Frances McDormand reveals the unusual origin of her wedding ring

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle

One can only assume from Frances McDormand’s array of interesting roles that the character actress is a bit quirky, and a new profile in the New York Times Magazine paints her that way. Among the many fascinating tidbits about the Academy Award winner — including how she doesn’t own a full-length mirror, hates having her photo taken, refuses hair/makeup/wardrobe for photo shoots, and wouldn’t let the interviewer into her home because she does not “like articles where actors reveal their private lives” — is a story about the unusual origin of her wedding band.

Frances McDormand and Joel Coen attend the premiere of the miniseries  Olive Kitteridge during the 71st International Venice Film Festival in 2014. (Photo: Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Fargo talent, who’s been married to director and frequent collaborator Joel Coen, of Coen Brothers fame, since 1984 — and has been making movies with him even longer — revealed that the band she’s worn until recently belonged to her husband’s ex-wife, whom he divorced in the late ’70s after a brief marriage.

Yes, you read that right. In fact, straight from the article itself: “Until recently, her wedding band was a ring once owned by Coen’s first wife, which McDormand adopted, thinking it shouldn’t go to waste.”

Frances McDormand wearing a gold band, as well as another ring, on her middle finger in 1994, 2003, and 2014. (Photos: Getty Images)

How thrifty. Clearly McDormand, 60, had no superstition about wearing her husband’s ex-wife’s ring, and the decision didn’t bring them any type of bad luck. They met when McDormand was 24 and auditioned for Coen and his brother Ethan’s first feature film, 1984’s Blood Simple. She landed the part — despite telling Joel that she couldn’t make it to a callback because her then-boyfriend was appearing on a soap opera and she had to watch it, but that’s another story — which ended up being her movie debut. They moved in together almost immediately but waited 10 years to marry. The year after their wedding, 1995, they adopted their son, Pedro McDormand Coen, from Paraguay.

“It was a revelation that I could have a lover who I could also work with and I wasn’t intimidated by the person,” McDormand told the New York Times Magazine about their relationship. “It was: Wow! Really! Oh, my God! I can actually love and live — not subvert anything, not apologize for anything, not hide anything.”

As for Coen’s first wife, there’s not much out there about her, including her name. The book The Coen Brothers: Interviews (2006) described the marriage as “brief” and said that it ended in 1979, several years before he met McDormand. (The book noted that the woman concerned “wishes to retain her privacy.”) The relationship brought Coen to Texas, he noted in an article in Texas Monthly . “I came to Austin in 1979 because I was married to a woman in the graduate program in linguistics at the University of Texas,” he wrote. Meanwhile, Kelley L. Ross, PhD, who ran for Congress in 2006, wrote on his website about attending UT at the same time as Coen. He said he was friends with the couple, referring to the woman by the alias “Nan,” and even gave them his old bed. However, he wrote, “I was away for the summer, and when I got back … I called up their house. Nan was away, but Joel was there. … I didn’t realize until Nan returned to Austin herself that she and Joel had already broken up. Nan was even already involved with her future next husband, whom she had met in the linguistics department.”

Frances McDormand, pictured in September at the Toronto Film Festival, has been wearing one silver or platinum band on her ring finger as of late. (Photo: GP Images/WireImage)

Given that brief and unremarkable history, we’re surprised that McDormand chose to adopt the ring and wear it for more than two decades. It doesn’t seem as if there was much sentimental value to it — and both she and Coen (she refers to them in the article as the McCoens) had quite a few paychecks under their belts by the time they were married, so she could have gotten a new ring with no history. But it’s not really that out there.

“It may seem unusual to some, but I think that if he had possession of his first wife’s ring, and Frances loved the design of it, why not wear it?” Anne Chertoff, who’s the wedding trends expert and editor at WeddingWire, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Now more than ever, there’s no must-follow rules with getting married, except that you need a license to make it legal.”

She continues, “A wedding ring is a symbol of a couple’s love and commitment to each other and can truly be anything from a classic gold band to a diamond ring to matching tattoos, which some celebs have been known to do. So anything goes.”

In this case, anything did go — and the ring from Coen’s first marriage stayed on McDormand’s hand for more than 20 years. The actress — who seems to have worn it on her middle finger, judging from photos (perhaps it was too big?) — doesn’t tell the Times Magazine why she stopped wearing it, just noting it was something that happened recently. And that too feeds into the mysteriousness — and quirkiness — about her.


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