10 Fast Facts About Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
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.
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.
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.
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).