Frances McDormand won two Best Actress Oscars in the last five years – in 2021 for Nomadland, and in 2018 for Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. But these were not her first wins – she won her first Oscar in 1997, for starring in Fargo – written and directed by the Coen Brothers (one of whom happens to be her husband).
The role of Marge Gunderson in Fargo was a very unusual win for a Leading Actress Oscar, as it’s a comedy movie role. Actresses win in the supporting categories for being funny more often – with Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything, Everywhere All at Once being an example from 2023.
Fargo is a comedic take on a noir-like thriller – which is what the Coen Brothers do best. It’s set in snowy Minnesota, meaning that the accents are delightful, and also stars William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. Fargo was so acclaimed, that it spawned a spin-off television series – which itself has won six Emmy awards.
In a New York Times article from 1996, McDormand admitted that she may have modeled Marge’s personality on that of her sister, Dorothy, a chaplain at a women’s maximum-security prison. But she is an actress who does virtually no research for her roles. “I’m trained in the theater, and acting for me is about the imaginative life I create for myself, not about basing it on something real. I think that whatever I create becomes the reality for the audience.”
McDormand has continued to act in the Coens’ films, most recently in The Tragedy of Macbeth, which was unusual because it was only directed by her husband Joel, not in conjunction with his brother Ethan. Ethan Coen has a new movie, a solo directing effort, coming out later this year called Drive-Away Dolls.