Frances McDORMAND - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Illinois, 23 June 1957. Education: Attended Bethany College, West Virginia, and Yale University School of Drama. Family: Married film director Joel Coen, 1984; one adopted son: Pedro McDormand Coen. Career: First acting job was with poet Derek Walcott in Trinidad in the West Indies; successful New York stage career including Tony nomination for the role of Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire , 1988. Awards: National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress, for Mississippi Burning , 1988; Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Ensemble Cast, for Short Cuts , 1993; Lone Star Film and Television Award for Best Supporting Actress, for Lone Star , 1996; Academy Award for Best Actress, NBR Award for Best Actress, American Comedy Award, Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role), Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress, Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress, Golden Satellite Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture—Drama, Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead, London Critics Circle ALFS Award for Actress of the Year, Screen Actors Guild SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, and Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress, all for Fargo , 1997; Gotham Acting Award, 1998. Agent: William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 1009–6026, USA.

Films as Actor:


Blood Simple (Coen) (as Abby)


Scandal Sheet (Rich—for TV); Crimewave ( Broken hearts and Noses , The XYZ Murders ) (Raimi) (as Nun)


Vengeance: The Story of Tony Cimo ( Vengeance ) (Daniels—for TV) (as Brigette)


Raising Arizona (Coen) (as Dot)


Mississippi Burning (Parker) (as Mrs. Pell)


Miller's Crossing (Coen) (as Secretary [uncredited]); Hidden Agenda (Loach) (as Ingrid); Chattahoochee (Jackson) (as Mae Foley); Darkman (Raimi) (as Julie Hastings)


The Butcher's Wife (Hughes) (as Grace)


Passed Away (1992) (as Nora Scanlan); Crazy in Love (Coolidge—for TV) (as Clare)


Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman In Carver Country (Dorr and Kaplan); Short Cuts (Altman) (as Betty Weathers)


The Good Old Boys (Jones—for TV) (as Eve Calloway); Beyond Rangoon (Boorman) (as Andy)


Plain Pleasures (Kalin); Hidden in America (Bell—for TV) (as Gus); Fargo (Coen) (as Marge Gunderson); Primal Fear (Hoblit) (as Dr. Molly Arrington); Lone Star (Sayles) (as Bunny); Palookaville (Taylor) (as June)


Paradise Road (Beresford) (as Dr. Verstak)


Johnny Skidmarks (Raffo) (as Alice); Madeline (Meyer) (as Miss Clavel); Talk of Angels (Hamm) (as Conlon)


Almost Famous (Crowe) (as Elaine); Wonder Boys (Hanson) (as Chancellor Sara Gaskell); Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (Anker and Goodman—doc) (voice)


By MCDORMAND: articles—

"Now Leaving Fargo," interview with David Kronke in Premiere (New York), April 1997.

"Woman of Substance," interview with Michael Dwyer in The Irish Times (Dublin), 18 April 1998.

On MCDORMAND: articles—

Kohn, Victoria, "Eight Characters in Search of an Offer," in Premiere (New York), 1 March 1990.

McCarthy, Todd, review of Fargo in Premiere , March 1996.

Schwarzbaum, Lisa, "In Very Cold Blood," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 29 March 1996.

Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca, "Queen Fargo," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 12 April 1996.

Puig, Claudia, "Character Roles Are Badges of Honor for McDormand," in Las Vegas Review-Journal (Las Vegas), 4 No-vember 1996.

* * *

An accomplished leading character actress who has worked mainly on "indie" projects, Frances McDormand has appeared in nearly thirty films in her seventeen-year film career. Her first step into movies came when actress Holly Hunter, a friend from Yale Drama School, suggested she audition for Blood Simple , the first feature produced and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. When filming finished she and Joel Coen moved in together and later married, but McDormand has deliberately sought to work on films made by other directors, notably Robert Altman, Alan Parker, John Boorman, and Ken Loach. So determined has she been to work on her own terms that Coen is reputed not to have considered McDormand when he was casting Miller's Crossing , even though she wanted a part. Despite her many successful appearances, McDormand has preferred to steer clear of high profile Hollywood projects, seeing herself as a working actor rather than a star.

Blood Simple is a dark variation on the story of The Postman Always Rings Twice , involving a bar owner who hires a hit man to kill

Frances McDormand (left) and Hatty Jones in Madeline
Frances McDormand (left) and Hatty Jones in Madeline
his adulterous wife. Taking the plot further in terms of vicious twists than any mere remake, it established Joel and Ethan Coen as exciting new filmmakers. McDormand's role as the duplicitous wife may have overshadowed her early film career, however: the critical success of the film promised a rapid rise to stardom, but other offers were slow in coming. As a result she spent a few years working in theatre and on TV projects before accepting a small character part in the Coen brothers' comedy, Raising Arizona. It was in Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning in 1988 that McDormand made an impact on Hollywood, when her efforts to perfect the accent and mannerisms of the wife of a racist deputy sheriff paid off in the form of an Oscar nomination. Even then, however, she shied away from celebrity, taking parts in a series of small-scale movies such as Ken Loach's Hidden Agenda , and the bizarre Darkman , by the director of the "Evil Dead" films, Sam Raimi. McDormand had more widespread success as Betty Weathers, an adulterous wife in Robert Altman's Short Cuts , a series of connected tales adapted from stories by Raymond Carver.

It is in playing strangely offbeat individuals that McDormand excels, and she was able to show her abilities to the full in the character of Marge Gunderson in Fargo , her best-known role. Marge is a kind, understanding woman with an iron core; she embodies the untroubled, sensible toughness that the film lovingly mocks. Set in the snowfields of Minnesota, where its director Joel Coen grew up, Fargo has a complicated plot involving inept thugs hired to kidnap a car dealer's wife. But its comic strength comes from the contrast between the increasing bloodiness of the thugs' successive failures, and the steady politeness of the residents of the small Minnesotan town. Marge, the pregnant police chief, takes everything in her stride, from dealing with a series of killings to organizing her unworldly husband: it is exactly this calmness, combined with the bleak, snow-covered landscape, that unravels the evil plots and manic activity of the hit men.

Since the mid-1980s McDormand has had no shortage of work, often having to be persuaded to take parts she is offered. Yet despite winning an Oscar for her performance in Fargo , she remains outside of the Hollywood mainstream, and has no interest in being a star. Although she has not always chosen films wisely— The Butcher's Wife and Paradise Road , among others, have vanished almost without trace—her own performances are of a consistently high standard. McDormand continues to work in theatre, playing Blanche in Robin Lefevre's acclaimed 1998 production of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. With a reputation as a consummate professional actor, more interested in doing her best for the part she happens to be working on than looking to her career, she told Rebecca Ascher-Walsh in 1996 that being a movie star is "a different job, and it's not the one I want."

—Chris Routledge

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

Other articles you might like: