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The Frances McDormand Bio

The Frances McDormand Review –

by Nate Lee



There is no question that the Oscar-winning character that Frances created around her small-town Minnesota police chief not only made the movie one of the Coens' finest works, but also one of the most fascinating characters in a genre full of fascinating characters.

Almost Famous

It is necessary to include a film outside of the Coen oeuvre, and this would have to be it. McDormand brought just enough of that Coen tongue-in-cheeky smirk to her pushy, possessive, yet loving and caring "backstage" mom of a different sort. She has the weight to be a force pulling on the young Patrick Fugit, though with much less screen time than the charismatic Crudup and the splendid Kate Hudson.
Great Performances You May Not Have Seen:
Almost Famous (Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG-nominated performance as the overly concerned mother)
North Country (Golden Globe and SAG-nominated performance as a trend-setting mine worker, with Charlize Theron)
Mississippi Burning (Oscar-nominated performance as a beauty-shop worker and informant on the KKK)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for the Day (1930s silliness as the social secretary for dizzy starlet Amy Adams)
Something's Gotta Give (sister and foil of Diane Keaton as she and Jack Nicholson fall in love)
Wonder Boys (the dean of a college in love with professor Michael Douglas)
Paradise Road (doctor of WWII POW camp)
Laurel Canyon (Christian Bale's hip record-producer mom)
Hidden Agenda (American lawyer in Belfast intrigue)
Friends with Money (in an ensemble piece, married to Simon McBurney)
Aeon Flux
Darkman (a lawyer opposite Darkman Liam Neeson)
Mrs. Frances Coen:
Fargo (Golden Globe-nominated and SAG and Oscar-winning performance as Minnesota detective Marge Gunderson)
Burn After Reading (D.C. health-club worker Linda Litzke)
Blood Simple (Dan Hedaya's cheating wife)
The Man Who Wasn't There (Barber Billy Bob Thornton's cheating wife)
Barton Fink
Miller's Crossing
Raising Arizona
The Real Frances McDormand:
Laurel Canyon / Fargo

Adopted by a minister and moving around as he "fixed" failing churches, McDormand went from an obviously conservative home to living with Joel Coen for ten years before they married and adopted a Paraguayan boy. So, she qualifies as equally hip mom and Midwestern down-to-earth working wife.
Acting Style:
The Coen character. Often a woman cheating or promiscuous, even though her stock in trade is a simple, normal non-glamor. She is also often the funny one in the midst of the blood, the calm one in the midst of the stir.
Bits and Quirks:
The little rock of the head and shoulders. A stiffness, very often not moving her neck when it would seem more natural to. A stunted, awkward walk, again with the stiff neck. The quick delivery of a punchy line, often with a pursed lip. Frequent use of a nasally exclamation or a "Hunh!" One senses another "ubetcha" at any moment.
Great Scenes:

> The interview of Bill Macy
> In bed chatting with her husband
> Inspecting the crime scene, particularly with morning sickness
> Catching up with the murderers

Burn After Reading

> Meeting with the plastic surgeon
> In the Russian embassy
> On the phone with John Malkovich
> On the phone with the insurance agency
> Having an affair with George Clooney

Wonder Boys

> The reveal at the end
> The party at her house
> Running interference outside of Michael Douglas's house and questioning him on a message he left on her husband Richard Thomas's answering machine

Almost Famous

> Dropping off her son Patrick Fugit and calling to him, "Don't do drugs" in front of the concert-goers
> Lecturing to rocker Billy Crudup over the phone
> Lecturing to Crudup in person in her house
> The graduation, without her son
> The car, where Patrick finds out she's been lying to him about his age

Primal Fear

> Interviewing Edward Norton
> Standing by while Norton reveals his alter ego
> The trial scene and her surprise testimony