Frances McDormand: "90 Minutes Is Not Enough Time to Tell a Female Story"
The actress reveals how she found the perfect medium in TV for her four-hour miniseries
The same week that actress Frances McDormand bought the rights to Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitterdige, the book won the Pulitzer Prize. Not bad for someone optioning her first novel.
The move was purely strategic for the 57-year-old Academy Award-winning actress, who has made her career largely by playing supporting roles to male protagonists.
“I think it’s a really wonderful way for female actors to plan for their careers,” she said during a press event at the Venice Film Festival.
McDormand continued her winning streak by teaming up with HBO and signing up as an executive producer on the project. She plays the lead, a shrewd, unromantic housewife in small-town Maine with a tender husband, played by Richard Jenkins. Lisa Cholodenko directed the four part miniseries, which premiered in Venice Tuesday.
Olive Kitteridge, which has received positive reviews across the board, marks another potential hit for HBO. While the network originally saw the book as a TV series, McDormand convinced them to turn it into a miniseries, which she envisioned as a four-hour film. Venice was a natural home to premiere the series, allowing audiences to watch it in its full length.
The actress said she sees TV as a way to expand the storytelling of filmmaking without time limits.
“I think that 90 minutes is not enough time to tell a female story,” she said. “I think that most genres in film are driven by male protagonists — there’s the buddy story, there’s the action film, there’s the epic, there’s the film noir, there’s the romcom, which gets closest to being a female story, but if you’re not George Cukor or Preston Sturges you have a really hard time writing a really good story.”
McDormand praised TV for allowing her to reinvent her career on her own terms.
“I mean, as a 57-year-old woman, the roles that I’m going to be playing in action films are limited. I have been in them. I was the director of national intelligence in Transformers 3. It was one of the most fun jobs I ever had, but they are not going to come along that often, for a female elder.”
The actress also explained that her own 32-year-long marriage and her costar Jenkins’ 45-year-long marriage allowed them to fully understand the relationships in the story.
“We understand how to survive many things, and we both believe in the institution of marriage,” she said. McDormand’s husband, director Joel Coen, sat beside her at the premiere.
In addition to a great marriage, McDormand proclaimed herself to be a great housewife, which lended itself well to producing.
“The one other thing I practice as much in my life as acting is housewifery. I’m a really good housewife,” she said. “And if I wrote down my credits, the skills that I’ve earned, that I’ve experienced and practiced as a housewife, I’m not sure I could get a job at it. But I have relocated our family around the world. I've found schools for my son, been the social secretary for both my husband and my son. I’ve given dinner parties, redecorated houses. I’m really good at ironing. All of these skills equate to producing film really closely.”
Despite her multitude of skills, McDormand has no desire to venture into directing. “One director in the family is enough,” she said.
Olive Kitteridge debuts on HBO on Nov. 2 and 3.