Her father was a Disciples of Christ preacher. Which may partly explain the flair for sermonizing that Frances McDormand shows off in Almost Famous as Elaine Miller, an outraged early-’70s single mom determined to keep her 15-year-old aspiring-music-journalist son off drugs and on track to be a lawyer.
”Honey, they’re on pot,” declares McDormand’s Elaine with hilarious conviction, pointing frantically at Simon & Garfunkel’s seemingly innocuous album-cover photo. And in one of the strongest audience-pleasing scenes in the film, McDormand’s hard-charging mom brings one of her son’s interview subjects, a freewheeling rock star (Billy Crudup), quickly to heel — over the phone, no less. ”Billy was actually on the line when Frances did the scene,” recalls director Cameron Crowe. ”They have a really electric kind of collaborative-friendship thing between them, because they did the play Oedipus together. It was late at night, the last shot of the day. There was a lot of pressure for Frances to get it. And she just swished it from mid-court.”
Crowe was equally impressed when, against his wishes, his own mom, Alice — the inspiration for McDormand’s character — barged up to the actress on her first day of shooting. ”I’d told my mom, ‘Don’t talk to Frances,”’ Crowe remembers. ”’Frances McDormand has won an Oscar [for Fargo]. Don’t give her tips on how to play you.”’ But the director’s mother blurted out to McDormand, ”Don’t play me shrill!” To which McDormand replied, ”Alice, it won’t be me. And it won’t be you. It will be someone else.”
That response, says Crowe, ”chilled my mom out in a way that I had been just a total failure at doing.” But that’s McDormand for you. When it comes to playing straight shooters with a fierce conviction that stops folks in their tracks, she rocks.