Frances McDormand (left), winner of the award for best actress in a leading role for "Nomadland," and Yuh-Jung Youn, winner of the award for best actress in a supporting role for "Minari," pose in the press room at the Oscars on April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. (AFP/Chris Pizzello )
"Nomadland" star Frances McDormand joined Hollywood's most elite tier Sunday with her third acting Oscar -- for a characteristically unglamorous portrayal of a grieving widow living in an old van.
McDormand becomes only the seventh actor with triple Academy Awards, and the fourth woman after Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn, who stands alone at the pinnacle with four Oscars.
She also shared the best picture Oscar for the film, as she was one of its producers.
"I have no words. My voice is in my sword. We know the sword is our work. And I like work. Thank you for knowing that. And thanks for this," McDormand told the limited audience at the Oscars venue at Union Station in Los Angeles.
The role of Fern is the latest in a series of jaded, tough and long-suffering women portrayed by the 63-year-old McDormand, who has forged a distinctive career over decades of mainly indie movies.
Her character in "Nomadland" is reeling from the loss of her husband and their former hometown of Empire, Nevada, which even lost its zip code as the local drywall plant's closure forced the entire population to leave.
Fern's plight is a proxy for thousands of Americans left on the fringes of the society by the Great Recession of the late 2000s -- and, more recently, the pandemic.
"It's a great document of a very specific time in our world," McDormand has said. "Everybody's hitting the road."
McDormand's first Oscar, for best actress, came back in 1997 for her depiction of Marge Gunderson, a pregnant police officer in "Fargo," which was directed by her husband, Joel Coen, and his brother Ethan.
And her most recent Academy Award came just three years ago for her role as a mother seeking to avenge the rape and murder of her daughter in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" -- the last time McDormand appeared on the big screen.
Not a movie star?
Born to a Canadian family in Chicago, Illinois in 1957, McDormand was the daughter of a Protestant minister father and a nurse mother. She studied at Yale Drama School and began working in the theater.
Her first film came in 1984 with "Blood Simple," which was also the debut for the Coen brothers. That was the year she wed Joel, with whom she has a grown son.
McDormand, who has appeared in nine films by the Coen brothers, has often joked that she does not see herself as a movie star, despite having appeared in 41 films spanning four decades.
But on top of her three Oscar wins, regular Academy favorite McDormand boasts a further three acting nominations, stretching back to best supporting actress in "Mississippi Burning" (1988).
She was in the running in the same category for "Almost Famous" (2000) and as a terminally ill miner in "North Country" (2005).
Up next for McDormand is Wes Anderson's pandemic-delayed journalism comedy-drama "The French Dispatch," followed by another collaboration with her husband Joel -- sans Ethan -- in "The Tragedy of Macbeth."
Perhaps of all her roles, McDormand's portrayal of Fern -- an amalgam of several real-life nomads described in US journalist Jessica Bruder's non-fiction book -- strays closest to her own values.
"I told my husband... when I turned 65 I was going to change my name to Fern, start smoking Lucky Strikes, drinking Wild Turkey and hit the road in my RV," McDormand told the film's drive-in US premiere in California last fall.
"I got to do that four years early."
Shooting alongside director Chloe Zhao was an extremely immersive experience for McDormand, who has described how she was offered a job application while walking around a Target store during the shoot.
Living on the road in basic conditions during filming in remote states such as Nebraska and South Dakota also taught her humility.
"I didn't know how to take a dump in my five-gallon bucket," she joked.