‘Billboards’ timely portrait of outrage – Performance has made McDormand early front-runner for Oscar

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NEW YORK, Nov 15, (Agencies): In “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” or anywhere else, Frances McDormand means business.

In Martin McDonaugh’s new film, McDormand plays a woman, Mildred Hayes, consumed with rage because the rape and murder of her teenage daughter has gone unsolved after a year. She embarks on a blazing, relentless campaign to hold the town’s sheriff (Woody Harrelson) accountable, erecting billboards that taunt him and an uncompromising, foul-mouthed fury on the sleepy Southern town.

In a way, it’s impossible to separate Mildred from the equally uncompromising McDormand. Mildred is a matter-of-fact, non-nonsense force because McDormand is one, too. Take, for example, how McDormand imagines Mildred might react to the Harvey Weinstein revelations.

“She would have absolutely no time for it,” said McDormand in a recent interview. “She wouldn’t waste her breath.”

But would McDormand? Seconds of silence follow.

“Was that a good long pause?” she finally responds.

As a woman out for justice, Mildred has blazed onto movie screens like the heroine we, at this moment especially, need. The darkly comic and violent spirit of outrage that animates “Three Billboards” has — perhaps more than any other film this fall — tapped a raw nerve with audiences. The film, which expands in theaters this week after opening in New York and Los Angeles last weekend, won a screenplay award in Venice and took the audience award in Toronto.

“It’s great to be putting out a film with such a strong woman lead character in such a bravura performance at this time, not just politically but Hollywood-wise,” says McDonaugh, referencing the unfolding sexual harassment scandals. “Even just two months ago before anyone had seen it, I wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken. We thought it was a good film with great performances but we worried that the darkness in the story might not allow people to laugh, or let people in.

“It’s mostly because of Frances, to be honest. They just latch on to her for dear life and follow every crazy thing she does.”

The performance has made McDormand the early front-runner for the best-actress Oscar, and marks a clear career high point for the uncommonly self-assured veteran of “Fargo,” “Wonder Boys,” “Burn After Reading” and “Olive Kitteridge.” Wrote the New Yorker: “She seems to state Mildred, presenting her as a given fact, like someone unrolling a map.”

McDonaugh, the Irish playwright and filmmaker (“In Bruges), wrote the part specifically for McDormand after the two met several years ago at a party following McDonaugh’s play “The Pillowman.” “There was no plan B,” he says. Yet McDonaugh is still taken by how much McDormand’s own strength of character imbues Mildred’s.

“It’s both the on-screen attitude and the off-screen attitude,” says McDonaugh. “There’s a sense of her as a woman not taking any s—, not towing the Hollywood line, and not doing what’s expected of her.”

Sam Rockwell, who co-stars as the dimwitted and racist but also tragic police officer Dixon agrees. “There’s a relentless kind of integrity,” says Rockwell. “She has to do it a certain way. It’s part of who she is and it’s part of who Mildred is. There’s something burning in her, just like those billboards. There’s something burning in Frances.”

What’s motivating McDormand right now is a new eagerness for work, now that her 22-year-old son with director Joel Coen has reached adulthood. For the 60-year-old McDormand, the opportunity to play a protagonist at her age was a gift “at a time I was ready for it.”

“After ‘Olive Kitteridge,’ I wasn’t really interested in going back and playing supporting roles anymore,” says McDormand. “They are women that we often don’t see portrayed in film — women who don’t have to be compromised for the storytelling of a male protagonist but who stand on their own in the dramatic arc of the storytelling. That was really important to me. I’m really interested in that now.”

Her Mildred is an immediately iconic character, complete with a defining shape. As if dressed for battle, she sports a bandanna (“It was a little Rambo,” McDormand explains) and a workmanlike blue jumpsuit. Why the jumpsuit?

“Well, I happen know I look really good in a jumpsuit,” replies McDormand, an actress famed for her lack of vanity.

McDormand likes to imagine that Mildred, before her spree, spent months wallowing in grief, watching old movies on TV.

The movie, unsentimental and profanely un-PC, boasts more than a powerhouse performance from McDormand. Rockwell, also a veteran New York character actor, is among the ensemble’s many standouts. In his story and others, Mildred’s crusade jostles loose the community’s demons.

“It’s timely,” Rockwell says of the film. “It’s speaking to a lot of things that are going on in this country. It’s talking about racism and misogyny. Ultimately I think it’s about love and redemption, but I think it has a lot of anger in it — a healthy amount of anger.”


LOS ANGELES: After making history as the first black female stand-up comedian to host “Saturday Night Live,” Tiffany Haddish is looking to continue to stay busy by landing lead roles in New Line’s “The Kitchen” and Universal’s “The Temp.”

Haddish is in talks to join the ensemble of “The Kitchen,” which is the directorial debut for “Straight Outta Compton” screenwriter Andrea Berloff, who is also writing the script.

The film is based on the comic book series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle for Vertigo from DC Entertainment. The series has gained a cult following since debuting in 2014 to critical acclaim.

The Irish mafia story is set in Hell’s Kitchen, NY, in the 1970s. When the FBI comes in and does a sweep of the mob, several men are arrested. Their wives end up taking over and running the business much more viciously than the men ever did.

Michael De Luca is producing.

She is also attached to star in “The Temp,” which is set to be produced by Will Packer, who also produced the hit comedy “Girls Trip” featuring Haddish’s breakout performance.

Universal acquired the original pitch for “The Temp” from Dana Fox, who will also write the female-driven comedy. Fox will produce alongside Packer who will produce through his Universal-based Will Packer Productions. Will Packer Productions’ James Lopez will also produce and Haddish will serve as executive producer.

VP of production Sara Scott and creative executive Christine Sun will oversee production for Universal.

It’s unknown which film would shoot first, though it would seem that “The Kitchen” is further along in the development process.

Haddish’s other upcoming projects include starring alongside Tracy Morgan in TBS’ “The Last OG,” which will be released in 2018; she recently wrapped production on Universal’s “Night School” opposite Kevin Hart. She also has “Limited Partners” in development with Paramount, which she will star in and serve as an executive producer on the project as well.

Outside of her film and TV projects, she is also set to release her book “The Last Black Unicorn,” which comes out Dec. 5, and just announced 2018 dates for her new stand-up tour “She Ready.”


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