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McDormand inspired central character in 'Three Billboards'

Last Updated Dec 15, 2017 at 2:00 pm EDT

FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2017 file photo, Martin McDonagh, from left, Frances McDormand, and Sam Rockwell attend the premiere of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" at BAM Cinema, in New York. The central character in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" probably wouldn't exist without Frances McDormand, and writer-director McDonagh says such strong characters and actresses are something to celebrate in an industry reeling from revelations of widespread sexual misconduct. The film was nominated for six Golden Globes and four Screen Actors Guild Awards this week. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP, File)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The central character in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” probably wouldn’t exist without Frances McDormand, and writer-director Martin McDonagh says such strong characters and actresses are something to celebrate in an industry reeling from revelations of widespread sexual misconduct.

The film was nominated for six Golden Globes and four Screen Actors Guild Awards this week.

McDormand inspired the film’s foul-mouthed protagonist Mildred Hayes, who attempts to shame the town sheriff into solving the year-old rape and murder of her teenage daughter. She posts three billboards on the edge of town to taunt him.

McDonagh said he saw “something in real life that was very similar to what we see on our billboards” 20 years ago and was mystified.

“I didn’t know who put it up or how to find out,” he said. “But once I decided in my mind that it was a mother and a really strong one and a fearsome and sort of outrageous one, the character kind of popped up fully formed” with a mental image of McDormand, he said in a recent interview. “I had Frances’s voice in my head for the character, and that’s partly because of her film work, from ‘Blood Simple’ through ‘Fargo,’ has been really strong and intelligent and truthful. But also I think her offstage persona — you know, her not playing the Hollywood game — also informed the character and informed how strong and outrageous and different she could be.”

He said such strong, self-possessed female characters like Mildred are something for Hollywood to celebrate, especially in light of its gender inequality.

“There are so many really, really strong female lead performances this year,” he said. “And having a bunch of really successful female-led movies box-office wise, like ours and ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘The Post,’ is one of the positive things we can focus on. But in another way, I think it’s good that you know so many jerks in Hollywood are falling, and maybe it will be a better, safer place in the future.”

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .