The Untold Truth Of Frances McDormand And Joel Coen’s Marriage

During a 2018 appearance on Ellen, The Rock himself, Dwayne Johnson, staked a claim for Frances McDormand’s hand. Johnson is already married, of course, but that didn’t stop him professing his love for the celebrated character actor. Speaking directly to the camera, he told McDormand, “We’re gonna have to exchange numbers because just between you and I … we’re gonna get married. It’s not gonna be weird, [his wife] Lauren’s down with it” (via Vanity Fair). 

Unfortunately for the retired wrestler, his crush has been happily married to filmmaker Joel Coen, of the Coen Brothers, for several decades at this stage. The duo has worked together many times over, too, further demonstrating that their partnership is unbreakable. Although Frances McDormand and Joel Coen aren’t the flashiest couple, typically foregoing the spotlight, their love for each other is clear whenever they bless a red carpet with their presence or speak highly of one another in interviews. 

Their first collaboration almost didn't happen

One of Frances McDormand’s biggest roles was in the Coens’ Fargowhich was released in 1996 (per IMDb) and is widely considered among the filmmakers’ best work. McDormand and Coen actually met via their debut release, Blood Simple, which was also her first role as an actress. As Yahoo! notes, it was 1983, and right before McDormand showed up, Coen admitted he and his brother were starting to wonder whether they’d find anyone to fit the part. The actress almost missed the callback audition because, as she recalls, McDormand had “promised to watch her then boyfriend make his two-line debut on a TV soap.” 

Playing hard to get clearly sealed the deal even if, as Coen reasons, her talent shone through. As the filmmaker told The New York Times, every actress who had previously read for the part of Abby was referred to as “almost Abbies.” McDormand was different and, in fact, her honesty over the callback audition solidified how perfect she was for the role. “It was so guileless — just what we wanted for Abby,” Joel Coen reminisced. He’s written female roles specifically with Frances McDormand in mind ever since.

McDormand wore Coen's ex-wife's wedding ring

The couple tied the knot in 1994 after living together for a decade in NYC, but, as a profile of Frances McDormand in the New York Times Magazine revealed, the actress wore the wedding band previously owned by her husband’s first wife once they’d made it official, reasoning that it shouldn’t go to waste. The actress saw nothing wrong with adopting the piece of jewelry, which she wore proudly for the next 20 years, since the commitment they made was more important.

On their deep connection, McDormand gushed, “It was a revelation that I could have a lover who I could also work with and I wasn’t intimidated by the person.” She added, “It was: Wow! Really! Oh, my God! I can actually love and live — not subvert anything, not apologize for anything, not hide anything.” In 1995, the couple adopted their son, Pedro, from Paraguay, which added another layer to their lifelong commitment to one another.

Joel Coen and Frances McDormand are not typical parents

Unsurprisingly, the McDormand-Coen household wasn’t what you’d call typical. As Vogue notes, the couple raised Pedro in New York City, with Joel Coen making movies every summer while Frances McDormand took one movie job a year and did theater the rest of the time. They opted to celebrate pagan holidays rather than following a traditional organized religion, with the character actor admitting, “I couldn’t commit to Christianity. But nature: I could always commit to that, and the power of it.” 

Coen followed her lead, turning to a book called Pagan Parenting for guidance. As Pedro got older and grew interested in sports, however, the couple flailed. As McDormand explained, “I don’t know how to play sports. His dad’s not really sportive.” She admitted, “we kind of handicapped him because neither of us wanted to take him to games and stuff on the weekends.” Her son did accompany the Fargo breakout shopping, though, which is an activity they still enjoy doing together. 

Frances McDormand isn't guaranteed roles in Joel Coen's movies

Although they’ve collaborated many times over the years, one of the biggest hurdles the couple had to overcome revolved around McDormand automatically being cast in every Coen Brothers movie. As she admitted to Vogue, when their third movie, Miller’s Crossing, came along and Marcia Gay Harden was cast as Verna over her, McDormand was heated, wondering, “why isn’t this me?” The character actor was an Oscar nominee by then and felt as though she deserved it. 

Regardless, she acknowledged, “That was part of my learning process and part of our learning process privately as a couple. We both had to work through that. You’re not going to get a role every time.” Likewise, when Joel Coen was suggested for Frances McDormand’s onscreen husband in Nomadland, she put her foot down, arguing, “I have to believe that it’s not just a documentary of me. I did create a character, just like I’ve created myself in 63 years, too” (via The New York Times). 

This is their secret to a happy marriage

They’ve got decades of wedded bliss behind them and show no signs of slowing down, so what’s the secret to the McDormand-Coen partnership? Working together has only brought them closer together, while raising Pedro gave the couple a brand new perspective on life. As Yahoo! notes, when they were asked what their secret is, Coen deferred to McDormand, who answered simply, “I think it’s having different stories to tell each other.” She elaborated, “Although we have often collaborated on films, we have both had really autonomous careers and so we have always had new things to tell each other.” 

Likewise, the couple considers the challenge of being parents to their son “the most exciting part” of their relationship. As for being jealous of each other, Frances McDormand admitted she’s only ever envied “the power he had over his career because his work is self-generated whereas in my job you always have to wait around for someone to give you the role.” Now that Pedro is all grown up, they’re excited to discover the next stage of their relationship together, too. 

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