VENICE - The Venice Film Festival feted the career of Frances McDormand on Monday, the Oscar-winning actress of Fargo fame, ahead of the premiere of a new HBO mini-series she called the culmination of her life's work.
McDormand - who is married to director Joel Coen and has starred in several Coen brothers films, including Fargo and Burn After Reading - was presented with the Persol Tribute to Visionary Talent Award for a career that began on Broadway in 1984.
The 57-year-old American told journalists ahead of the ceremony that she felt developing, producing and acting in the four-part mini-series Olive Kitteridge was "the culmination of everything that I have attempted to do".
McDormand plays a witty, acerbic maths teacher in a New England town in a story that spans 25 years. The mini-series is based on a Pulitzer prize-winning collection of short stories by Elizabeth Strout and directed by Lisa Cholodenko.
"It was a holy bitch to adapt," writer Jane Anderson said. "I was utterly terrified. We worked on it for three to four years and originally HBO wanted a television series, but we persuaded them to make it a mini-series so we could better develop Olive's character."
McDormand, who won Best Actress for her role as a pregnant local police chief in the 1996 dark thriller Fargo, said she was "gratified to be at a film festival with Olive Kitteridge".
Television had "allowed all of us to reinvent on our own terms what we want our professional lives to be", she said. "For a female elder, action roles in films are limited, but television opens up new possibilities."
Themes of love, friendship and death in the mini-series are pinned together by humour-rich scenes around the kitchen table in the house Kitteridge shares with her husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins), and teenage son, Christopher (John Gallagher Jr).
"I've made an entire career of supporting male protagonists in films. What I love about Kitteridge is she's a peripheral character in the short stories, but, accumulatively, you realise the strength of her character," McDormand said.
"I think 90 minutes is not enough to tell a female story. I think four hours is enough, six hours is better, 10 hours, two years... Our stories are circular, complex and need more than 90 minutes."
McDormand said she started taking out options on material to develop when her son was 13 years old. "I knew that, in five years, he would be leaving home and I would need something that would distract me from crying all day.
"I've since become addicted to long-term projects and love producing," she said, explaining that her skills came from years of housekeeping.
"I'm as good a housewife as I am an actor. I have relocated our family around the world, I've given dinner parties, redecorated houses, I'm very good at ironing - all of these skills equate to producing film very closely.
"It's almost like I've been rehearsing for this all my career."