The New York Times did a profile on Frances McDormand, and it’s a great window into the mind of a truly amazing woman. She’s kept a low profile the last few years, in part to protect the privacy of her family. But her son is now 19, and off at college, so she’s ready to re-enter public life, at least to a degree. She’s got a few really interesting projects lined up, and she has some insightful thoughts on her perceived and assumed place in her industry.
But before we start on all that, there is a very important piece of information that we first need to address: Frances McDormand dresses her Oscar up in little costumes. Sometimes it’s cool sunglasses meant for a Ken doll, sometimes (for ultra-special occasions) it’s a little cowboy outfit. This is a thing that happens, and we’re all better for knowing it.
Okay, now back to the other stuff.
McDormand spends much of the interview talking about her view of her profession, and how her profession views her, saying “I was often told that I wasn’t a thing… ‘She’s not pretty enough, she’s not tall enough, she’s not thin enough, she’s not fat enough.’” And how, rather than conforming to Hollywood ideals, she played to her outsider strengths. “I thought, ‘O.K., someday you’re going to be looking for someone not, not, not, not, and there I’ll be.’”
True to that spirit, now that she’s 57, she’s totally comfortable playing to her age rather than work against it. She has taken on Olive Kitteridge, an HBO miniseries based on a collection of short stories that she bought the rights to five years ago. Olive is a “frumpy, grumpy math teacher,” and that kind of character (with “older actors playing older people with late-in-life worries”) is, as McDormand sees it, “a subversive act.” Subversive, primarily, against the way we view aging.
We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species. There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.”
I have not mutated myself in any way. Joel and I have this conversation a lot. He literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who’ve had work. I’m so full of fear and rage about what they’ve done.
In addition to Olive Kitteridge, she’s also acquired the rights to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a fantastic and fascinating, though not entirely sexy exploration on modern food habits and processes. McDormand is producing and playing a small role— that of the protagonist’s mother, the role (stereotypically speaking) most dreaded by Hollywood actresses. But McDormand, badass that she is, doesn’t give a f*ck about looking or playing her age (or older, as she does in Olive Kitteridge). She thinks that those signs of aging, the gray hair, the wrinkles, are to be celebrated, or at least not hidden.
Looking old, she said, should be a boast about experiences accrued and insights acquired, a triumphant signal “that you are someone who, beneath that white hair, has a card catalog of valuable information.”
And not for nothing, not only does she feel just f*cking peachy about herself, but she gets all the external validation she needs as well:
“I’ve been with a man for 35 years who looks at me and loves what he sees,” she said.