• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2021: Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”

There is an ever-powerful light that shines inside Frances McDormand as she plays the starring role in Writer/Director Chloé Zhao’s inspiring docu-fiction drama Nomadland. The seven-time Golden Globe nominee, who for the last 40 years has played an array of strong women, many of whom were from rural areas in the country, portrays Fern, a 61-year-old working-class house-less woman, who not only lost her job and husband but is forced out of her home and on to the road. She becomes a nomad, living in her van, trekking from job to job among real-life fellow travelers, finding occasional work when and where she can, while exploring the American West along the way. 
McDormand, an Oscar winner for 1996’s Fargo and 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri fell in love with the book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century”, a 2017 work written by Jessica Bruder, optioned it and immediately thought of Chloé Zhao as the perfect match for this passion project.
McDormand bonded instantaneously with Zhao and stepped right into her world of filmmaking. “We traveled together over five months over seven states. And we became like an organism. We worked really tight,” shares McDormand. “Everybody had crossed department lines whenever something was needed, and the work got done. And because of that, we were also able, to move very swiftly and improvisationally when necessary. We kinda lived in the community of the van dwellers in a way that wasn’t disruptive, but kind of cohesive. We played the game of what if. What if I was really one of them?”
Zhao, who directed and wrote Nomadland, relies on varied methods, nonfiction mixed into a compellingly pragmatic drama, casting nonprofessional actors who play adaptations of themselves. Like her preceding film The Rider, Nomadland has a haunting, dreamlike quality, its dramatic heart lying in the face and voice of its lead character Fern.
“Chloé and I both wanted to take an audience to a place where they haven’t been before but doesn’t seem that unfamiliar,” says McDormand, “to show that these are not people who make crazy choices. Their choices might make them a little crazy, their situations might be more anxiety-ridden for their leading an unconventional life, but they made their choices very specifically because they weren’t being supported by their government.
Nomadland shows us that, along with the calamity and the heartache, there is also a kind of bliss in the way nomads live their life, a nearly euphoric state of happiness. The movie makes you wonder if perhaps less is more, that maybe when the burdens of a house and possessions no longer exist, one might reach a glorious freedom!
McDormand, 63 years of age, grew up herself in a working-class family, who mostly lived throughout their lives in rural areas or small industrial cities. She studied drama at Yale University, began her career on stage and has retained her love of theater throughout her career. It’s fair to observe that since her breakout role as Margie, the quirky cop in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, McDormand became and remains a household name in Hollywood. 
“One of the things most gratifying, being 63 and having done my job for the past 40 years,” says McDormand, “is that as an actor one has honed being able to be an empath, an emotional empath, to be capable to harvest one’s own emotional and psychological life for the building of a character.”
Though Nomadland explores primarily Fern’s journey, we also get to meet a variety of other people at comparable crossroads, people who are often ghostly, elderly folks, without much money, who’ve chosen when their safety net slipped away, an alternative way of life.
With McDormand’s transfixing performance in one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films, there is little doubt that this multitalented actress is a force to reckoned with.