McDormand, in 'Hidden Agenda,' looks for character, not stardom


January 08, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

Frances McDormand was doing ''Darkman'' when she received the script for ''Hidden Agenda,'' and she wasn't that interested in it.

''I was working non-stop when I read it,'' she said. ''I saw it as a political thiller, one that was set in Ireland, but it didn't mean much to me.

She happened to mention all this to Liam Neeson, her co-star in ''Darkman,'' and his reaction was different. He knew the director, Ken Loach, and his praise was immediate. ''He's done some very interesting, controversial films, and I have always wanted to work with him,'' said Neeson. ''Do anything you can to get the role.''

Encouraged by Neeson, McDormand decided to do the film, and she is glad she did.

''It's a joy to work with Ken,'' she said. ''It was like going back to school. He cares about his actors more than the lights and the cameras. I was delighted to do the film, after having done 'Darkman'.''

''Darkman'' was little more than a comic strip put to film, and McDormand is pleased to have done it. ''I was happy with it,'' she said. ''It was a great experience as an actor. My only regret was that I really wasn't the right person for the role. I really shouldn't have been in the film. The girl should have been a bimbo, and I fought it. We should have gone farther with it.

''The girl I play in 'Hidden Agenda' has opinions. She is passionately committed to civil rights. She also makes a transition, and that was exciting.''

In the film, McDormand plays the American wife of a human rights activist who is in Northern Ireland on a fact-finding assignment. When her husband is murdered by British intelligence agents, she works to expose those who are responsible.

Her husband is played by Brad Dourif, who was her husband in ''Mississippi Burning.'' ''We didn't really know each other in that one,'' she said. ''All he did was beat me up.''

She said she didn't take the role in ''Mississippi Burning'' because the movie made a political statement. ''I thought it was more a statement about women,'' she said.

She feels she was well cast in the new film. ''I knew nothing about the situation in Northern Ireland, so it was easy for me to play the role.''

Though she didn't say precisely where, she is now in her thirties. ''When I was in my early twenties, I would read scripts and look for frontal nudity,'' she said. ''Now, I look for tears and bruises.''

Some of the films she has done (''Blood Simple,'' ''Chattahoochee'') have had limited distribution, but she doesn't mind that.

''If I were to wait for the perfect script, I might not work,'' she said. ''There are so few out there, and there are so many actresses struggling to get them.

''I made 'Darkman' because I wanted to play a pretty girl, be well lighted. I did 'Hidden Agenda' because I wanted to work with Ken and see Ireland as a non-tourist.''

She says she didn't feel she was in any particular danger when she worked in Ireland. ''No more than I would walking a street in New York,'' she said.

She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in ''Mississippi Burning.''

''Yes,'' she said, ''it changes things. Not me. The scripts. All I did was get scripts in which I was victimized. Actually, the makeup man should have gotten the nomination for 'Mississippi Burning'.''

She lives in New York and, for the moment, will continue to live there. ''I get to Los Angeles occasionally, but when you work out of New York, you are considered an 'actress,' and they treat you more delicately,'' she said.

She isn't recognized all that much, but she doesn't mind.

''If I had a plan, that was it,'' she said. ''I'm not out to be recognized in public. Some actors court notoriety, but I think of myself as a craftsman.

''I don't really want to be myself. I'd like to play character parts forever. It's flattering not to be recognized from film to film. Once they get more of you, they know who you are, and I like to create something new in a character, something I don't have in my own.''

She has worked in all the films done by Joel and Ethan Coen. She had the starring role in ''Blood Simple,'' was the mother of quintuplets in ''Raising Arizona'' and is seen very briefly in ''Miller's Crossing,'' the gangster film the brothers did.

''But you won't recognize me in that one. It's a very brief appearance, and I wear a red wig,'' she said.

Asked if the Coens thought of her as their good-luck performer, one they would like to squeeze into all their films, she said she wouldn't mind being part of their stable.

''The Coens are into the Thirties comedies, the things Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur did. Sure, I'd like that,'' she said.

Next for McDormand is ''The Butcher's Wife,' a film she will do with Jeff Daniels and Demi Moore. ''I play the owner of a boutique in the Soho section of New York,'' she said. ''It's a romantic comedy. I don't get beat up.''

''Hidden Agenda'' opens here on Friday.

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