Oscar winner Frances McDormand says she identifies as “white-trash American”. But she says her parents, Noreen and Vernon McDormand, weren’t white trash.
“My birth mother was white trash,” she once explained on radio.
McDormand, who has just won her third Oscar for Nomadland, was born Cynthia Ann Smith to a young single mum in Gibson City, Illinois, in 1957. At the age of one she was adopted by a pastor with the Disciples of Christ, Vernon McDormand, and his wife Noreen.
Side note: Remember when a guy tried to steal Frances McDormand's Oscar back in 2018? Post continues below.
Baby Cynthia’s mother is believed to have been a member of Vernon’s congregation.
The McDormands – a “solid, working-class, educated” couple – changed Cynthia’s name to Frances, and she became part of their big family.
Noreen McDormand had medical issues that stopped her from carrying children of her own, so she and Vernon fostered around nine kids, adopting three of them.
The family moved every few years, living in small towns in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee. In Tennessee, they lived in a part of town built on the town dump, and the kids would go “treasure hunting” there.
It was a childhood of hymn singing, bible camps and homemade dinners.
Frances McDormand would watch her dad preach on Sundays and, as the daughter of the pastor, would do her best to “toe the line”.
“We were the preacher’s kids, so wherever we lived my mother felt we just had to keep up appearances a little bit more,” she told The Guardian.
At high school in the steel town of Monessen, Pennsylvania, she discovered drama when her English teacher got the class to act out scenes from Shakespeare. She played Lady Macbeth, and loved it.
“It was the power of being a really shy, slightly suspect seventh-grader who could stand in front of a group of people and keep their attention,” she told The Irish Times.