US film and theatre actor. A prolific character actor from the mid 1980s, she submerged herself so fully in her roles that she remained fairly obscure, despite an Academy Award nomination for her gritty performance in Mississippi Burning (1988). She gained wide acclaim for her engaging performance as a pregnant chief of police in Fargo (1996; Academy Award).
McDormand made her film debut in Blood Simple (1984), as a bored and adulterous housewife. The film proved to be the first of many collaborations with independent film-makers Joel (whom she later married) and Ethan Coen. She has also worked with the likes of Robert Altman (Short Cuts, 1993), John Sayles (Lone Star, 1996), and John Boorman (Beyond Rangoon, 1995), but has done some of her finest work in independent projects. Throughout her career, McDormand has played a wide range of characters in both supporting roles, for example in Almost Famous and The Wonder Boys (both 2000) and North Country (2005), as well as leading roles, from comedy to drama.
Educated at Yale Drama School, she has appeared on the New York stage, notably in performances as Stella in A Streetcar named Desire (1988) and in the world premiere of David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People (2011; Tony Award). Among her other film credits are Raising Arizona (1987), Primal Fear (1996), Paradise Road (1997), Talk of Angels (1998), Friends with Money (2006), and Burn After Reading (2008). She has also featured in numerous television movies as well as in the popular television series Hill Street Blues.