Frances McDormand on 'Olive Kitteridge,' Female Protagonists

McDormand, who will star as Olive, optioned the Pulitzer Prize winning novel five years ago.
Frances McDormand

For Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge is a passion project half a decade in the making.

During her turn before the Television Critics Association Thursday, the actress revealed how she transformed the beloved novel into a forthcoming HBO miniseries. It began roughly six years ago, when a friend gave her Elizabeth Strout's book of 13 short stories set in a seemingly placid New England town wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy.

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McDormand insists she doesn't typically read novels with the eye of a filmmaker, adding that an adaptation of Kitteridge was never part of her initial plan. In fact, when another friend suggested Olive would be a killer role for McDormand to play, the actress brushed her off. "It certainly was not the novel that needed to be a movie," she says of her concerns of an adaptation, noting that a 90-minute film would "diminish" the material.

In her mind, dramas centered on female protagonists often demand more time to unspool than film can offer, which is why she believes episodic television has been a better forum for female stories. "90 minutes is never enough time to tell a women's story," she stated, adding that she's had more success on the film side playing supporting characters to male protagonists.

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Once McDormand recognized that the small screen was a possibility, she decided to pursue the rights to Strout's novel. That the actress was in her early 50s at the time and thinking a lot about the next chapter of her career added to the project's appeal. She optioned Strout's book in 2009, the very same week it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

The Jane Anderson-penned script landed at HBO, with Lisa Cholodenko attached to direct and a cast that included Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray. Now, five and a half years later, the 57-year-old McDomand is set to play Olive in the four-part TV adaptation she's eager to share.