Frances McDormand Means Business in New 'Three Billboards' Film

23 November, 2017

In the new movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and everywhere else, Frances McDormand means business.

McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a woman filled with anger over the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter. She begins a noisy, public campaign to hold the town's sheriff responsible for not finding the killer.

Mildred puts up billboards near the sleepy Missouri town where they live. The signs' messages insult the sheriff and demand action.

Frances McDormand stars as a mother who goes to war with police in her town after her daughter's murder in the film,
Frances McDormand stars as a mother who goes to war with police in her town after her daughter's murder in the film, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.''

In some ways, it is hard to separate the character of Mildred from the equally uncompromising McDormand. In the film, Mildred is a strong and determined force because McDormand is one, too.

Mildred seems like the heroine we need in real life, at this moment especially. The darkly humorous and violent spirit of outrage in Three Billboards has touched a nerve with moviegoers, perhaps more than any other film this fall.

The movie opened in New York and Los Angeles last weekend. It also showed at the 2017 Venice film festival where it won the award for movie writing. Three Billboards also won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.

The movie's director, Martin McDonagh, talked about the timing of the movie. "It's great to be putting out a film with such a strong woman lead character," he said.

"Even just two months ago before anyone had seen it, I wasn't sure how it was going to be taken. We thought it was a good film with great performances but we worried that the darkness in the story might not allow people to laugh," he said.

The Irish playwright and filmmaker wrote the part for McDormand after meeting her at a party several years ago. He praised McDormand for her film work and as a person. He said she is "not toeing the Hollywood line, and not doing what's expected of her."

Her Three Billboards co-star, Sam Rockwell, agrees.

"She has to do it a certain way. It's part of who she is and it's part of who Mildred is. There's something burning in her, just like those billboards. There's something burning in Frances," he said.

The performance places McDormand in an early lead for an Academy Award next year. She won a best actress Oscar for her 1997 performance in Fargo. She has been nominated for three other Academy Awards, as well.

Anita Katz of the San Francisco Examiner called McDormand's Mildred "a raging force of purpose with a caring heart."

McDormand says what moves her these days is a strong, new interest in work, now that her son has reached adulthood. McDormand, who is 60 years old, says the chance to play a protagonist was a gift at her age. In her words, "I was ready for it."

She says she seeks women characters who, in her words, "stand on their own in the dramatic arc of the storytelling."

The movie also has an excellent performance by Rockwell. In his character's story and others', Mildred's campaign unsettles the established order.

"It's timely," Rockwell says of the film. "It's speaking to a lot of things that are going on in this country. It's talking about racism and misogyny. Ultimately I think it's about love and redemption, but I think it has a lot of anger in it -- a healthy amount of anger."

McDormand herself does not exactly share Mildred's rage. But she does connect with the film's demand for truthful discussion of issues and change.

"Like everything in our culture, the more women that wield power, the more stories will be told," says McDormand. She says America lags "behind the international landscape of women being in power."

So, she says, "it's time for us to catch up."

I'm Ashley Thompson. And I'm Caty Weaver.

Jake Coyle of the Associated Press wrote this report. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mean business - expression. to be very serious; to be earnest

sheriff - n. an elected official who is in charge of enforcing the law in a county or town of the U.S.

billboard - n. a large sign, usually for advertisements, that is next to a road, on the side of a building, etc.

outrage - n. extreme anger : a strong feeling of unhappiness because of something bad, hurtful, or morally wrong

toe the line - expression. to follow rules; to do what is expected

raging - adj. very wild and violent

misogyny - n. a hatred of women

wield - v. to have and use (power, influence, etc.)

lag - v. to move more slowly than others : to fail to walk or move as quickly as others

landscape - n. a particular area of activity