I have to confess it always takes me a minute to remember what her actual voice sounds like. That’s not her fault; if anything, it’s a credit to her talent as an actress. I’ve seen her in fourteen movies, and she was the lead in several of them. However, she so inhabited Marge Gunderson that it’s how I think of her first. I think that’s true for a lot of us. And I have to stop and separate her from the role in order to remember what she sounds like, a task not helped by the voices she’s used for several of her other characters over the decades.
She’s the adopted daughter of a minister; she does not know who her biological parents are. She’s the wife of (looks it up) Joel Coen, with whom she has an adopted son. She spent some time as Holly Hunter’s roommate (though the description of that on Wikipedia is vague and implies that they were roommates at Yale, which Hunter did not attend). She’s one shy of an EGOT, as she is a Triple Crown of Acting winner—the Oscar for Marge, of course, the Tony for a different Margie in Good People, and the Emmy for Olive Kitteridge in the HBO miniseries of the same name.
McDormand is another actress who has carved out a place as middle aged Middle American middle class women. Oh, Marge Gunderson is arguably working class, but after all, she and Norm can afford for him to stay at home and paint while she works. The point is that she’s still a relatively normal person in the way that Hollywood thinks of normal people. I happen to think she’s got a lovely, classic face, but she’s not as unbelievable at playing average-looking people as Olivia de Havilland always was. She’s utterly believable as just people’s moms.
I feel as though she’s one of a handful of women who are allowed to play moms and things, probably because her husband and brother-in-law have written such great roles for her. It’s obvious that Joel wasn’t going to stop casting her just because she’d gotten older, and that gave her one of the slots maintained for women of her age. Don’t get me wrong; we’re lucky to have her, and she’s talented. There are definitely worse choices to fit that slot. I’m just annoyed that there are so few places for women of her age.
I have to admit that I picture her life with Joel as being not unlike her life with Norm in Fargo. This is in part because the role was written for her, and I figure Joel wrote what he knows. But if that’s what their relationship is like, she’s pretty lucky. One of the reasons Marge remains so compelling, I think, is that she has the support to do what she wants to do. She and Norm both love the relationship they have and what they do, I think. It seems unlikely that Marge would be doing that much investigating and so forth that pregnant if she didn’t love it, and Norm brings her lunch without even having to be asked. It’s got to be nice. Whether it’s what her life is actually like or not, it’s probably one of the best moments I’ve ever seen in a film relationship.