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).

11 Surprising Facts About George R.R. Martin

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know the epic HBO series is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but beyond the TV show, how much do they really know about the author? Sure, they know it’s taking him a really long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, but what about him as a person? Here are a few things you might not know about the man who brought us the world of Westeros.

1. As a kid, he made money selling monster stories.

The famed author grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father was a longshoreman. "When I was living in Bayonne, I desperately wanted to get away," Martin told The Independent. "Not because Bayonne was a bad place, mind you. Bayonne was a very nice place in some ways. But we were poor. We had no money. We never went anywhere."

Though his family didn't have the means to travel outside of Bayonne, Martin began to develop a love of reading and writing at a very young age, which allowed him to imagine fantastical worlds beyond his New Jersey hometown. He also learned that writing could be a profitable endeavor: he began selling his stories to other kids in the neighborhood for a penny apiece. (He later raised his prices to a nickel.) Martin's entrepreneurial efforts came to an end when his stories began giving one of his kid customers nightmares, which eventually got back to Martin's mom.

2. He is obsessed with comic books.

In 2014, Martin sat down for a Q&A about his career at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Though, given his love of fantasy worlds, it might not be surprising to learn that Martin is a comic book fan, he also credits the genre with inspiring him to begin writing in the first place.

"I’m so grateful for comic books because they were really the thing that made me a reader, which in return made me a writer," Martin said. "In the 1950s in America, we had these books that taught you to read, and they were all about Dick and Jane, who were the most boring family you ever wanted to meet ... I didn’t know anyone who lived like that, and it just seemed like a horrible thing. But Batman and Superman, they had a much more interesting life. Gotham City was much more interesting than wherever it was where Dick and Jane lived.”

3. He built a library tower in Santa Fe.

In 2009, Martin bought the home across the street from his house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned it into an office space with a library tower built inside. The tower is only two stories tall, because of city building restrictions, but it seems only fitting that the author/history buff would want to be surrounded with books while he writes.

4. A fan letter got his professional writing career started.

Martin's love of comic books is what got his professional career rolling, too. "I had a letter published in Fantastic Four, and because my address was in there I started getting these fanzines and I started writing stories for them," Martin said during the same Santa Fe Q&A. "Funny enough, people writing stories in these fanzines at the time were just awful. They were just really bad, which was good because I looked at these awful stories and knew I could do better than that. I may not have been Shakespeare or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I was certain I could write better than the crap in the fanzines, and indeed I could."

5. A failed novel led to a television writing career.

More than 10 years before A Song of Ice and Fire debuted in 1996, Martin wrote a book called The Armageddon Rag in 1983. Though it was a critical disappointment, producer Phil DeGuere was interested in adapting the project with Martin's help. While that never came to fruition, DeGuere thought of Martin when they were rebooting The Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s and brought him on board to write a handful of episodes. He later did some writing for the live-action Beauty and the Beast series, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

6. Network television standards were not a fit for Martin's style of writing.

Though Martin found success as a television writer, the constant back-and-forth about what they were or were not allowed to show proved to be too much for the writer. "[T]here were constant limitations. It wore me down," Martin told Rolling Stone. "There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too 'politically charged,' how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people ... The character had to remain likable."

7. He owns an independent movie theater.

In 2006, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe closed its doors, which saddened many locals who were regular patrons, Martin among them. Several years later, Martin decided to give the theater a second life and, after a slight makeover, reopened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to independent films, the theater holds regular special events—including screenings of Game of Thrones episodes. There's also an onsite bar that serves Game of Thrones-themed cocktails, like the signature White Walker.

8. Martin credits HBO with changing the rules of television.

Network television standards may have been too tame and regimented for Martin's tastes, but all that changed with HBO and The Sopranos, which he credits as paving the way for a series like Game of Thrones to exist in its current form at all.

"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he’s in the psychiatrist office, he’s talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he’s driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn’t care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."

9. Martin thinks it's important for writers to break the rules.

While he's an admitted fan of William Goldman, Martin has a very different opinion of noted screenplay expert Syd Field. "There is a book out there by Syd and it’s his guide to writing screenplays and it’s probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been done for the movie industry,” Martin said. “For some perverse reason, it has become the bible not for writers but for what we call 'the suits,' the guys at the studios whose job it is to develop properties and give notes to supervise screenplays. They take Syd Field’s course and they buy the book and they start criticizing screenplays like, ‘Well you know, the first turn is supposed to be on page 12 and yours is not until page 17, so obviously this won’t do!'"

"Syd just writes downs these ridiculous rules," Martin continued. "If there really was a formula as he says, then every movie would be a blockbuster. We would just connect A, B, and C and we would have a great movie and everyone would pack the theater to see it. But every movie is not a blockbuster. Many movies that follow his rules precisely actually go down the toilet."

10. He’s a skilled chess player.

"I started playing chess when I was quite young, in grade school," Martin told The Independent. "I played it through high school. In college, I founded the chess club. I was captain of the chess team." Eventually, Martin discovered that he could actually make some money off this skill.

"For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

11. He has a very specific way of writing, which is why he hasn't finished the winds of winter.

Fans have been waiting for a while for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Martin has been honest about why it's taking him so long. "Writer’s block isn’t to blame here, it’s distraction," he said. "In recent years, all of the work I’ve been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life no body did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day."

Can You Guess the Meaning of These Dothraki Words?

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER