FX had a tricky task when it set about creating its new series, Fargo: craft something in the same dark-comedy vein as the Coen brothers' 1996 movie while also creating a work that stands on its own. Judging by the first four episodes, writer Noah Hawley, Fargo's producers (which include the Coens), and the cast have pulled off something impressive.
The movie's sense of persistent dread mixed with Minnesota friendliness is recreated here, but the show goes beyond that by digging into a slew of original characters: Allison Tomlan's ambitious deputy, Kate Walsh's grieving wife, Bob Odenkirk's bumbling cop — they all fit perfectly into the show's small town setting. But it's with the spot-on casting of Martin Freeman as pathetic sap Lester Nygaard and Billy Bob Thornton as drifter Lorne Malvo that Fargo really sets itself apart.
We spoke to them via a conference call last week, and they were both confident that Fargo is its own creation.
"I knew I did not want to be in a rehash of the film. The film is perfectly happy without someone making either a good or bad cover version of it," Freeman said. "I know from the outset I would have been pretty vocal about not wanting just to be part of a Fargo tribute band."
Here are some more excerpts:
ON THE SCRIPT
Freeman: "(Hawley's) writing is really good. It's really spare and quite beautiful, quite poetic in places. ... There was no need to improve it, that's for sure.
With Lester I just got the feeling that this was going to be a role where you could give rein to a lot of stuff, to play a lot of stuff. And even within that first episode the range that he goes between is really interesting. In all the 10 episodes I get to play, as Lester, pretty much the whole gamut of human existence and human feeling. ... And (Hawley) treads that line very well between drama and comedy and the light and dark."
Thornton: "It was so well written that (Hawley) had walked this fine line of channeling the Coen brothers, the spirit and the tone of their movie, and yet making it a new animal."
ON HOW THEY APPROACHED THEIR CHARACTERS
Thornton: "Well, you know, usually when you're playing a character you think a lot about their back story and that kind of thing and in this instance I didn't want to do that because I doubt Malvo thinks much about his past anyway. ... he has this bizarre sense of humor where he likes to mess with people ... I looked at Malvo as a guy who is a member of the animal kingdom, you know.
He has a plan and he knows where he has to go. It's like an alligator. An alligator has to eat one day and so if somebody jumps in the swamp to take a swim he will eat them."
Freeman: "I like, as much as I can, to play everything, and I think within one line of dialogue you can play three different things, within one non-speaking reaction shot you can play three different things. ... I like to play, try and reflect the complexities of how we are in real life, which is we're always thinking at least two things at the same time. So, certainly the overt dark side of Lester was something very attractive to me. ... You want to challenge people's perceptions of you and you want to challenge your own work and your own perceptions of what it is you do, because it's very easy to, sometimes you believe your own reviews and you go, oh, maybe I am an everyman. And I think, actually, no ... I know I'm not."
ON THE MINNESOTA ACCENT
Freeman: "I didn't want to make a gag of it. ... I wanted to get it right. I wanted to kind of honor it in a way and not do a sketch version. Most Minnesotans will admit that stereotypes get to be stereotypes for a reason ... but that's not the entire thing, and it's not enough just to go, "oh yah," every two minutes.
I worked very hard on the accent because, as I said, I didn't want it to be like a comedy sketch. ... I was playing a character who happened to speak like that and to be from that place. That's why I didn't really go back and watch the initial film with Fargo, love it as I do, because I wanted to, for my research accent-wise, I wanted it to be actual Minnesotans and not actors playing Minnesotans."
ON THE SHOW'S 10-EPISODE RUN
Freeman: "Well, I think my general outlook on life is that things should be finite. ... And so for me, the idea of things going on and on and on, I don't always find very attractive. ... This 10 episodes was kind of a clincher for me. ... I like the hit-and-run approach. ... That's the way I'm hardwired I think."
Thornton: "It felt like doing a 10-hour independent film. That's very appealing. I've been accused many times as a writer/director of my pace is too leisurely and it's too long ... Well, here's a chance to do that kind of thing and you've got 10 hours to do it in. ... If you came up as a film actor you don't have to give it up. You can do great work in television and then on the occasion that you get a movie that you really love you can still do it."
ON WHAT THEY BROUGHT TO THE ROLE
Thornton: "(I added) a weird haircut, which was actually a mistake. I got a bad haircut and we had planned on dyeing my hair and a dark beard and all that kind of thing, but I didn't plan on having bangs. ... And bangs are normally associated with innocence and I thought that juxtaposition was pretty great, so that was added."