By Rosy Cordero
September 13, 2020 at 05:19 PM EDT
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Frances McDormand was so convincing while researching life as a modern-day nomad for her new film, she was offered a job at a local Target.

Based on the non-fiction book by Jessica Bruder of the same name, Nomadland follows Fern (McDormand), a rural Nevada widow who hits the road across the country after losing everything during the Great Recession. To get into character, writer and director Chloé Zhao and a small team of 24 others including McDormand, visited more than seven states across a five-month period, becoming one with the reality of the character who worked a variety of different jobs while living in her van.

“It was really about setting up an ecosystem, working with the nomads, because they are not always stationary and getting Fran to blend in,” said Zhao during a press conference for the Venice Film Festival, according to Variety.

Added McDormand, “Because of that, we were able to move swiftly and live in the community of the van-dwellers in a way that wasn’t disruptive. We played the game of ‘what if?’ What if I was really one of them?”

The highly lauded actress ensured that in her portrayal of Fern she kept in mind that she wasn't bringing to life a character but an amalgamation of real-life nomads living in the United States right now.

“It was much more about honoring the process of a person’s life than a process of making a movie,” she explained. “It was successful because in one town in Nebraska, I went to the local Target and I was offered employment. I was offered a form to fill out! I went back to Chloé and said: ‘It’s working!’”

Nomadland earned Zhang the coveted Golden Lion on Saturday, making her the first woman in a decade to win the Venice Film Festival's top prize.

It costars Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Well, three of the real-life nomads covered in Bruder's book. Actor David Strathairn is the only other actor featured in the film.

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