A witty and compassionate late-life coming-of-age-story.
After a lifetime of being overlooked and ignored, a woman of a certain age finds her world turned upside down by a handsome new co-worker and a self-help seminar that inspires her to take a chance on love in Hello, My Name is Doris, a witty and compassionate late-life coming-of-age-story.
Based on a short film by Laura Terruso, Hello, My Name is Doris was written by Terruso and Michael Showalter and directed by Showalter.
For Showalter, the film is an inspiring combination of humor and heart, with a truly memorable performance at its center. “I want people to come to this film and just enjoy it, but I also want them to see how wonderful Sally Field’s performance is,” says the director.
“She has created an original and unforgettable character. Doris is certainly an unusual protagonist, but we believe everyone can relate to her and what she’s going through. We can see ourselves in her and be uplifted by the notion that it’s never too late to make a change, it’s never too late to be happy, and everyone deserves that. It’s not about winning the lottery or riding off into the sunset. It’s not the perfect Hollywood ending. It’s about the idea that we can better ourselves if we try hard enough.”
When Doris Miller (Sally Field) meets John Fremont (Max Greenfield), her company’s hip new art director, sparks fly—at least for Doris. Her first encounter with true romance (outside of the pages of a novel) convinces Doris that she and the mostly unaware John are meant for each other. In the cluttered house she shared with her late mother, Doris mines the Internet for information on her one-and-only, guided by the 13-year-old granddaughter of her best pal Roz (Tyne Daly).
When Doris begins showing up at John’s regular haunts, she wins over his Williamsburg friends with her eclectic vintage wardrobe, quirky naiveté and unironic enthusiasm for their rooftop knitting circle. Her new life brings Doris a thrilling perspective, but also creates a rift between her and her longtime friends and family, who believe she’s making a fool of herself over a guy half her age. Eager for all the experiences she has missed out on, Doris throws caution to the wind and follows her heart for the very first time.
Doris Miller, the heroine of Hello, My Name is Doris, began her cinematic life in an eight-minute film called Doris and the Intern, written and directed by then film student Laura Terruso.
Michael Showalter first viewed the short while teaching film at Terruso’s alma mater, the prestigious New York University Tisch School of the Arts. He was immediately struck by the budding writer and director’s inventive sense of humor and fresh outlook on love.
“It was a very funny, very sweet, offbeat little film about a middle-aged office worker named Doris who marches to the beat of her own drummer,” Showalter remembers.
“She develops a crush on a teenage intern and when she realizes that it’s unrequited, she steals his bicycle. Doris was a new kind of comedic protagonist with a lot of potential for development.”
Showalter, one of the creators of Wet Hot American Summer as well as a prolific actor, director and producer, is always on the lookout for new and original comic voices. “The character of Doris and her story were new and different,” he says. “To begin with, there aren’t a lot of movies that have an older actress playing the comedic lead role. She is an eccentric and, in a lot of ways, damaged person, but I also saw a great deal that I identified with and I think a lot of other people will, too.”
Eight minutes had given Terruso barely enough time to introduce Doris to an audience, so when Showalter and Terruso began developing the short into a feature film, they opened up the story, exploring different scenarios as they got better acquainted with Doris and her world.
“Laura and I spent a lot of time talking about where we could take this,” the director says. “We expanded and refined the story line, added some other characters and spent a lot of time exploring Doris’ life.”
Eventually the pair developed a backstory for Doris that included a lifetime of taking care of her ailing mother and what Showalter likes to call “a clutter habit.” The Miller family home on Staten Island is a living museum, packed with “treasures” that Doris and her mother have accumulated over the years. “We avoid saying that Doris is a hoarder because that brings in a whole lot of negative connotations that we don’t think apply to her,” says Showalter. “She certainly has a very strong relationship with her possessions. We came up with what we felt was a very authentic, very idiosyncratic way of being. Her wardrobe in particular has agency in the artisanal culture of New York City and she becomes an accidental hipster.”
Doris is a classic outsider, socially isolated by her temperament as well as her responsibilities for her ailing mother. At her job, longtime co-workers have been replaced by younger, hipper colleagues who view her as a vaguely amusing relic. When her mother dies, she is adrift. For the first time in her life, she is answerable to no one but herself.
“She is somewhat stunted emotionally, which in a lot of ways makes this an archetypal coming-of-age story,” Showalter says. “What happens is that Doris falls in love for the first time and has to learn how to navigate romance. Even though chronologically she is in her 60s, she also has her heart broken for the first time, something that happens to most of most of when we are teenagers.
“In a lot of ways, she’s unscathed by society,” he continues. “There’s a naiveté about her that allows her to do things and say things that are both very funny and surprising, but also speak to her humanity. She still has the idealism of a child. That’s really appealing to me. She’s not jaded in the way that most of us become as we get older.”
With the character firmly in their sights, Terruso and Showalter passed the script back and forth, developing additional scenes, writing and rewriting. “Our earliest drafts of the movie were more darkly comedic,” says Showalter. “When we started working with Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Riva Marker of Red Crown Films, we began to find more of an arc and a catharsis for the character. We also started to focus on the comic aspects of Doris’ obsessive love for John, which helped us to figure out what is really motivating her.”
Bookish, bespectacled and often bewildered by simple social interactions, Doris Miller’s many idiosyncrasies might have been played strictly for comic effect by an actress less sensitive, insightful and compassionate than Academy Award-winner Sally Field. “I can’t think of many who could capture all of the complexities,” says Showalter. “There is a shy and broken quality to Doris, but she also has enormous inner strength and beauty, real sexuality, offbeat charm and an unexpected fierceness. It’s a lot of components in one character.”
Although Field was at the top of the filmmaker’s wish list to play Doris, with the small budget and limited time in which to shoot, Showalter was not hopeful she would agree.
“She was always our first choice,” he says. “We offered her the part not really expecting her to say yes, but she responded to the character and agreed to do the movie. It was one of the greatest days of my life.”
Field remembers feeling like she was reading something entirely new and different.
“The script was so unusual,” she says. “I’d never come across anything like it. It certainly isn’t a standard mother role. Doris is unique and Michael generously allowed me to help find her. He put this movie together on a dime, but you’d never know that from watching it.”
To Field, Doris is emotionally still very much a teenager, even though she’s closer to retirement age than adolescence. “I thought the script managed to address some of the issues that go along with aging in a really original way,” she notes. “It reminds us that we all still see our original image of ourselves, no matter what the calendar says.”
Doris, according to Field, is the midst of a huge life transition and her infatuation with her co-worker is part of that. “Trying to find the real emotional components of her life was the biggest challenge of the role,” says Field. “Doris doesn’t follow anyone else’s rules, mostly because she doesn’t know them. She has lived a very cloistered life. She has had the same job for a long time, but the company has transitioned from a traditional kind of a catalogue into an online, cutting-edge thing and now she is surrounded by much younger people. She doesn’t have much money, so she brings home things she finds on the street. Her mother was probably a hoarder and Doris collected things over the years that have become a substitute for friends.”
Freed from the crushing responsibility of caring for her mother, Doris begins to tentatively explore her options. When John, a new co-worker, gives her just a bit of unexpected attention, she enjoys it so much that she wants more—much more. “She wants to have a real romantic relationship with John,” says Field. “She wants it to evolve into a sexual thing. She wants him to be hers. She wants to be touched. Mostly, she doesn’t want to be alone anymore.”
The story of the film is really the story of Doris finally growing up. “She has to change and her friendship with John, as traumatic as it is, helps her to move on,” Field explains. “I don’t know what happens next. Perhaps she sells her mother’s house, gets an apartment and ends up filling it up in the same way. It’s hard to predict. But this is the first real movement forward she’s been able to take.”
Max Greenfield, who plays John, had previously worked on They Came Together, a comedy co-written by Showalter, starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. “I knew that Max was really good with comedy, but I also believed he would bring some interesting depth to the character.” says Showalter. “He embodies the essential qualities of John. He is strikingly good looking, but also exudes a kind of a sweetness and genuine niceness, which is what gets John into trouble in the first place.”
Field describes Greenfield as a “diamond of a soul.” “I couldn’t have played this part without someone as good and as solid as he is both comedically and dramatically.”
After working with Showalter the writer, Greenfield was eager to see what he would do behind the camera. “When I got the offer to do this movie, I said whatever Michael is doing, I’m in,” he says. “I didn’t even need to see a script. I love Michael’s sensibility, so I was really excited. His work has a specific tone that I really respond to. He’s brilliant with comedy, but we also got to play more than a few moments that were quite dramatic. It was really satisfying to work through that with Michael and Sally.”
After relocating from Malibu to New York City, John is just finding his footing. “He is starting anew in many ways,” says Greenfield. “He doesn’t really know anybody. On the surface, he seems uber-confident and on top of things, but there is a part of him that is the new kid in school. He’s looking for a connection and finds one in Doris.”
John and Doris become work friends, but Doris is looking for more. “She becomes a little infatuated,” says Greenfield. “She has such a good heart that he receives that with open arms and is unable to see anything other than the fact that he’s making a new, albeit somewhat unusual, friend.”
For Greenfield, Field’s performance is the soul of the film. “It’s Sally’s movie,” he says. “She set the tone for our scenes and that’s the way it should be. Working with her was just tremendous. It was even more exciting than I imagined and I had high expectations. On an indie film like this, with little time and so few takes, there are always moments where you’re under the gun. With Sally, I never felt that stress. We just had a really good time.”