision of that on camera."
"I want Jo to be a fat hero," Field explains. "I want her to be someone who stands in her identity and who she is, and gets chicks, and f*cks, and bats." Field calls the role "incredibly satisfying."
"She is so pure, and genuine, and funny, even when she isn't trying to be. Loyal. Like she's so lovable," Field says. As an actor, she felt like Jo's "advocate," watching her grow into her power over the course of the season. She had her own internal pep talk for Jo. "You really can stand on your own two feet, and you're freaking good," Field says. "You are a good baseball player, and you deserve to be a star in a league."
There's one scene where a male heckler draws attention to Jo's weight while she's in the batter's box, and Field thought long and hard about how her character would react. "It's realistic that they may poke fun at that, but I just [wanted it] to be really clear that Jo does not have a complex about her body," she says. Jo has insecurities, but they're not about her body's shape or her ability to mash dingers for her team.
Field also loved exploring the dynamics between Jo and the other characters on the Peaches, especially D'Arcy Carden's Greta. Jo and Greta are lifelong queer best friends living out their baseball dreams as their friendship moves through strain and struggle. "I love the dynamics that we found," she says. "They've gone through a lot together, and kind of like ride or die, bosom buddies, nobody gets in between us. And through the course of the series, we had a lot of fun and heartbreak, exploring what it's like for those two people to be in this new environment, and to be exposed to a whole new group of chosen family."
"I also really love Jo and the gay girls," Field says, pointing out, specifically, Jo's relationships with Lupe (Roberta Colindrez) and Jess (Kelly McCormack). All three characters hate that the league forces them to wear skirts and dresses 24/7 or face steep fines. Field says it gives them an instant connection. "That sort of gay, queer camaraderie and friendship is as interesting to me as seeing queer love stories . . . and I had a lot of fun exploring that with those girls."
All episodes of "A League of Their Own" are streaming now on Prime Video.