Feature image photo of Melanie Field by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images + Prime Video
You know Melanie Field, even if you don’t know you know Melanie Field. The 34-year-old queer actress has been popping up on queer shows for years: Shrill, Heathers, Hashtag You on Lifetime. She also played fan favorite aspiring detective Bitsy Sussman in The Alienist sequel, Angel of Darkness. But you can forget all that. When Prime Video’s A League of Their Own series lands this Friday, Melanie Field is going to become Jo De Luca to you, and it’s going to take you less than ten minutes to fall in love with her. To oversimplify it, Jo De Luca is the Rosie to D’arcy Carden’s Madonna — if Rosie and Madonna had been overtly, canonically gay best friends in the beloved 1992 film. But Jo is so much more than a fast-talking, ride or die sidekick with a heart of gold and a cannon for an arm. Melanie Field hopped on the phone with me recently to chat about what it means to see a body like hers on the baseball field, the power of platonic queer friendships, and what it felt like for Rosie to tell her “you’re the me!”
Heather: I’ve watched the first six episodes of A League of The Own so far, and may I just say — Jo De Luca, what a heartthrob! I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to see this character when I was like a teenager. It would’ve just changed my whole life.
Melanie: Oh my God. That makes me feel so good. You have no idea.
Heather: She’s got to be one of my favorite queer TV characters of the last — like, ever, maybe. I love her.
Melanie: Isn’t she just the best? I’m partial obviously, but I’m in love with Jo. I have been from the moment I read her on the page. I was like, wow, this character is so perfect.
Heather: Tell me why you think she’s perfect.
Melanie: God, she breaks my heart in all the best ways. She’s so earnest. She’s just so genuine. She’s funny even when she’s not trying to be funny, but people are laughing with her, not at her — because she’s just so in intensely lovable, right? She’s a great friend. She’s fiercely loyal and protective. She’s a lot smarter than she comes off in the beginning. She is a freaking great baseball player. She’s a star. She’s an athlete, like an undeniably incredible athlete. I mean, I can go on. I just think that she had so much to offer me as an actor, but I think she has so much to offer audiences too.
Heather: She’s one of the only characters who’s really living her truth when we meet her, and yet there’s still so much growth for her over the course of the series.
Melanie: Yes. She and Greta (D’arcy Carden) have their thing that works. They are thick as thieves. There is an intense, platonic love there: family, sisters, like they are each other’s everything. And I think that Jo has fallen into a routine with Greta as kind of the sidekick, kind of like, “I’ll clean up your mess, like I’ll carry your bags, I’ll make sure everything happens.” And Greta is a dreamer and a romantic and a showman. And what’s amazing about this journey for Jo is that she gets to be exposed to all different kinds of people. And she gets to see how they bring out different aspects of her personality. And she gets to step into her own identity.
Heather: Right, Greta’s a huge part of her story — but that’s not her whole story.
Melanie: Yes, and even though that’s scary, because change is scary, and it’s sometimes heartbreaking, it’s so exciting for her. I think that being seen for what she’s good at is so empowering. I mean, I have chills talking about it.
Heather: We don’t get to see a lot of great queer friendships on TV because we often don’t see more than one queer character on a TV show. What I really love about Jo is that she is ride or die, but when it’s time to drop the hard truth, she’s willing to do that. I have a small handful of friends like that too. Does that resonate with you in terms of your own queer friendships?
Melanie: For sure, especially as I get older. I think that my ability to communicate with my friends has gotten better the more mature I become. And I’m this way with all of my friends now because I have purposefully curated a small group of people that I can be dead ass honest with and they can be with me. So yes, I think it’s incredibly important. And most of my friends are queer. I mean, I grew up in New York City. I came out when I was young, like 19. I was basically raised by gay people. That’s how I say it. I left my small town, went to New York and was like, “What? Who are all these people?”
Heather: Me too, but it took me 30 years! Platonic queer love is one of the most precious and valuable things in my life.
Melanie: Me too. We have really, really intensely bonded friendships and relationships, in some ways bonded by our similar struggles and our fears and our anxieties. But there’s a lot of queer joy in my life too. I would say primarily, there’s queer joy. I cherish my queer friendships so much. And yeah, just being able to tell it like it is and be like, “You’re acting a certain way,” or, “That’s not smart,” or “Get it together. This isn’t a good look on you.” I’m really lucky, very similar to Greta, that I have friends like Jo.
Heather: Do you have any kind of relationship to the original film or to sports growing up? Did you ever imagine yourself on a baseball card?
Melanie: No way! I never imagined myself on a baseball card! I played sports. Well before I got into acting or performing, sports was kind of the cool thing to do, especially in grade school, elementary school. That’s when I started playing softball. I played volleyball. I was on the track team. I threw the shot put.
Heather: Oh, you were destined to be queer.
Melanie: I was destined to be queer. I was like, “No, I don’t need to run the track, but I will throw this metal ball as far as it can possibly go.” But even with softball, I wasn’t very good at it. I was fine, acceptable, but sports definitely were a part of my life growing up. And also as I started to pursue theater, particularly musical theater, I got very into dance, which is a sport, it’s an incredibly athletic activity.
Heather: Did you bring all those dance lessons to the field?
Melanie: I approached the baseball of the show somewhat from my history of playing baseball and sports, but, yes, really from a dance perspective. Even some of the baseball coaches that we had, some of the women that were helping us, I would do something and it would be really graceful, and they’re like, “Wow, you learned that so fast.” I’m like, “I’m just looking at your feet and basically treating like choreography.” I channeled that a lot on the field, just studying what they were doing and memorizing the moves, basically.
Heather: What was the training like? Was it really intense?
Melanie: It was. It was intense. I mean, we had a great time because it was an amazing group of people and we were just messing around on the field all day. But we trained a lot — it started with just 7:00 AM, little sessions with just the cast and then expanded into two-week long intensives where we were all there. We almost had enough for one-on-one coaching. They were able to put so many women together to help us. We did that for the pilot and we did it again for the series.
Heather: That sounds like a dream.
Melanie: We were in the thick of it for sure and definitely getting better, definitely unlearning a lot of the things we’d learned when we were like ten years old from these professional people. They were so patient with us, so generous with their time and really rooting for us. We all agreed and shared the goal that the baseball had to look great because these women were professional ball players. They were really good and they needed to look that way. So I’m really proud of how that turned out. It was a lot of work.
Heather: It’s so legit and I am very critical of fictional sports on TV. I didn’t even yell at you one time to get your elbow up, or lead with your hips! Are there any moments that stand out for you from your training?
Melanie: I just loved every day on set so much. Darcy and I have been doing these interviews all day and we share this love for each other and this love for acting with each other. Part of it is that we were gifted this incredible relationship on paper, but we just have had instant chemistry when we met. It didn’t take any work whatsoever. We’re not faking an ounce of it. Like we loved each other. We gelled. And so some of those scenes I got with her one on one, particularly at the one where we’re sitting at the table smoking and talking to her her how her choices are freaking Jo out, and there’s a scene coming up in the episodes you’re going to watch, which was an intensely emotional scene for me and really for the whole team. Just what it took to get there emotionally as an actor, but also the love and the support and the collective energy that we all felt on that day was something I will not forget.
Heather: Ah, that’s amazing. What do you think Jo would’ve meant to you growing up? It sounds like you already had a great support network growing up and queer people in your life.
Melanie: God, she would’ve meant everything. Not only being queer but also just my body being on camera. Growing up, I never saw anybody who looked like me on television. I had absolutely no reason to believe that I would ever be on TV. The evidence just wasn’t there. One of the reasons why I love Rosie so much is because she was one of the first people I ever saw on television who I was like, “Oh, okay, I’m seeing myself reflected a bit.” But for the most part, I just felt like my existence as a fat person was completely ignored by the media.
Heather: Especially in sports TV and film. And now you are the change you wanted to see!
Melanie: Being in this body, being able to play a fat, queer athlete is — it’s mind blowing to me and my personal experience. It’s a responsibility that I take very seriously. I hope and I dream that people like me feel seen and people like me feel like they’re being reflected. I think it’s just very powerful. It’s necessary, and I think that we need to feel like our society acknowledges our existence and thinks that our stories are worth telling and that we’re worth being seen. I hope Jo does that for anybody who looks like me or who doesn’t feel like they’ve seen their body types or any body diversity on screen. I was so proud to be in this body, playing an athlete. It was amazing.
Heather: Well, now I’ve got chills. There’s both power and grace in the way that you play Jo, athletically and emotionally. It’s beautiful. You mentioned Rosie. The first episode, when I met your character, I was like, “Oh, Jo’s the Rosie.” But you make that character your own. There’s certainly shades of what Rosie brought to her role, but Jo is her own person. Did you feel any pressure around that?
Melanie: A little bit. I mean, the connection is kind of undeniable. I’ve been told my whole life like, “Oh, you remind me of Rosie O’Donnell.” When I met her for the first time, she even said — she looked at me and she’s like, “Oh, you’re the me.” No one’s pretending that we’re not going to be making a connection to this thing. But if anything, I just drew inspiration from her and from her character. But I was lucky. They only had two hours to kind of flesh out those roles in the film. We had eight hours of television and I was really lucky the writers gave Jo a lot on the page. So I feel like I had a lot to work with and I was able to kind of allow Rosie’s spirit and the spirit of the original film to be in me, but also I felt completely free to do my own version and my own thing.
A League of Their own lands Friday on Prime Video.