Spotlight on Frances McDormand

Posted by Simply HE on

She's bold and outrageously unapologetic - she rarely speaks publicly but when she does, she wants everyone to know what she has to say and we love her for it. She took home the 2018 Academy Award for Best Actress adding to her collection of Awards for the array of complex women that she's played on stage and of course, the big screen. It's the one and only Frances McDormand.

Frances McDormand was born as Cynthia Ann Smith on June 23rd, 1957 in Illinois. When she was one years old, she was adopted and renamed Frances Louise McDormand by her adoptive parents. She’s now 61 and has a cabinet full of awards for her various portrayals of different characters, both in film & TV, and on stage. These include two Oscars, Two Primetime Emmy Awards, Two Golden Globes, a BAFTA and a Tony Award which makes her one of the very rare actors who can say they’ve achieved the ‘Triple Crown of Acting’.

Frances's Mum was a nurse, whilst her Dad was a pastor, but despite this, she knew early on that she wanted to do something very different - to perform. She studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre in 1979 and then later earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama in 1982. When she moved to New York to pursue her career, Frances, known to her family and friends as Fran, was a roommate of Academy Award winning actress Holly Hunter.

Her first professional acting role was staring in Derek Walcott's play In a Fine Castle, also known as The Last Carnival. During the 80’s she began gaining respect amongst critics in the industry for her dramatic work on screen and stage. In 1984 Frances made her Broadway debut in Awake and Sing!. It was the same year that she made her film debut in Blood Simple, the first film by the Coen brothers and it was at this audition that she first met Joel Coen, who she later married and now has a son with. But her film career and love life very nearly took a different route as she initially turned down her recall audition for the film, which, lucky for her, only made them want her more. But it does make one wonder ,what direction her career would have gone in, had she not worked with the Coen Brothers, who have since cast her in many of her most memorable films?

In 1987, Frances appeared as the wacky friend Dot, in Raising Arizona which also stared her old roommate, Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage. The following year she was nominated for a Tony award for her portrayal of Stella Kowalski in a stage production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and in the same year was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Mississippi Burning. It wasn’t until 1996 when she finally won her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as kind-hearted, pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson in Fargo, a role that has since become somewhat iconic.

Frances has moved between stage and screen throughout her whole career and is an associate member of the experimental theatre company The Wooster Group. In 2011 won her first Tony Award for Best Actress in a play for her role as a troubled single mother in Good People which for her performance, the NY Times said [it was] ‘one of the more subtly surprising treats of this theatre season.’ In 2014 she tried her hand at producing for the HBO mini-series, Olive Kitteridge, based on the short stories by Elizabeth Strout which she also played the lead in. It was this series that landed her the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress, in addition to Outstanding Limited Series as an executive producer.

Frances recently won her second Oscar for her role in the critically acclaimed dark comedy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri where she gives a deeply moving, powerful performance as Mildred, a mother campaigning for justice for her murdered daughter. Six months have passed without a conviction in her daughter's murder case forcing it to slowly grind to a halt ultimately pushing Mildred Hayes to make a bold move in an attempt to make some progress in the case. She buys the three, previously derelict, advertising billboards leading into her town and posting a controversial, graphic message, directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town's revered chief of police.

Similarly to her role in Blood Simple, Frances almost let the role of Mildred pass her by as she was sceptical about the authenticity of her casting as she did not believe women of Mildred's social-economic status waited that late in lie to have a family, and therefore that the role would be more suited to a younger actress. It was her husband Joel who eventually convinced her to take the role and we are sure she is very glad he did given her performance and the films reception. 

But despite her undeniable success and respect amongst the film industry, Frances McDormand has managed to, for the most part, keep her private life private. Her PR has simply stated his job is to ‘politely tell people to go away’ and since winning her first Oscar, has rejected most requests for interviews explaining that she has ‘retired from that part of the business, I just act now’.

Frances is very much a champion for feminist politics - she doesn't perpetuate the showbiz celebrity lifestyle that many actors do and it stems much further than not doing press junkets; she doesn't wear make-up aside from when she is working, although she dresses well, her style is comfortable rather than overtly 'sexy' and unlike many, she isn't afraid to say what she thinks however controversial it might be, so long as she is standing up for a cause that she believes in.

She rarely speaks publicly, but when she does, she wants everyone to hear what she has to say and uses her public platform to advocate gender equality and woman's rights. In recent months she has owned rooms full of Hollywood elite when delivering her latest acceptance speeches that left us at home stunned and those in the room cheering, hugging and many in tears with words that resonated not just amongst the film industry, but with women all over the world. Her Oscar speech was particularly iconic and added to a much larger feminist dialogue encouraging funding and support to platform women's stories, asking those in the room to be 'inclusion riders' (which to those of us not in the Hollywood realm, means to sign a contract stipulation that requires films sets to be inclusive and diverse, both on and off screen) where traditionally we have seen a lack of representation. 

In a recent interview Frances discussed how her personal values spill over into her work “my politics are private, but many of my feminist politics cross over into my professional life. Because I portray female characters, so I have the opportunity to change the way people look at them. Even if I wasn’t consciously doing that, it would happen anyway, just because of how I present as a woman, or as a person. I present in a way that’s not stereotypical, even if I’m playing a stereotypical role.” She added, “I can’t subtract that from myself anymore. I could when I was younger.” 

If you are unfamiliar with Frances work, you can check out our collection of some of her best known roles here.


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