Like Olive Kitteridge, Actress Frances McDormand Was Tired Of Supporting Roles "I've made a career of playing small supporting roles," McDormand says. And in a four-hour HBO miniseries she plays Kitteridge, a supporting character who "should be a leading lady."
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Like Olive Kitteridge, Actress Frances McDormand Was Tired Of Supporting Roles

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Like Olive Kitteridge, Actress Frances McDormand Was Tired Of Supporting Roles

Like Olive Kitteridge, Actress Frances McDormand Was Tired Of Supporting Roles

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Olive Kitteridge is an imposing character - caustic, no filter, a big woman with strong opinions. Olive Kittredge is the title character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Elizabeth Strout. And now that collection of linked short stories is an HBO mini-series.


RICHARD JENKINS: (As Henry Kitteridge) Your mother is not depressed.

FRANCES MCDORMAND: (As Olive Kitteridge) Yes, I am. Happy to have it, 'cause it's being smart.

JENKINS: (As Henry Kitteridge) All right, Ollie.

MCDORMAND: (As Olive Kitteridge) Oh, we might as well discuss it, Henry. He might have it, too.

DEVIN DRUID: (As Christopher Kitteridge) But you don't think I'm smart.

MCDORMAND: (As Olive Kitteridge) Of course I do.

DRUID: (As Christopher Kitteridge) No, you don't. You think I'm average.

MCDORMAND: (As Olive Kitteridge) You are plenty complicated, Christopher. Average is someone like Denise the mouse.

JENKINS: (As Henry Kitteridge) For God's sake.

MCDORMAND: (As Olive Kitteridge) No, nothing wrong with that. Average people are happier - happy, happy, happy.

JENKINS: (As Henry Kitteridge) You should try it sometime, Ollie.

MCDORMAND: (As Olive Kitteridge) I can't. I'm too depressed.

BLOCK: That's Frances McDormand as Olive Kitteridge. McDormand is 57, and she told me this was a character she could really sink her teeth into. I asked her to describe Olive Kitteridge.

MCDORMAND: Heaven. Delicious. Full feast. Three-course meal. Soup to nuts. No, just, you know, you come across those kind of characters all the time in literature. Female characters in literature are full. They're messy. They've got runny noses and burp and belch.

Unfortunately, in film, female characters don't often have that kind of richness. Often in the theater - yes. But to contemplate the idea of taking someone like Olive, who is a full literary character but also a really complex human being, to film was a real conundrum, actually, 'cause it couldn't have been done in 90 minutes. Four hours was just enough. Six hours would've been better.


MCDORMAND: (As Olive Kitteridge) You were born kind. You grew up kind. And then you married a beast and loved her.

BLOCK: Olive Kitteridge's husband, Henry, in the movie played by Richard Jenkins, is a small-town pharmacist. Everybody loves him. He is gentle. He's got a great way about him. He's the opposite of Olive in many ways. What do you think this marriage is about? What ties them together?

MCDORMAND: Well, I just have to say that I want everyone to remember - and I think people who read the novel feel this way - happiness can be tyrannical.

BLOCK: Tyrannical?

MCDORMAND: Yes. When you're thinking - too much happiness can be tyrannical and especially to someone like Olive. So when often on the set when we would be filming and people would say, oh, poor Henry when Olive would maybe be a little harsh with him.

BLOCK: A little bit, yeah.

MCDORMAND: Yeah, forget poor Henry. Think about - sometimes think about poor Olive. She has to deal with his tyrannical happiness. But I think that one of the main things that keeps them together is the fact that they're supposed to be together, and they made a choice to be together. And they - we find them - we meet them at a crisis in their life. Olive's 45. Henry's 55. And they are both in unrequited love affairs. And then we get to follow the next 30 years of their life together.

I think that she finally finds, you know, with Henry really late in their life that he was the true love of her life.

BLOCK: You know, the writer, Elizabeth Strout, said that she wrote "Olive Kitteridge" as these interconnected short stories, not as a true novel because she said the reader might need a break from Olive sometimes.


BLOCK: And I wonder if you felt like you needed a break from her as you played her because she is difficult woman.

MCDORMAND: Absolutely not. It was one of the best times I've ever had as an actor. I mean, I think also because I've never - I've made a career of playing small, supporting roles, mostly to male protagonists. And one of the reasons I thought I was perfect casting for Olive was that she is, too. In the short stories and in her family's life, she is a supporting character. She's a supporting character that should be a leading lady. And that was always my situation as a supporting actor in film. I never needed a break. Are you kidding? Melissa, think about it.

BLOCK: (Laughing) Didn't get tired of her?

MCDORMAND: Not a once. Maybe the fat suit. Maybe the body suit I had to wear. On hot days that didn't help with the hot flashes.

BLOCK: In the book and in the mini-series, she is supposed to be a big woman, much bigger than I see you as being.

MCDORMAND: Well, we played with different sizes of bodysuits from the beginning of the storytelling. And we decided to start with my body, which is - I weigh 150 pounds. I'm five foot five. At the time we shot, I was pretty much on the other side of menopause. Though, as we know, it never ends. But, you know, my body was - I had to move backwards to 45 from 52 at the time, which was not fun, by the way, I must say. But anyway, we decided to go with my body which, comparatively speaking, with other actresses of my age, I am considered a medium to larger woman. Now, in comparison to other women in the world, perhaps I'm seen as smaller. But I've never had a problem of thinking of myself as a large woman.

BLOCK: You talked quite a bit about aging in an interview with The New York Times recently - especially aging for women in the film industry. And here's what you said - you said, I have not mutated myself in any way. And you said that your husband, the director Joel Coen, literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people, to friends who have had work done. I'm so full of fear and rage about what they've done. Describe that rage and what you're feeling - why that gets you so angry.

MCDORMAND: One of the reasons that I am doing press again after 10 years absence is because I feel like I need to represent publicly what I've chosen to represent privately, which is a woman who is proud and more powerful than I was when I was younger. And I think that I carry that pride and power on my face and in my body. And I want to be a role model for not only younger men and women and not just in my profession - I'm not talking about my profession. I think - you know, I think that cosmetic enhancements in my profession are just an occupational hazard. But I'm - I think more culturally. I'm interested in starting a conversation about aging gracefully and how instead of making it a cultural problem, we make it individual's problems. I think that ageism is a cultural illness. It's not a personal illness.

BLOCK: And the rage? Where does the rage come in?

MCDORMAND: Because it's not easy to - it's not an easy thing to do.

BLOCK: Yeah.

MCDORMAND: Getting older and adjusting to all the things that biologically happen to you is not easy to do and is a constant, you know, struggle and adjustment. So anything that makes that harder and more difficult because I don't believe that cosmetic enhancement makes it easier. I think it makes it harder. I think it makes it much more difficult to accept getting older. I want to be - I want to be revered. I want to be an elder. I want to be an elderess. I have some things to talk about and say and help. And if I can't then, not unlike Olive, I don't feel necessary.

BLOCK: Well, Frances McDormand, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much.

MCDORMAND: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Frances McDormand plays "Olive Kitteridge" in the new HBO mini-series. Parts one and two premiere this Sunday.

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