Frances McDormand: ‘I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t cute, I wasn’t beautiful’

The 25th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Press Room

It’s very possible – nay, probable – that whenever the Oscars happen in 2021, a makeup-free and barefoot Frances McDormand will be walking up to the podium to collect her third Best Actress Oscar. As soon as critics began screening Nomadland, the new Chloe Zhao film in which McDormand stars, there wasn’t so much Oscar buzz as a declaration that McDormand is a sure thing. Which is why Vogue Magazine has put Frances, in all of her 63-year-old glory, on the cover of Vogue. Much of the piece is just a summary of Frances’ personal and professional history, some of which I didn’t know – like, I didn’t know she was adopted by a preacher and a preacher’s wife when she wasn’t even two years old. You can read the full piece here. Some highlights:

She spent most of her life playing supporting roles: “[Playing] Females who exist to make sure that you understand that the protagonist is male.”

Her relationship with Joel Coen began when he gave her a book list: “He seduced me with the choice of books. I seduced him by inviting him over to discuss them.” Back in New York, they moved in together. “I realized I could have a relationship that was really deep and passionate but that didn’t keep us from also being able to have a functioning working relationship. I went, Oh, it’s possible to not become so obsessed that you can’t live your life.”

She couldn’t believe that her husband cast Marcia Gay Harden in Miller’s Crossing, she wanted to play it: “That was part of my learning process and part of our learning process privately as a couple. We both had to work through that. You’re not going to get a role every time.”

There was no path for film success: “I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t cute, I wasn’t beautiful, I didn’t have the body.” Coen helped her depersonalize the rejection: In the medium of film, physical type can trump talent. Over time she hit on a certain niche—the friend of the pretty girl, the girlfriend of substance to the much older man. “It wasn’t just that I decided. It was clear. That’s the only thing I was going to get jobs doing.”

Her son Pedro, who she & Joel adopted just after ‘Fargo’ wrapped: They raised Pedro in New York. Coen shot movies during the summer. McDormand took one film role a year and did a lot of theater. Though they’d rejected organized religion, McDormand wanted to give Pedro some form of mythology. He was going to need stories. “Part of the adoption pathology,” she explained. So she decided they would celebrate pagan holidays. “I couldn’t commit to Christianity. But nature: I could always commit to that, and the power of it.”

Pedro was athletic: “I don’t know how to play sports. His dad’s not really sportive. Pedro’s athletic, but we kind of handicapped him because neither of us wanted to take him to games and stuff on the weekends.” Pedro did inherit McDormand’s love of fashion, though. She would take him to Century 21 on his birthday. “It’s kind of like a sport for us. Shopping is what he and I do together.”

Her character in Nomadland: “With Fern, it’s kind of like Shane, or John Wayne’s character in The Searchers. These men that don’t seem to have a past, only a present, and no future. They just arrive fully formed and they disappear. Except with Fern, because she’s female, she’s got a lot of stuff with her. She’s got a whole van full of memories. Women don’t necessarily come out of nowhere.”

When people love her movie: “To still be culturally relevant as a 63-year-old female is so deeply, deeply gratifying. It’s something that I could have never expected, given what I was told. And I believe I had something to do with it. I’ve crafted some part of this moment in time. And I’m really f–king proud.”

[From Vogue]

The whole interview is such a trip, but it’s a great read. It’s nice to get a chance to cover a big Vogue interview with someone of substance, someone who has lived a somewhat improbable life and has the baggage to show for it. I’ve never heard her talk about Pedro that much and it sounds like they’re very close – he’s 26 years old, works in PR in New York, and he still loves fashion, like Frances, apparently. She also makes some great references to how being a housewife is a full-time job, and how being married to a preacher is a full-time job too. I love the story about Frances being mad about Miller’s Crossing too!

Cover courtesy of Vogue.

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43 Responses to “Frances McDormand: ‘I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t cute, I wasn’t beautiful’”

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  1. Poisonella says:

    She should not sell herself short – she’s talented, attractive and smart, which lasts longer than “pretty”.

    • FHMom says:

      I agree. Talent outshines beauty. That should be obvious..

      • smcollins says:

        Absolutely. I was first introduced to FM with Fargo and thought she was incredible (her Oscar was well deserved). I also thought she was beautiful in a very “real world” relatable way, which I think shines through even more with her talent & intellect, not being reliant on the superficial. But at the same she was sexy as hell in Laurel Canyon (which I highly recommend). I’m looking forward to seeing Nomadland as I’m sure she’ll blow me away yet again with her performance.

    • Dana Dayen says:

      Usually it doesn’t for women in Hollywood.

    • MyOpinion says:

      @ Poisonella yes! This ☝️

      • MyOpinion says:

        She is an absolute treasure!! I read the Vogue article and and it’s brilliant, well, McDormand is brilliant! I have always enjoyed her immensely!! I am so thrilled that she is so proud of where she has been and were she is now!!

    • Mustang Sally says:

      I have always respected her, and her performances are so riveting I see a profoundly beautiful woman. I loved her in Fargo & Something’s Gotta Give.

    • NotSoSocialButterfly says:

      I think she was quite attractive when she was young- see her role in Blood Simple – she’s the type of person who isn’t always captured well in stills, but is glorious in motion.

      Olive Kitteridge might be my favorite role, but I also loved her as Abby in Blood Simple.

  2. tempest prognosticator says:

    I find her fascinating. Her talent. Her strength. Her gloriously natural face.

  3. Jules says:

    I love her to bits but Francis McDormand was and is conventionally attractive. As a pretty, thin and blonde young woman, she surely wasn’t a grotesque choice for directors back then and she still looks amazing.

    I really wish, celebrities would be able to reflect more on their own role on perpetuating these stereotypes, especially when they clearly fit a certain beauty standard. It’s like the business warped their sense of how actual real people look and what really constitutes as “not pretty” in the real world.

    • Nikki* says:

      I hear what you’re saying, but I think within her profession, she is not considered attractive (by Hollywood standards).

    • ElleV says:

      AGREED! she has clear skin and symmetry and proportionate features, and the added attraction of being a little unusual (but not TOO unusual). Call me when you’ve got cystic acne, hunny. If she wasn’t attractive (by Hollywood standards) she wouldn’t be working consistently.

    • Coco says:

      I think what she’s saying is that at a certain point in her career, she started losing out on roles. She was told that it was because she wasn’t attractive “enough” to be in a movie.

  4. Soupie says:

    Can’t wait to see Frances in Nomadland. I met Bob Wells in person when I tried van life (it isn’t for me). He’s the real deal. He’s an amazing person and I’m so glad that he and the amazing real nomad community are so well represented in that movie. Frances was a perfect choice for that role.

  5. Indywom says:

    i always thought she was attractive. She looks very natural and she carries herself well, not to mention being an incredible actress. You can just kind of tell she is not into any BS. To me being attractive or beautiful is more about how comfortable you are in your own skin.

  6. pupax says:

    Wrong Frances, you are beautiful!

  7. Darla says:

    Way back in the day, sometime post-Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck said in an interview he had a big crush on her. She was married by then, because he mentioned that too. I mean, she wears no make up at all these days and is 60 so she’s going to look bad in pictures, but back in the day she certainly wasn’t homely. Also I frankly don’t admire her for showing up at award events barefoot and bare faced. I think she looks ridiculous. But she is a great actor.

    • Jenn says:

      Lol!! I feel you on the awards-show stuff. It feels so… needlessly combative?

      That said, I’m adopted, and I definitely feel her on what she says here about being adopted. Either you’re always striving to fit your square peg into a round hole, or else you make an active choice to reject it. So her displays of anti-conformism make a lot more sense to me now, in light of this Vogue interview.

  8. Nikki* says:

    I LOVE her, and I’ll take your word for it that the movie’s great, but that trailer hardly “grabbed” me.

  9. Fleur says:

    She’s fascinating and incredibly talented. Vogue complaint : they put her on the cover by completely covering her up, including most of her face. Vogue always does that to non-standard cover subjects, including when they hid most of Adele’s body. I find that offensive and am wondering if I’m the only one who noticed. It’s past time to vote out Anna Wintour.

    • Kim says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Is she not beautiful enough from “far away”? I found the comment about being actually quite beautiful close up very degrading and snarky.

  10. smee says:

    She’s excellent – these Vogue photos, not so much. Her face is mostly covered or in shadow or she’s 50 ft away from the photographer.
    @fleur sorry just read your similar comment 😐

  11. Chloe says:

    God I love her so so so so much.

  12. vertes says:

    Her career arc would have been very different had she been British or French. The standards of so-called “beauty” are very different elsewhere than in Hollywood, where the target is a look within such narrow parameters that it’s often hard to tell one young actress from another. How many times did we need to see Sienna Miller or Margo Robbie before we could distinguish them from any other pretty blonde? They have no distinguishing features.
    Many very successful European female actors aren’t pretty by Hollywood standards but they still got lead roles, often in romantic parts.
    Think of Glenda Jackson, Anne-Marie Duff, Maggie Smith, Helen McCrory, Sandrine Bonnaire. No one ever called Glenda cute, pretty, or beautiful but she had amazing film roles in Women in Love, Mary Queen of Scots, A Touch of Class.

    • I SO AGREE with everything you said!!! And it’s why I watch so much more Irish and English Tv than American because I HATE The “beauty standards” here. I live in LA and I don’t want to see puffed lipped, plastic skinned, women all with the same needle nose and bolt-ons. I see that going to the grocery store. Watching it with my son has really opened up his mind too, he could not BELIEVE when watching a midsomer murder that the “ingenue” was a perfectly plain pretty girl and not the same indistinguishable blonde.

    • Jenn says:

      Now hold up, Dame Maggie Smith was a DISH. But I agree with your point. By the time she was starring in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969!), an American actress of the same age would have been seeing her roles dry up. That’s when she was just really getting started! I can’t even imagine being deprived of 50 additional years of Maggie Smith — but it happens to actresses here in the US all the time. Galling.

  13. NEENA ZEE says:

    I straight up love that Frances talks about celebrating pagan holidays in Vogue. This woman is talented, singular, authentic and living an examined life – she is my role model.

  14. Teebee says:

    I love Frances so much. I love that outfit she’s wearing on the cover.

    And for what it’s worth, I thought her character in Something’s Gotta Give was sexy and beautiful, as a 53 year old now, both Diane and Frances’ characters in that movie are so fun to watch!

  15. KhaoManee says:

    She’s one of the best actors to ever live. Just so damn good! And I always thought she was SO cute!

  16. Sara says:

    She is a terrific actress. Three Billboards was amazing. Bravo to her. We need less picture-perfect “actresses” who can’t act and many more McDonalds.

  17. Carol Baker says:

    I beg to differ about her beauty: she has a wholesome classic look. She has it all, brains and beauty.

    • Jenn says:

      She is the very definition of “an austere beauty.” In Hollywood terms she’s absolutely otherworldly.

  18. Blerg says:

    She’s my favorite actress, and it’s funny she says that, because I’ve always thought of her as beautiful. And I still do.

  19. B Overland says:

    She was gorgeous and outstanding in Mississippi Burning.

  20. Mary E Kearney says:

    Check her out in the very early film Blood Simple. She is a good looking woman. Also the movie is very good

  21. anp says:

    A brilliant actress.

  22. Ky says:

    So many people feel the need to debate what she’s telling you is her experience. She wasn’t saying “Whoa is me, I’m so ugly”. She was saying that this is how her industry sees her and she had to utilize tools to navigate around it. This is why the “Everyone is beautiful” movement is harmful. It still makes beautiful THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Also, it uses the same conventional metric for beauty. It doesn’t reject those standards, it just tries to make it fit on everyone. When we do that, someone saying that others don’t see her as attractive sounds like self-hate.