“That was the hook,” McDormand said. “It was the power of being a really shy, slightly suspect seventh-grader who could stand in front of a group of people and keep their attention.” She loved, too, that Shakespeare’s female characters were as power-hungry as the men: “It’s like I used to say to Joel, ‘Why don’t you guys write better roles for women? In fact, why don’t you just write a role for men and then let me play it?’”
She had married Coen not long after making her screen debut in the 1984 noir “Blood Simple,” which he directed with Ethan. Twelve years later, the Coen brothers would give McDormand her signature role, one that could only be played by a woman: Marge, the chirpy, pregnant police chief in “Fargo.”
That film made her famous, a condition that McDormand considered a fire to be stomped out: After hiring a publicist, she almost immediately instructed him to turn down most requests.
“I made a very conscious effort not to do press and publicity for 10 years in what other people would think would be a very dangerous moment in a female actor’s career, but it paid off for exactly the reasons I wanted it to,” she said. “It gave me a mystery back to who I was, and then in the roles I performed, I could take an audience to a place where someone who sold watches or perfume and magazines couldn’t.”
To her, “Nomadland” is the culmination of that effort to keep herself unspoiled in the public eye. “That’s why it works,” she said. “That’s why Chloé could bear to even think of doing this with me, because of what I’ve created for years not just as an actor, but in my personal life.”
We traipsed back through town, and as we walked up a hill covered in overgrowth and eucalyptus trees, McDormand drew one final line: “So I’m going to pass my house, and then I’m going to leave you,” she said. She asked if I had dinner plans, and directed me to a farm stand I could stop by on the way home. “They’ve got gorgeous little gems and some good old arugula,” she said, “but no eggs right now because the chickens are all cold.”