Marge Gunderson

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Marge Gunderson
First appearance Fargo
Created by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Portrayed by Frances McDormand (Film)
Edie Falco (canceled pilot)[1]
Gender Female
Occupation Chief of police
Affiliation Brainerd Police Department
Spouse(s) Norm Gunderson
Children unnamed child

Marge Gunderson is a fictional character and leading protagonist in the 1996 film Fargo. The character is portrayed by Frances McDormand and created by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. McDormand received critical acclaim for her performance as Marge, earning her an Academy Award for Best Actress.[2]

Character biography[edit]

Marge Gunderson (née Olmsted) is the chief of police in Brainerd, Minnesota. In the film, set during the winter of 1987, Marge is seven months pregnant. She is married to her husband, Norm (John Carroll Lynch), a local wildlife artist.


McDormand portrays Marge in a stereotypical "Minnesota nice" fashion. She is very friendly towards the people she meets, even while she's interrogating suspects. She is also very intelligent when it comes to her police work, often picking up on the criminal clues before other officers. Aside from her job, Marge is a very loving wife towards Norm by being very proud and supportive of his artwork, giving him positive encouragement even when he doubts his own skills.



Despite being the leading protagonist, Marge Gunderson doesn't appear in Fargo until 33 minutes into the film. She is first introduced by receiving an early morning telephone call regarding a roadside homicide caused by Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) and Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi), which left three people dead including a Minnesota State Patrolman. Marge quickly, and accurately, concludes that the murders happened after the trooper pulled over a car, with dealer plates, resulting in the driver killing the officer and two witness after a high-speed pursuit.

Records from the murdered state trooper's last traffic stop, along with a phone call to Proudfoot, placed at a local truck stop by two suspicious men, lead her to Jerry's dealership in Minneapolis, where she questions Jerry Lundegaard. While in Minneapolis, Marge reconnects with former classmate, Mike Yanagita. Mike tells her that he was married to a former classmate of theirs who died and tries to seduce her, but fails.

During a phone conversation with a mutual friend of hers and Yanagita, Marge learns that Yanagita's dead wife was never his wife, nor is she dead, and that Yanagita is the perpetrator behind a long series of anonymous harassments. Reflecting on Yanagita's treachery and lies, Marge returns to the car dealership and re-questions Lundegaard, who refuses to cooperate and asks her to leave in a very rude manner. When she asks to speak to Gustafson, Jerry panics and flees the dealership. After returning to Brainerd, Marge drives to Moose Lake, where she recognizes the dealership car from the dead trooper's description. She finds Gaear feeding the last of Carl's body into a wood chipper. He tries to escape, but Gunderson shoots him in the leg and arrests him.

That night, Marge and her husband, Norm, discuss Norm's mallard painting, which has been selected as the design for a US postage stamp. Marge is very proud of his achievement, and the two happily anticipate the birth of their child in two months' time.

Canceled pilot[edit]

In 1997, Edie Falco portrayed Gunderson in a cancelled television pilot for Fargo. The pilot was directed by Kathy Bates.[1]


Joel Coen and Ethan Coen wrote the role specifically for McDormand due to their previous collaborations and due to the fact that McDormand was married to Joel Coen.[3]

McDormand stated that she subconsciously modeled the character of Marge after her sister, Dorothy, who at the time of filming was a chaplain at a women's maximum-security prison.[3] During filming, McDormand was hesitant about the openness of Marge, in an interview, Joel Coen said McDormand "may have felt she was pushing Marge's openness too far. That may have just been some insecurity, a need for feedback in terms of whether or not she was making the character real, as opposed to a caricature. But everything she did was grounded in reality and she had no need to worry."[3]


In 2003, the American Film Institute named Gunderson the 33rd greatest hero in film history.[4] In 2010, Entertainment Weekly named Gunderson one of the greatest fictional characters of the last twenty years.[5]

For her performance, McDormand won an Academy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.[6]