McDormand’s rallying cry for women in film

Time to seize the moment - and stop complaining.

by Richard Mowe

Frances McDormand: "The more we say we need help, the less power 
 we will have."
Frances McDormand: "The more we say we need help, the less power we will have." Photo: Richard Mowe
What you see with Fargo and Olive Kitteridge star Frances McDormand is what you get (at least most of the time). Her features devoid of make-up and colourful dress thrown together with equally colourful contrasting shoes she took a stance today (May 22) as part of the Cannes Film Festival Women in Motion talks and awards (sponsored by luxury goods brand Kering).

She had a very clear message to her sisters in the industry: they should stop marginalising themselves by constantly harping on about their plight. “There are plenty of opportunities, but the more we say we need help, the less power we will have. Women are on the move - but it is more about catching up,” she said.

McDormand, who has been married for three decades to jury co-president Joel Coen, admitted that if she had continued her career in theatre she would have progressed through generations such as playing all ages through Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

“It is true that in cinema it is male protagonists who predominate and we have to sit around waiting for someone to give you an interesting role,” she added.

What was needed was for more filmmakers of either gender to be given to the chance to make films. “It has a lot to do with the way women have been ghettoised but we do not need a lot of new initiatives. What we need is MONEY,” she yelled with a flourish.

McDormand who has forged into producing as well as acting the title role in the four-hour miniseries Olive Kitteridge on HBO, feels that opportunities have opened up on long-format TV and she is looking to develop more projects with that end in view.

Frances McDormand: "I am 58, and this is me and how I look when I got up this morning."
Frances McDormand: "I am 58, and this is me and how I look when I got up this morning." Photo: Richard Mowe
“I think it was the series of The Wire also on HBO which transformed the way I regarded television. Previously, I regarded it as a horrible prospect to develop something over say five years. I did not have that kind of attention span, but now I have more time on my hands and when I was the saw the way tide was moving in terms of female roles in the movies I decided to pursue it,” she said.

Her learning curve was bolstered, she said, by living with Joel Coen and, through him, finding out about the role of producer by simply watching it happen. “You have to be able to make it happen by compartmentalising everything from editing to promotion. You must let the lines blur and you have to let go of micro-managing.” she said.

She was adamant that she would expand her horizons to a directorial role because “one director in the family is quite enough”.

She was pleased to see that women action heroes had arrived - even if it was by the back door with such titles as Mad Max: Fury Road having a female quotient to dilute the male presence. “I love action films and I love George Miller, who used a female story line to move it in to the future with his Mad Max character. The male lead took a bit of a back seat or at least rode shot gun.”

McDormand at 58 has concerns for the future in films of women of her ilk. “Male movie stars have become indispensable and interchangeable because of these franchises. Give a man a mask, steroids, beef him and up and he’s all set to go. What we need to worry about is actors like me. A star such as Meryl Streep is probably one of the highest grossing females in Hollywood. I have never been paid remotely in the same league and are always being offered ‘back end’ deals. I would like it all up front, thank you.

Frances McDormand: “It is true that in cinema it is male protagonists who predominate and we have to sit around waiting for someone to give you an interesting role.”
Frances McDormand: “It is true that in cinema it is male protagonists who predominate and we have to sit around waiting for someone to give you an interesting role.” Photo: Richard Mowe
“There is a price tag of what I am supposed to be paid but I have only ever made it once, on Transformers 3. I was proud of my work on that and I worked hard for it but I am paid a tenth of what men of my age and reputation would make. That has to change.”

She also harbours concerns over celebrity culture and the dumbing down effect on both sides of the divide - the fans and the recipients of their attention. “It took me ten years to work out what to say when I was asked for autographs or approached when I was out and about and that was ‘I am not in that part of the business any more - I just act but I don’t do autographs or all the rest of the stuff. I am 58, and this is me and how I look when I got up this morning.’’

She withdrew from the limelight and doing the media rounds when her son was 8 or 9 to allow him a more normal childhood and has only just relented. “It got to the stage where I couldn’t go to the grocery store without being accosted.”

As for the 'Flatgate' controversy, she says that rules are there so you can break them. “Tradition is about respect and I have been coming to this Festival for almost 30 years. I am sneaker person for most of the time, but I don’t feel that wearing flats on the red carpet is the road to ruin. In fact, compared to some of the ridiculously high heels, flats could be viewed as more elegant.”

Festival director Thierry Fremaux already has set the record straight by underlining that “Nobody is obliged to wear heels on the red carpet. One of our agents screwed up, and we apologised right away.”

McDormand wants to continue her craft until the final curtain. “If I fell down on stage with a heart attack that would be the best way to go."

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