Golden Globes 2018 award winner Frances McDormand talks about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and about the #TimesUp movement 

Frances McDormand, who plays Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri speaks about her character and using John Wayne as a point of reference
Frances McDormand
Frances McDormand

In her acceptance speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, Frances McDormand, who took home a Best Actress trophy for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, said of her character, Mildred Hayes, “Her every ragged inhalation and fierce exhalation is evidence of my gratitude.” She went on to deliver a rousing speech congratulating women in the industry for standing up to power structures in their respective fields, in a nod to the #TimesUp movement.

No stranger to awards, this Oscar winner has essayed everyone from Stella Kowalski in a stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire (1987) to a pregnant police chief in Fargo (1996) and more recently, a hardened woman seeking justice for her daughter’s murder in the crime-drama, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, premiering on Star Movies Select HD. Excerpts from an interview with Frances, on what the character of Mildred meant to her, arguments with director Martin McDonagh, and her model for playing the role...

The movie is a dark comedy.
At its fundamental core, it’s a story of grief and trauma. Lots of things come out of that experience and sometimes, it’s funny.

Tell us a bit about Mildred, and what her character meant to you?
She is a fascinating woman. She is not avenging anything, she’s seeking justice. I don’t think the grief will ever be over, and that’s a part of Mildred’s tragedy or that of any parent that loses a child. For me, it was about playing the truth of a character. She was the main protagonist. I haven’t had as many chances to do that as an actor. I’ve played a lot of supporting roles to mostly male protagonists in my career. After doing Olive Kitteridge, I have a taste for it, and I don’t really want to go back. 

It is said that Martin McDonagh wrote the character for you. What was it like working with him?
He has seen not only my film work, but also a lot of my theatre work. So he knew what he was dealing with. I mean, I’m 60 years old. I got a breadth of work. I was very honoured, flattered and excited. One does not get a gift like this, even from family members. The thing is, when we’re presented with a script, most times, we are presented with blueprints. There are huge holes in the story, plot lines, character developments, and we have to fill in a lot more. With Martin’s work, it’s like a play. You start inhabiting it from the moment you decide to do it.

Did you and Martin ever have disagreements about the character?
The only major debate we had about the script was that I was 57 when the role was offered to me, and I was concerned about the character’s age. Because I’m from a working-class background, I felt like a lot of people from the socio-economic world as Mildred’s wouldn’t wait till they were 38 to have children. So I was concerned about playing the mother of children aged 16 and 18. I asked Martin to make Mildred their grandmother, knowing that a lot of grandmothers do raise children. We went back and forth and debated that for quite a while. In the end, he was really connected to the idea of her being a mother, like the Greek tradition of how the mothers fight for justice. 

It is said that you thought of John Wayne as a model for Mildred. Is that true?
I did. In retrospect, I worked really hard for such an occasion to come up with a female iconic cinematic character, and the only one I could think of was John Wayne. The character really felt like a cowboy to me. I have always wanted to play a cowboy and in playing Mildred, I was able to allow her machismo to come forward.  

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