Frances McDormand

The Man Who Wasn't There

Interviewed by James Mottram

You've now worked with your husband Joel and brother-in-law Ethan on several films. How has your working relationship changed?

The one thing that hasn't changed is trust. I trust him a lot. What I think occurred to me in the last couple of years is that maybe I need to question that a little more, just so I can prepare myself for the outcome. I'm still in shock about "The Man Who Wasn't There". I just saw it a couple of nights ago. I always wait until they're finished because I like their movies so much, I don't want to see them in pieces. It's weird, this one. It's so weird. They always know it's weird, but they always know what they're doing. Joel and Ethan have got better at articulating what they want from actors. They're still very technically-minded, which I like. I tend to get more specific direction from Ethan now. Because of my intimate relationship with Joel, it's easier for me to get direction from Ethan.

You first met them at the audition for "Blood Simple". What do you remember about that?

I went in and they were my age. Ethan and I are the same age. Ethan was 24 and Joel 27. They were chain-smoking and with a huge ashtray full of cigarette butts in the middle. It was my first audition for a film, just out of drama school. I had no idea what the movie was about. I thought they were weird, geekish, intellectual. I asked Joel a question about the character and he went into a 20-minute monologue from a writer's point of view. Most of the people on that set can point to it as one of the most exciting things they had ever done. It was the beginning of so many people's careers.

How did you approach playing Doris, your character in "The Man Who Wasn't There"?

The major thing I did was be an actress in a black and white movie. It was the most technically connected I have ever been to hair, make-up, costume, and accessories. We were all black and white challenged. We all had these colour charts, for the tonal quality of the film. They shot on colour but transferred it to black and white. In 1940s film, actors wore green make-up because it gave it a tonal quality, so I often felt like I was in a kabuki play. I wasn't wearing green but it was much more than I usually wear. I was separated from myself a lot more; more theatrically than I'd ever been before.

"The Man Who Wasn't There" hits UK screens on 26th October 2001.