Oscar-Nominated Director Chloé Zhao Inhabited the ‘Nomadland’ cast with Real-Life Nomads

Chloé Zhao made history by becoming the first Asian-American woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director for Nomadland at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual awards show.

She was not only the first Asian-American woman to compete in a historically male-dominated category, but it was also the first year that more than one woman was nominated for the award.

Zhao now has a chance to make history by winning Best Director at the Oscars on April 26. Nomadland, her awards season darling, earned six nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Editing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Actress in a Leading Role.

Nomadland is a film adaptation of Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book of the same name. The play is a humanistic portrayal of a post-recession, one-of-a-kind life lived outside of capitalism.

Chloe Zhao’s Bold Attempt on Bringing Authenticity While Filming ‘Nomadland’

Fern, a 60-year-old widow who loses her job and drives away from her old life in Nevada, navigates life on the road, taking seasonal jobs, entering and befriending the group of nomads, and adapting to her new normal, is played by Frances McDormand.

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Zhao attempted to capture the authenticity of nomadic life by casting real-life nomads Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Wells as fictionalized versions of themselves who drift in and out of Fern’s life. Except for McDormand’s Fern and David Strathairn’s Dave, all of the characters are played by non-actors in their own right.

Bob Wells, one of the characters, is a well-known nomad and environmentalist in the burgeoning nomad community who runs the famous YouTube channel CheapRVliving, where he offers advice to those considering the lifestyle.
Working with actual nomads, according to the director, was crucial in forming the film’s plot and making it realistic, all while maintaining the story’s emotional arc.

The Historic Director’s Journey to Oscar Nomination

Aside from casting, cinematography plays an important role in the creation of the film’s ambiance and plot. Nomadland is set against the backdrop of South Dakota’s windswept plains and dramatic rocky badlands.

Only the strongest will thrive in the harsh and unforgiving setting, but the wide-open landscapes are ideal for Zhao’s storytelling.


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The director assumes that the environment in which an actor is placed will help transform their performances, so she selects specific locations for these films. “In film school, I heard that if you want the best car salesman, go get a car salesman,” Zhao says.

I am supposed to let the audience experience a sunrise in the Badlands through Brady’s perspective and to do that, the film itself has to really get into the essence of how Brady feels, smells, hears and sees this landscape.  

To bring the nomadic life to life, the crew traveled from the high desert to the low desert, the plains to the coast, and even shot at an actual outdoor nomad meeting known as the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Zhao most often uses natural sounds like a cue to catch a viewpoint rather than music.

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On April 30, Nomadland will premiere on Disney+.

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Chloé Zhao Golden Globe
Source: CNN

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