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The Coen brothers’ Fargo at one point featured a minor storyline that could have sparked some political fireworks. Star Frances McDormand revealed what was in an earlier version of the script for the black comedy during a panel discussion following a 25th anniversary screening of the movie at the 2021 Tribeca Festival.
While director Joel Coen was discussing the Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) scene, McDormand shared that originally her character Marge went to Minneapolis “to do something else.”
“Her friend invited her to a right to life protest,” McDormand said, exclaiming, “Oh my God! Can you imagine?”
The actress, who won her first of three lead acting Oscars for her role as a pregnant police officer in the film, recalled that she had read that in an earlier version of the script.
And Coen confirmed that the right-to-life protest trip was something they had considered.
“There are a lot of thought experiments that happen while you’re doing these things,” Coen said. “Some of them you reject, some of them you don’t. … There was a big population in parts of northern Minnesota that were very conservative.”
Coen explained that often when he’s working on scripts with his brother and longtime collaborator Ethan Coen, “you’re groping around. At a certain point you’ve written a scene, and because we often wrote without knowing what’s coming next, you try to get the scene that precedes the scene you’re working on to work and then you go, ‘What does that go to?’, not even logically or narratively, but what would be interesting here, at this point, and it’s as prosaic as that.”
Indeed, that’s how Joel Coen says they came up with the Yanagita scene, which has prompted debate about how it’s connected to the rest of the film.
“For some reason, we started talking about the character, in that situation, meeting an old flame,” he said. “And it had something to do with, like I say, groping around and wanting to see Marge in a different situation and reacting in a completely different way, dressed in a different way, and also encountering someone who also wasn’t honest. It’s something that you discover later that there’s something else going on with this person that isn’t being revealed to her in this scene that she’s confronted with afterwards.”
Indeed some people, including late film critic Roger Ebert, have argued that it’s Yanagita’s lie that helps Marge figure out the homicide case she’s working on.
Joel Coen and McDormand were joined onstage by co-star Steve Buscemi, who had watched some of the Friday night screening.
While neither Coen nor McDormand watched the film that night, McDormand indicated she had seen it since it was released in 1996.
“I’m not an actor who doesn’t like watching myself because I don’t think of it as myself, you know,” she said. “But it’s kind of unfair that we have to see ourselves so young sometimes. It’s like, ‘Oh man!'”
The film was heralded, among other things, for its matter-of-fact treatment of Marge’s pregnancy, and McDormand revealed the film may have also blazed a trail in terms of the clothes worn by pregnant cops in Minnesota.
“There were no pregnant cop clothes in Minnesota. [Costume designer Mary Zophres] had to make [them],” McDormand said. “And all the women who were working in the police force up there were like, ‘Can we get some of those? Those are great!'”
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