Frances McDormand isn't in `Fargo' anymore

Actress' latest role takes her onto more daring ground

March 20, 2003|By Jay Boyar | Jay Boyar,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It isn't often that you hear the term "sexually adventurous" and the name Frances McDormand in the same sentence.

McDormand is out to change all that with Laurel Canyon. She plays Jane, a California record producer who works out of a studio in her Laurel Canyon home. The film shows what happens when Jane's straight-arrow son (Christian Bale) and his fiancee (Kate Beckinsale) drop in for a visit with his hipster mom.

The role, says McDormand, "was a gift, a complete gift, for a 45-year-old female actor to play." The actress, of course, is best known for her Oscar-winning performance as Marge "You Betcha!" Gunderson, the pregnant, just-folks Minnesota police chief in the Coen brothers' 1996 hit, Fargo.

McDormand has often played homebodies, such as the protective, "don't take drugs!" mom in 2000's Almost Famous, and the woman with powerful nesting instincts in Wonder Boys, also of 2000.

"An audience's perception of me, because of other roles I've played, is that I am them, I'm like the ladies at the grocery store," says McDormand, who is wearing denim and flip-flops. "I feel like more of us need to be up there."

Although McDormand is once again cast as a mother in Laurel Canyon, this is not your father's dear old mom.

"I don't think she's ever thought of herself as a parent," says McDormand of Jane. "She just `has a child.' It's a different thing, know what I mean?"

Jane is also a woman who, among other things, flirts with bisexuality.

"It's going to be hard for some people - Marge Gunderson's fans - to see her kissing a girl," says McDormand. "But that is precisely my point. I'm not Marge. I'm not going to stay Marge."

To emphasize her character's sexually adventurous nature, McDormand was required to perform a nude scene. Mention nudity to many actresses and they'll wrinkle up their noses. But McDormand approached her scene in a totally different spirit.

"That was one of the major reasons I did the movie," she says, grinning. "I really felt like puttin' it out there."

Another reason she enjoyed playing Jane so much is that the part is pretty far from her personal experience.

"Though Kate is a lovely woman, and I really enjoyed working with her, I like kissing boys," she says casually, between puffs on her cigarette. "Girls are too soft. I miss the whiskers, everything."

McDormand is married to filmmaker Joel Coen, who directed her in his first feature, 1984's Blood Simple, and who has cast her in other films including Fargo. They have an 8-year-old named Pedro.

McDormand's "guileless," down-to-earth nature, Coen recently told The New York Times, helped her clinch the role in his first film.

That may have worked against her with Laurel Canyon. McDormand was hardly the first choice of writer-director Lisa Cholodenko, who had originally been thinking along the lines of the edgier Ellen Barkin.

If McDormand's image didn't make her the natural choice, the actress' enthusiasm for even the intimate scenes in Laurel Canyon came as a relief to her director.

"Good for you!" Cholodenko recalls thinking about McDormand, after having dealt with a lot of actresses who take a reluctant attitude toward such scenes. "I won't have to work uphill on this one with you."

Are there any similarities between Frances McDormand and the woman she plays in Laurel Canyon? McDormand points out that both she and Jane are in search of new frontiers.

"It's about curiosity," she says. "It's about staying open to any form of interaction.

"Any form of adventure."

Jay Boyar writes for The Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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