Flashback: High Times with Frances McDormand

Frances McDormand in "Nomadland"

Anyone who's followed her illustrious career knows that Frances McDormand is anything but your typical Hollywood actress. She almost never grants interviews. I was lucky to get one of them when I worked at High Times.

May 2003 High Times

McDormand was promoting Laurel Canyon in 2002 and had already won a Best Actress Oscar for Fargo. Since then, she's tripled that feat with two more Best Actress wins for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in 2018 and Nomadland in 2021. In the latter, she plays Fern, a transient widow who travels alone in a van in the American West. It's currently streaming on Hulu.

Only Katherine Hepburn has more Best Actress Oscars (four) than McDormand. Meryl Streep and Ingrid Bergman won three Oscars, but only two for Best Actress. Three men have won three Oscars - Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis and Walter Brennan - but not all for Best Actor.

McDormand is in rarified territory with her third Oscar victory.


Photographing Frances

I met McDormand in 2002 when I was senior editor of High Times. Laurel Canyon was about to come out and we had the chance to interview and photograph her.

McDormand was not then or now considered a major marijuana supporter, like her Three Billboards co-star and fellow Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson. But the movie was about a record producer who likes to smoke pot, so the interview was arranged.

She arrived by herself (no team of handlers) wearing a pot-leaf t-shirt, jeans and a light black leather jacket. Though we we warned by her publicist to not ask her to smoke weed on camera, she quickly overruled that. McDormand proudly held a lit joint for the eventual cover photo. In another, she had three of us light it for her. 

High Times photo shoot in 2003 by Duke Lobos

"I'm a recreational pot smoker," she declared when the conversation shifted to marijuana. "Because, it's not a constant in my life, I don't say it should be made legal so that it's more available. But from a medical point of view, I have friends who need to use it. Why should they have to look so hard for the thing that makes them better?"

McDormand smoked pot for the first time when she was a freshman at Bethany College in West Virginia. "There has never been enough of a distrinction between marijuana and the other drugs," she added. "In the classic weird hygiene movies from high school, everything led to deparavity - marijuana, sex, coffee! There was no distinction made between the effects of one thing and another. So it's always been lumped in with drugs in general. Unfortunately, I think a lot of peoples' first experiences with marijuana and other drugs happen in the time of their lives that invloves a lot of peer pressure."

She then declared:

"It's a human rights issue, a censorship issue and a choice issue."

McDormand is married to Joel Coen, so I asked about her favorite Coen Brothers movies. She pointed to Fargo in which she played loveable sheriff Marge) and Miller's Crossing. She called The Big Lebowski a "middle-aged boy's movie" and noted that "Marge Gunderson might have gotten high during her college days. She seems like an adventurous sort."

This article was originally posted on March 3, 2018. It has been updated several times.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.