During the production of Chloé Zhao’s drama “Nomadland,” Frances McDormand actually lived in her character Fern’s van. Chaining different jobs, the actress was able to slip into the skin of the heroine without being recognized.
Nomadland: on the road
After discovering and loving The RiderFrances McDormand calls on Chloé Zhao to direct Nomadland. Inspired by the eponymous book by Jessica Bruder, the feature film tells the story of Fern, played by the Oscar-winning actress of Fargo and 3 Billboards: Revenge Billboards.
Shortly after the death of her husband and the loss of her job, the heroine leaves the town of Empire, Nevada, deserted due to the closure of a plaster factory. To try a new start, Fern parted with most of her belongings, bought a van, and hit the road. In the various places where she temporarily settled, she made important encounters and chained seasonal jobs, working in particular for Amazon, a restaurant, or a beet sugar factory.
A difficult way of life extremely precarious but where farewells are never definitive, and thanks to which she finds a sense of freedom. David Strathairn completes the cast of this drama in which many non-professional actors appear, including nomads Linda May, Bob Wells, and Charlene Swankie.
road movie poignant on the border between fiction and documentary, Nomadland wins three Oscars in 2021: Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress.
Fern or Frances?
During the production of nomadlandFrances McDormand, Chloé Zhao and the feature film crew travel the roads for five months. Shooting is done across five states: South Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, California, and Arizona. The production is marked by interruptions in order to be able to shoot during the different seasons. An organization that bears no resemblance to “traditional” Hollywood experiences, as explained by the interpreter of Fern at Las Vegas Review-Journal.
To slip into the skin of his character, Frances McDormand lives in her van and actually performs its various jobs. The actress remembers, in the press notes quoted:
As Fern, I worked alongside real workers in a fulfillment center at Amazon, in a sugar factory, in the cafeteria of a tourist park and as a campground manager in a national park. . In most cases, no one recognized me and I was treated like any other employee.
A true nomad
Frances McDormand is also confused with Fern by nomads, who take her as a real traveler. When discussing her late husband with author Bob Wells, whose testimonies are a source of inspiration for people adopting a minimalist lifestyle, the latter does not recognize the actress. Asked by USA Today the actress says:
He told me privately that everything would be fine. And I said to him, ‘Bob, I just want you to know that my husband’s name is Joel. He’s alive and well, he’s making movies and I’m going home after that. Bob was like, ‘Oh, how did you do that? I really believed you. And I said, ‘It’s my job Bob! That’s what I do for a living! It’s weird, isn’t it?’
About Swankie, her friend in the film, France McDormand adds:
(She) didn’t know I was an actress. She thought I was just another woman on the road, so she trusted me as her van neighbor.
The actress has also attached to this way of life and to her vehicle. As related by New York Times the actress takes out her van which she baptized “Vanguard” for the premiere of Nomadland held in Pasadena, California. Thinking it would be fun to watch the screening in the van, Frances McDormand finds herself overcome with emotion. Nearly two years after filming, she reminisces about the weeks spent inside. And when her husband Joel Coen comes to see her while she is in the midst of making “Vanguard” clean, she throws to him:
I clean it! Just can not let her go !