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Merrick Morton, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Merrick Morton, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

10 Fast Facts About Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Merrick Morton, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Merrick Morton, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The series of blood red signs with their stark black lettering are an exclamation point on the horizon. They call out the local sheriff for failing to find a young woman’s killer, lighting a fuse of vengeance and shame in a small town. Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a clenched fist in film form, starring Frances McDormand as Mildred, the mother of the murdered girl who demands answers and promises violence if there’s no justice. Here are 10 facts about the Oscar Best Picture nominee.

1. MILDRED’S BANDANA IS AN HOMAGE TO MICHAEL CIMINO'S THE DEER HUNTER.

Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell in 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' (2017)
Merrick Morton, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Martin McDonagh and Sam Rockwell (who plays Deputy Dixon) are both big fans of the 1978 Vietnam War classic in which Christopher Walken wears a striking red bandana that’s eerily close in shade to the color of the billboards. Mildred’s headgear is meant as a nod to Walken’s character, Corporal “Nick” Chevotarevich.

2. BUT THERE ARE EVEN MORE NODS TO NICOLAS ROEG'S DON’T LOOK NOW.

Don’t Look Now, Nicolas Roeg's 1973 horror classic, stars Donald Sutherland as John Baxter, a grieving father who goes to Venice with his wife (Julie Christie) to try to get their mind off the drowning death of their daughter. Don’t Look Now and Three Billboards share the plot machination of parents losing a young daughter, but they also share the color red as a motif (a red coat in Don’t Look Now, and the billboards and a character named Red in Three Billboards). Both movies also feature a little person, clueless police, a violent fall, and a massive chef’s knife. Plus, Dixon’s mother watches Don’t Look Now on TV in Three Billboards.

3. THE DEER MILDRED ENCOUNTERS IS BECCA, A LOCAL CELEBRITY FROM THE WNC NATURE CENTER.

Late in the film, when Mildred’s investigation has stalled out, she delivers a downbeat monologue to a deer that passes by one of the billboards. It’s a stunner. The kind of profoundly introspective thing you could only say in a dark room to yourself or in a sunny field to one of Earth’s innocent creatures. The innocent creature the production used is Becca, a white-tailed deer that resides at Asheville's Western North Carolina Nature Center, because she doesn’t have the skills to survive on her own in the wild.

4. IT’S THE FIRST MOVIE MCDONAGH HAS DIRECTED WITHOUT COLIN FARRELL.

After launching his noteworthy career in theater, McDonagh made his name as a filmmaker with In Bruges and followed it up with Seven Psychopaths, both of which star Colin Farrell. For Three Billboards, McDonagh specifically wanted to write a strong, multilayered leading role for a woman. Meanwhile, Farrell stayed occupied with three films in 2017: Roman J. Israel, Esq., The Beguiled, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

5. MCDONAGH WROTE THE PART FOR FRANCES MCDORMAND, BUT SHE RESISTED DUE TO THE CHARACTER’S AGE.

Writers often envision a specific actor while writing a part, but McDonagh also said McDormand is the only actor he could see playing Mildred. “I’d have been screwed if she had said no,” he told Vanity Fair. Yet she almost did. McDormand loved the script but resisted for over a year, specifically because she didn’t find it realistic that a woman in Mildred’s socioeconomic class would wait until she was 38 to have her first child. McDormand thought she was too old to play the part.

6. WHEN WE MEET HIM, RED WELBY IS READING FLANNERY O’CONNOR’S “A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND.”

It’s not clear if local advertising man Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) is reading the short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” or another one in the short story collection of the same name, but that particular O’Connor tale features a character named “Red” as well as murders that rip a family apart. O’Connor was known for showing a dark underbelly to small town American life in her writing.

7. MCDONAGH TRAVELED THE COUNTRY TO GET A FEEL FOR AMERICA.

Martin McDonagh directs Sam Rockwell in 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' (2017)
Merrick Morton, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

McDonagh was born and raised in London to Irish parents, and many of his plays are set in Ireland (especially County Galway). In Bruges is set, you know, in Bruges, Belgium, and Seven Psychopaths takes place mostly in Los Angeles, so getting a small town American feel took research.

“When I was writing this I was traveling around America,” McDonagh told Deadline. “I got in during winter in Chicago, then got a train to Colorado and was traveling around there. Then up to Montana. Then later, when I was thinking about Missouri, I thought I’d better go there. My usual trick with the Irish plays is to set things on islands I’ve never been to."

8. THERE’S A VERY GOOD REASON MILDRED DOESN’T CRY.

“I believe there were places where Mildred simply can’t access her emotions,” McDormand told Entertainment Weekly. “So why be afraid of that? Everybody is f***ing crying in movies all the time, even the men! For me, that’s not Greek tragedy; it’s a therapy session. It’s about neuroses and not pain and rage. There’s something healing about tears. If Mildred’s emotions are so accessible, if she can so easily go to tears, then why is she so filled with rage? Because if you can cry out the pain, you don’t need to burn down the police station. So, I was interested in her being locked out of her own humanity."

9. IT’S ONE OF TWO BEST PICTURE NOMINEES TO FEATURE CALEB LANDRY JONES.

Zeljko Ivanek and Caleb Landry Jones in 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' (2017)
Merrick Morton, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Caleb Landry Jones had a busy 2017. Not only was the 28-year-old featured in Three Billboards, he also played the villainous Jeremy Armitage in fellow Best Picture nominee Get Out, played Willem Dafoe’s son in the critically acclaimed The Florida Project (which earned Dafoe an Oscar nod), and appeared in several episodes of the new Twin Peaks. Six other actors were in two Best Picture nominees this year (Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Kathryn Newton, Nick Searcy, and Bradley Whitford), but Michael Stuhlbarg was in three: Call Me By Your Name, The Shape of Water, and The Post. He’s only the sixth actor in Hollywood history to pull off a hat trick.

10. IN PLAYING MILDRED, MCDORMAND BECAME THE ONLY ACTRESS TO WIN TWO SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS FOR A LEADING ROLE.

Since their inception in 1995, the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance By a Female Actor in a Leading Role has gone to a different person every year until McDormand won for Three Billboards. Her first award in the category came for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo (a role that also earned her an Oscar).

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Food
How to Make Miles Davis’s Famous Chili Recipe
STF/AFP/Getty Images
STF/AFP/Getty Images

Miles Davis, who was born on May 26, 1926, was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 20th century, and changed the course of jazz music more times in his life than some people change their sheets. He was also pretty handy in the kitchen.

In his autobiography, Miles, Davis wrote that in the early 1960s, “I had gotten into cooking. I just loved food and hated going out to restaurants all the time, so I taught myself how to cook by reading books and practicing, just like you do on an instrument. I could cook most of the great French dishes—because I really liked French cooking—and all the black American dishes. But my favorite was a chili dish I called Miles's South Side Chicago Chili Mack. I served it with spaghetti, grated cheese, and oyster crackers."

Davis didn’t divulge what was in the dish or how to make it, but in 2007, Best Life magazine got the recipe from his first wife, Frances, who Davis said made it better than he did.

MILES'S SOUTH SIDE CHICAGO CHILIK MACK (SERVES 6)

1/4 lb. suet (beef fat)
1 large onion
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin seed
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can beef consommé
1 drop red wine vinegar
3 lb. spaghetti
parmesan cheese
oyster crackers
Heineken beer

1. Melt suet in large heavy pot until liquid fat is about an inch high. Remove solid pieces of suet from pot and discard.
2. In same pot, sauté onion.
3. Combine meats in bowl; season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin.
4. In another bowl, season kidney beans with salt and pepper.
5. Add meat to onions; sauté until brown.
6. Add kidney beans, consommé, and vinegar; simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
7. Add more seasonings to taste, if desired.
8. Cook spaghetti according to package directions, and then divide among six plates.
9. Spoon meat mixture over each plate of spaghetti.
10. Top with Parmesan and serve oyster crackers on the side.
11. Open a Heineken.

John Szwed’s biography of Davis, So What, mentions another chili that the trumpeter’s father taught him how to make. The book includes the ingredients, but no instructions, save for serving it over pasta. Like a jazz musician, you’ll have to improvise. 

bacon grease
3 large cloves of garlic
1 green, 1 red pepper
2 pounds ground lean chuck
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 jar of mustard
1/2 shot glass of vinegar
2 teaspoons of chili powder
dashes of salt and pepper
pinto or kidney beans
1 can of tomatoes
1 can of beef broth

serve over linguine

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4 Fascinating Facts About John Wayne
Fox Photos, Getty Images
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Most people know John Wayne, who would have been 111 years old today, for his cowboy persona. But there was much more to the Duke than that famous swagger. Here are a few facts about Duke that might surprise you.

1. A BODY SURFING ACCIDENT CHANGED HIS CAREER. 

John Wayne, surfer? Yep—and if he hadn’t spent a lot of time doing it, he may never have become the legend he did. Like many USC students, Wayne (then known as Marion Morrison) spent a good deal of his extracurricular time in the ocean. After he sustained a serious shoulder injury while bodysurfing, Morrison lost his place on the football team. He also lost the football scholarship that had landed him a spot at USC in the first place. Unable to pay his fraternity for room and board, Morrison quit school and, with the help of his former football coach, found a job as the prop guy at Fox Studios in 1927. It didn’t take long for someone to realize that Morrison belonged in front of a camera; he had his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930.

2. HE TOOK HIS NICKNAME FROM HIS BELOVED FAMILY POOCH. 

Marion Morrison had never been fond of his feminine-sounding name. He was often given a hard time about it growing up, so to combat that, he gave himself a nickname: Duke. It was his dog’s name. Morrison was so fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier when he was younger that the family took to calling the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke,” which he quite liked. But when he was starting his Hollywood career, movie execs decided that “Duke Morrison” sounded like a stuntman, not a leading man. The head of Fox Studios was a fan of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, so Morrison’s new surname was quickly settled. After testing out various first names for compatibility, the group decided that “John” had a nice symmetry to it, and so John Wayne was born. Still, the man himself always preferred his original nickname. “The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” he once said. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

3. HE WAS A CHESS FANATIC. 

Anyone who knew John Wayne personally knew what an avid chess player he was. He often brought a miniature board with him so he could play between scenes on set.

When Wayne accompanied his third wife, Pilar Pallete, while she played in amateur tennis tournaments, officials would stock a trailer with booze and a chess set for him. The star would hang a sign outside of the trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?” and then happily spend the day drinking and trouncing his fans—for Wayne wasn’t just a fan of chess, he was good at chess. It’s said that Jimmy Grant, Wayne’s favorite screenwriter, played chess with the Duke for more than 20 years without ever winning a single match.

Other famous chess partners included Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum. During their match, Mitchum reportedly caught him cheating. Wayne's reply: "I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set 'em up, we'll play again."

4. HE COINED THE TERM "THE BIG C."

If you say you know someone battling “The Big C” these days, everyone immediately knows what you’re referring to. But no one called it that before Wayne came up with the term, evidently trying to make it less scary. Worried that Hollywood would stop hiring him if they knew how sick he was with lung cancer in the early 1960s, Wayne called a press conference in his living room shortly after an operation that removed a rib and half of one lung. “They told me to withhold my cancer operation from the public because it would hurt my image,” he told reporters. “Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer? Sure, I licked the Big C.”

Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne, later said that the 1964 press conference was the one and only time she heard her father call it “cancer,” even when he developed cancer again, this time in his stomach, 15 years later. Sadly, Wayne lost his second battle with the Big C and died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

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