Frances McDormand Embraces Her Face

November 11, 2017

Frances McDormand is receiving critical acclaim for her “unforgettable” and “fascinating” performance in the dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which is currently out in theaters. In it, she plays Mildred Hayes, an outraged grieving mother seeking justice after her teenaged daughter was raped and murdered. “I really played it like a man. I completely based the character upon John Wayne and John Ford movies because that’s a two-hour arc. Those characters can come out of nowhere, they don’t need a lot of background, you don’t have to explain why they’re like that, they just are the way they are,” she told the New York Times Magazine.

Her committed portrayal of the intimidating Mildred represents just one of the many fresh and compelling characters that McDormand has created over her 36-year career. While she plays the lead in the movie, the Illinois native has made a career of playing character-based supporting roles largely because her “look” has never quite fit the traditional Hollywood prototypes. “I was too old, too young, too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too blonde, too dark–but at some point, they’re going to need the other. So I’d get really good at being the other,” she says.

McDormand was trained as a classical theater actress and graduated from Yale’s M.F.A. program. Soon afterward, she made her movie debut in the neo-noir Blood Simple, which was likewise the first film by the now legendary Coen brothers. That serendipitous meeting not only resulted in McDormand becoming a member of Coen brothers’ company of actors for decades to come, but she married Joel Coen as well. Other films they’ve worked on together include Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and Hail, Caesar!

Now 60 years old, McDormand rebels against the norms of Hollywood by going without makeup for the most part and not dying her hair. “This is me. This is the way I got up this morning. This is how I look,” she says. Most importantly, she passionately refuses to get procedural work done on her face. After all, she says she’s worked hard to achieve her expressive face. “Your life is written on your face,” she insists. Indeed, McDormand wants to be connected to each and every attribute of her aging face as she views it as key to the craft of acting. Whether it’s redness around her eyes or the roadmap of fine wrinkles, she’s determined to show her humanity for all to plainly see.

McDormand has acted in avant-garde theater, small independent films, and even the science fiction action film Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Her body of work indicates that she’s engaged in the industry on her own terms. “I’ve built my profession on trying to keep you guessing. And keep myself guessing,” she says.

Frances McDormand serves as an inspiration to actors who likewise don’t fit the mold for one reason or another. Indeed, by embracing her unique qualities–especially her face–she’s managed to create intriguing characters who often mix humor with seriousness. As a result, she’s one of the few performers who has achieved the Triple Crown of Acting: she won an Academy Award for her performance as Chief of Police Marge Gunderson in Fargo, a Tony Award for the Broadway play Good People, and an Emmy Award for the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge.