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.

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.

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.

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).

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.