Fargo Premiere Preview: “The Crocodile’s Dilemma” [VIDEO and PHOTOS + Martin Freeman INTERVIEW]
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Although this limited series is adapted from the film, this version of Fargo explores a new case and new characters. So whether or not you liked the film (and I loved it), this will be a new experience for you.Â
“The Crocodile’s Dilemma” synopsis from FX:
TV Goodness participated in a press call with series star Martin Freeman. He talked about why he took this role, working with Billy Bob Thornton and how his comedic background helped him with his dark character.
What specifically attracted you to this role?
Martin Freeman: “Well, just the fact that itâ€™s well written. The script itself is well written, the whole thing, the whole first episode, which is what I based my decision on. It was a lovely episode. And 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. Even within that first episode the range that he goes between is really interesting and so I knew that was only going to grow and expand in the next nine episodes, and so it proved to be. In all the ten episodes I get to play as Lester- pretty much the whole gamut of human existence and human feeling, he does the whole lot. Thatâ€™s exactly what you want to do as an actor. Noah [Hawley] treads that line very well between drama and comedy and the light and dark and I like playing that stuff. So, yeah, it was all of that really.”
Aside from the story itself, what was it about the series that set it apart and made you confident working on it?
Martin:Â “I guess at the outset I donâ€™t know, thereâ€™s a big trust thing. You just have to take a leap of faith as so many things are in life. So many jobs are a leap of faith because youâ€™re not seeing the finished result. You canâ€™t come in at the end and go, I knewÂ The GodfatherÂ was going to X, Y and Z. On the way to makingÂ The Godfather, of course, it could have been many other things. Itâ€™s all a big leap of faith. 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, you know. I didnâ€™t want to be in a cover version, certainly didnâ€™t want to be doing a cover version of anyone elseâ€™s performance. All I knew at the time was I really loved the first script and I guess I liked Noahâ€™s tone. I had a brief conversation with him and Iâ€™d have to check our e-mails, but he probably said something to put my mind at rest in an e-mail at some point and I canâ€™t even remember what that would specifically be. But I know from the outset I would have been pretty vocal about not wanting just to be part of aÂ FargoÂ tribute band.”
Yeah, you definitely pulled that off.
Martin:Â “Well, thank you. I think we did. I hope so. Iâ€™ve only seen one [episode]. You lot have seen more than I have, but yeah, I donâ€™t think youâ€™re thinking too much about the film when youâ€™re watching ours. Hopefully, you get into these characters and these stories as opposed to the ones from the 90s.”
Tell us about your character’s relationship with Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo. How did it develop over the series?
Martin: “It was those initial scenes with Billy that really, really attracted me to doing the role because I thought they were just mesmeric. I really loved those little- it was like little plays doing it, little two-handed plays. Without saying too much, it develops a lot off-screen. There are moments of on-screen development, but throughout the series itâ€™s sporadic. But Lorne Malvo, I suppose, is a constant presence in Lesterâ€™s life because of the change that Lester has undergone as a result of meeting him. So, everything that Lester does, every way that he develops as a character, for good and bad, you could say is kind of down to that initial meeting with Lorne Malvo. So, there is a development. We donâ€™t get as much screen time as I would like. I think we both really, really loved sharing actual space together and doing work together and we donâ€™t get to do as much of that as we would want, but there is more to come.”
Billy Bob said he had to expand his ego a little bit to play Lorne and you had to bury your personality a little bit to play Lester. Can you talk about that?
Martin: “To a certain extent. Yes, Iâ€™m a more confident person than Lester is and Iâ€™m not quite as upset as that. So, yeah, itâ€™s just about tapping into those insecurities that you have, we all have, and just magnifying them a little bit. I find that stuff interesting to play. I find it fun to play if you can do it for real because, obviously, itâ€™s not shot documentary style or anything, but you want it to be real. You want it to really resonate even though itâ€™s within a heightened world. Noahâ€™s writing is extremely good and itâ€™s slightly heightened as well, rather like the Coen Brothers. So, yeah, to answer your question I think I did have to slightly rein my gigantic ego in for a while.”
How did your understanding of Lester change over the course of filming the series?
Martin: “Well, you have to go a lot on trust, really, because I signed up just on the strength of the first episode. I saw a rough character outline that Noah wrote, but it wasnâ€™t specific and it wasnâ€™t detailed. It was a general idea of where he wanted to go with it. He certainly knew a lot more than I did and he knew a lot more than he was telling me and he was quite careful with what he leaked out, do you know what I mean? So, I wouldnâ€™t really have any particular clues as to what was coming. We would all get drip fed the scripts when he was ready to show them to us and when he had finished them. Like all writers, he didnâ€™t want to show anything until he was absolutely happy with it. So I would get each of the scripts and it was all pretty much a surprise. The stuff that Lester would be doing, I mean unless Noah had kind of hinted at something, which was rare, it was all a surprise. I would read episode four and go, oh my God, that happens. Then Iâ€™d read episode five and think, wow, I didnâ€™t see that coming. So, it was all a surprise. In that sense you have to just be ready to go with it and not make too many decisions, not pre-prepare, not prepare too much and just be open and just be ready to move in whichever direction this character is going to go in because you, as the actor, donâ€™t dictate it, thatâ€™s for sure. It was all at Noahâ€™s command as a writer and I kind of liked that, I liked that surprise. Because itâ€™s when youâ€™re not in charge and when you donâ€™t really know whatâ€™s going to happen that youâ€™re pushed. You allow yourself to be really, really pushed and challenged and stretched, which is all those things actors want to have. So, yeah, your understanding evolves the more you read because, obviously, by the end of episode 10, Lester was capable of things that you never would have suspected in episode one. So, you have to just be on the ball and be ready to move at a momentâ€™s notice.”
Do you think Lester would’ve remained timid if he hadn’t met Billy Bob Thornton’s character? Or do you think his descent into the dark side was an inevitable shift?
Martin:Â “I donâ€™t know. I mean, if it had shifted it just would have taken a lot longer. Meeting Lorne Malvo was a hell of a catalyst for him. But he might have ended up picking people off with a gun from the rooftops eventually in 20 years. All of that would have been repressed and kept to his own nervous system, which is what has made him the way he is for his life thus far, the Lester that we first meet, who is almost incapable of showing his true feelings or venting his frustration or his anger. So, I donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s a good question. I think if it would have happened it would have taken a lot longer so, yeah, you have to blame Billy Bob for all that shit.”
Was there anything you added to your character that wasn’t originally scripted? Billy Bob talked about the haircut.
Martin:Â “I suppose, yeah, because I think there always is and I donâ€™t even know what is specific, what I could answer to that. But my job. I feel, is to take a good script and somehow make it better. Thatâ€™s every departmentâ€™s job. Itâ€™s the camera department and the design department, to make this script, which is hopefully very good, to make it even better. So an actorâ€™s job is to put flesh on the bones of the character because even though itâ€™s fantastically written you donâ€™t just see the script up on-screen. That would be quite boring if you just read the script. You have to flesh it out and just the physicality, the placement of the voice, yeah, I mean all of that stuff can only be done by an actor. So, yes, the answer is, I hope, I would have brought a lot to it, but specifics, I donâ€™t really know. But I mean, everything that you see on-screen, some of thatâ€™s Noah and some of itâ€™s me.”
A question about Noah’s scripts. Billy Bob said he didn’t find that he needed to change anything because they were so good. Did you feel the same way?
Martin:Â “I did, really, yeah, I did. Thereâ€™s the usual things; I would always amend what I think needs amending in the moment really, but I never really got a script and thought, ‘No, this is going to have to change.’ When he would send me the script, my note was always basically I loved it. That was it, really, and I canâ€™t wait to read the next one. His writing is really good. Itâ€™s really spare and quite beautiful, quite poetic in places. So, no, I agree with Billy. There was no need to improve it, thatâ€™s for sure. It wasnâ€™t something you could be really loose with. But sometimes things just donâ€™t fit in your mouth right and any writer worth their salt will listen to an actor if theyâ€™re saying, ‘Listen, can I just move that around.’ I think thatâ€™s part of a writerâ€™s gig and writers who are reasonably successful have learned to not be too precious about every syllable. But having said that, his syllables are pretty good and, yeah, they need very little embellishment from an actor.”
Did you do anything specific, like research about Minnesota or Minnesotans, to prepare for this role?
Martin: “Not specifically, no. Ideally, what I would have wanted to do was spend some time there pre-filming because what I wanted to do was not- definitely not do a caricature and definitely not do something that was just comic or a way of going, ‘Oh, arenâ€™t these people funny,’ kind of thing. In an ideal world I would have spent a couple of weeks hanging out in bars or just speaking to people. The ideal world doesnâ€™t exist and I wasnâ€™t able to do that. But I worked very hard on the accent because, as I said, I didnâ€™t want it to be like a comedy sketch. I wasnâ€™t playing an accent. I was playing a character who happened to speak like that and to be from that place. So, not specific research. I listened to a lot of Minnesotans, put it that way. I listened to a lot of actual Minnesotans in an audio sense, I mean a visual sense. Thatâ€™s why I didnâ€™t really go back and watch the filmÂ 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. Any more than I would expect an actor who wants to play a Minnesotan should study me. They shouldnâ€™t study me, they should study a Minnesotan. So, that was the extent of my homework on that. Rather than thinking what is it that makes Minnesotans different or specific or whatever, I think Lester is pretty universal. There are Lesters everywhere in every race and walk of life and country. There are people who are sort of downtrodden and people who are underconfident and all that, so that was more a case of tapping into that in myself really.”
FargoÂ is very macabre, but it was has moments of dark comedy. Do you think it was important to have a background in comedy for those awkward but funny moments?
Martin:Â “Yes, probably. It certainly doesnâ€™t hurt and even when Iâ€™m not doing comedic roles I guess comedy will somehow find its way in there just because thatâ€™s part of who I am and I think itâ€™s part of who we are. Of all my favorite things in the world, that involve acting anyway, there is both of those things.Â The SopranosÂ sometimes really makes me laugh and thatâ€™s not a comedy. Sometimes Iâ€™m almost crying at the pathos ofÂ Laurel and Hardy, which is not a drama. So, I believe in both of those things being there and I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a big deal by both things being there. So, when Lester has moments of comedy as there are in the show, yes, I think, without blowing my own trumpet, I think I can do it. I think Iâ€™m not bad at it, so, yeah, all of that doesnâ€™t hurt. It all helps stir the pot somehow, yeah.”
In the first few episodes, I noticed you make Lester seem very small, like he physically shrinks. Can you talk about that?
Martin:Â “Iâ€™d love to. It would make me sound impressive if I could talk about it. Itâ€™s not particularly a conscious thing. I know the way I want him to feel and I know the way I feel when Iâ€™m playing him. Like a couple of people said that to me, itâ€™s like, ‘How do you physically shrink?’ I wasnâ€™t aware of doing that. You always give someone a walk, you always develop a walk and a gait and then just a way that you carry yourself. So, I was aware of that. You know, his shoulders were slightly rounded, and he doesnâ€™t move his arms and swagger around much when he walks. Heâ€™s very, very contained and unconsciously, he doesnâ€™t want to be noticed by the world. But beyond that, I just knew the way that I felt. I knew the way I felt when I embodied him and when I was speaking those lines and reacting to people. Iâ€™m a big believer in my job just being reacting, do you know what I mean? The way that the world treats Lester, it gives you a big clue of how to play him. So, I wasnâ€™t compartmentalizing and, ‘Now Iâ€™m going to this and now Iâ€™m going to do that.’ It felt like just a holistic thing of as soon as you are Lester, you just kind of react in that way.Â It takes you over, really, rather than you making impositions on it. So, yes, I wish I could speak better about that, but I canâ€™t.”
Martin:Â “Well,Â SherlockÂ is not timid. John Watson is not timid.”
Martin:Â “I think that reaction to my work a lot of time is Pavlovian and not actually based on- I mean, Iâ€™ve played a few of those, but I think people a lot of the time see that itâ€™s me playing it and thatâ€™s the connection they make. Do you know what I mean? Because Iâ€™m not playing a Frenchman with a hump, whereas actually Tim fromÂ The OfficeÂ ainâ€™t the same asÂ Sherlock,Â which ainâ€™t the same Bilbo Baggins. But, carry on, please. Iâ€™m not offended.”
Lester is like that on the surface, but then he definitely taps into a darker side. What was it like for you to explore that, especially as the series goes on?
Martin:Â “That was great. That was a big attraction of doing it, that was one of the major attractions of playing this role. I like, as much as I can, to play everything and by that I just mean 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. Iâ€™ve always liked to do that, not to just play the one thing. I like to play, try and reflect the complexities of how we are in real life, which is weâ€™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. Yes, while I disagreed with you, youâ€™re right. People certainly donâ€™t associate me with being a murderous killer.”
When they see you as the actor playing him they may not jump to that immediately.
Martin:Â “Well, yes, exactly. Of course, you want to do different things and you want to challenge peopleâ€™s perceptions of you. You want to challenge your own work and your own perceptions of what it is you do, because itâ€™s very easy to- sometimes you believe your own reviews and you go, ‘Oh, maybe I am an everyman.’ I think, actually, no, thatâ€™s bullshit. I know Iâ€™m not. So, itâ€™s nice to give yourself and [the] audience a reminder of just a different flavor. I loved doing that with Lester.”
Martin:Â “Maybe it means that we are- well, it might mean weâ€™re getting smarter. Weâ€™re demanding more of our characters and of our dramas. It might mean that we are less sure of ourselves, I suppose. So we want to see that reflected in the people we follow on TV. For me, I mean I donâ€™t know where it started, but this modern trend I think you can put a lot of that down to Tony Soprano, the sort of very, very flawed hero, anti-hero, confounding your expectations of what you think that character is going to be, capable of doing terrible things while also being very attractive and funny and likable. But, again, those things go back to Greek theater. That in itself is not a new thing. But youâ€™re absolutely right, itâ€™s becoming more common on American television. And there is some extremely good American television where that happens more these days. Maybe it just means weâ€™re getting a bit more sophisticated and demanding a bit more than black and white characters, which Iâ€™m all for I must say.”
Can you talk about working with Billy Bob. Did you work with Colin Hanks as well?
Martin:Â “I didnâ€™t work with Colin, unfortunately. I really like him as a man, Iâ€™m very fond of him. Iâ€™ve gotten to know him a little bit and heâ€™s a straight up lovely bloke. Yeah, I just really like him; I did immediately. Heâ€™s ever so good in the program as well. I like his work a lot. I did work with Billy, not as much as I would have wanted because the first thing I shot with him was the scene in the emergency room. It was just a pleasure from the get-go. From the moment- we had a line run and then rehearsed it. You see for the scene thereâ€™s not a lot of blocking, thereâ€™s not a lot of choreography to do, but just sitting there doing it with a fantastic actor – and who Iâ€™ve long admired – was an absolute joy. Heâ€™s a real, real pleasure as a man as well. I like spending the limited amount of time Iâ€™ve spent with him. I think Iâ€™m right in saying both of us wanted to do more of it together because it just instantly clicked. It was very, very easy. We had a good chemistry together, I think. It certainly felt that way anyway. So, yeah, Iâ€™m a big fan of his. Iâ€™m a bigger fan of his than I was before, having met him. I think heâ€™s great.”
Can you talk about some of your favorite scenes or moments from the series?
Martin:Â “Yes, I will, trying not to give too much away. One of my favorite bits of playing this role, I would have to give a little bit away, that comes later on in the series where Lester undergoes- part of his transformation means that there was something about that that was a lot of fun to play, becoming different aspects of Lester. I liked that very much. I like playing different aspects of people that surprise the audience and surprise you when youâ€™re playing. This role afforded that greatly. I love working with Billy Bob, to be quite frank. I love it, I love it. And the limited scenes I had with him were joyful. I mean, itâ€™s more memories of the people Iâ€™m working with. I love working with Allison [Tolman] and Bob Odenkirk. They were just a joy, yeah, I love it, people that youâ€™re already a fan of is nice in the case of Bob, and people you donâ€™t know, but become a fan of in the case of Allison, Iâ€™m just so pleased for her. Iâ€™m really made up for her. Sheâ€™s so good in this series and itâ€™s going to completely bamboozle everybody in why they have never heard of her before. Thatâ€™s been a real pleasure to watch that sort of flowering and her growth in the series. Iâ€™ve loved that.”
After playing Lester is there anything you learned about yourself as an actor since you’ve never played a darker character like this before?
Martin:Â “I donâ€™t know yet. A lot of the time you play parts or the things that you learn, you donâ€™t quite know what they are until years later maybe. They sort of filter back into your work years later. I remember at drama school people saying, ‘Phis is not necessarily going to make sense to you now, but in five years the pin might drop,’ or whatever. And that was true. Iâ€™m not quite sure what Iâ€™ll take away from this Lester year. At the moment, because I only finished a week ago, all I know is that I really enjoyed it. I loved the job and I have hopes that people will like it. But I donâ€™t know. It all kind of feeds in in a pretty under the radar way because things arenâ€™t planned in that way or specific in that way about, well, Iâ€™ll do this and then Iâ€™ll learn that. Iâ€™m just going to have to let it live with me for a bit. Iâ€™ve been living with it for about five months and so Iâ€™ll decompress now for a bit and then Iâ€™ll probably get some perspective on it in a year and go, oh, I thought I was good in that and I wasnâ€™t very good in that bit and I like that bit and I didnâ€™t like that. So, it will inform me in some way, in ways I that I donâ€™t quite know yet, if you know what I mean.”
How much fun did you have playing this role?
Martin:Â “I had a lot of fun. I loved this job, I loved all of it I have to say. It was tough and it was hard work, like anything is hard work if you want to be good at something, if you want to do it well itâ€™s all hard work. But very, very enjoyable as a result of working hard. Itâ€™s all play. My job is to play things. My job isnâ€™t to fight things or war things, itâ€™s to play things, which is a pretty cool job. Lester was a lovely person to play, I mean, not always lovely, but a lovely challenge to play and the cast and crew and the city of Calgary, it was just a real pleasure. I donâ€™t relish the thought of going away from home for months. I never relish that, so in order for me to say I really, really loved this job thatâ€™s quite something because it kept me away from home for a long time, but I wouldnâ€™t have been without it. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I had a lot of fun, laughed a lot with some very, very funny people and got to do one of the best scripts Iâ€™ve done.Â So, yeah, Iâ€™m happy.”
Even though this is a different cast of characters, people are comparing Lester to William H. Macy’s character in the film. Did that put any pressure on you?
Martin:Â “The reason I didnâ€™t go back and watchÂ FargoÂ was because I didnâ€™t really want that in my head, either way. I didnâ€™t want it [in] my head to copy or to consciously differ from. Because as soon as you try and differ yourself from someone, youâ€™re becoming too conscious of that performance anyway. So, no, I didnâ€™t feel pressure in that way. Youâ€™re quite right, heâ€™s a brilliant actor and the world doesnâ€™t need another actor doing a Bill Macy impression. I donâ€™t need to be doing that and he doesnâ€™t need it and all of that. So, I purely treated it as my performance of a different character, albeit with some comparison. There are some parallels, but I was too busy concentrating on what I was doing with Lester really. At the risk of protesting too much, I know Iâ€™m not playing that. Itâ€™s not a case of literally playing that part and how am I going to make it different from Macyâ€™s performance. I didnâ€™t re-watch the film because I didnâ€™t really want that comparison in my head, although I understand it.”
What do you think it is about Fargo that sets it apart from other prestige dramas that are on television right now?
Martin:Â “I donâ€™t know. I havenâ€™t been seeing all of them. I think there is some really, really good TV on. I donâ€™t know, I think thereâ€™s room for all of us. Iâ€™ll probably be fired for not giving you a quote now that says this is the best thing ever made. I think if people like well-written, well-directed, hopefully, well-acted drama, then they will likeÂ Fargo.Â I donâ€™t really know what makes it unique. There arenâ€™t many things set in Minnesota. Maybe itâ€™s that. There are not many things that use a classic modern movie as a jumping off point and maybe itâ€™s that. I guess people who loved the filmÂ FargoÂ may love us or they may hate us. I think itâ€™ll split people one way or the other. But I do hope, and I believe that if people come to it with an open mind, within ten minutes youâ€™re no longer thinking about the 1996 film. I think you are- my experience of how people have reacted, theyâ€™re pretty engrossed in the world that weâ€™ve created. So, I donâ€™t know what makes it unique, but I do know what makes it good and that starts, as all good things do, with a script and itâ€™s beautifully shot. If I say so myself, not including myself, but itâ€™s fantastically cast. I think the cast across the board is phenomenal. So, yeah, I donâ€™t know whether thatâ€™s unique, but I do know itâ€™s good.”
You’re no stranger to shorter TV series formats like Sherlock. What did you enjoy most about having this being a limited series?
Martin:Â “Well, my general outlook on life is that things should be finite and things are finite. You know, we all die. Everything ends. So for me the idea of things going on and on and on, I donâ€™t always find very attractive. But, if itâ€™s a show that I love and it keeps going on and it retains its quality then Iâ€™m delighted to be a viewer of it. But Iâ€™ve never done things that have gone on and on. Again, like you say,Â SherlockÂ is a finite job. We spend a limited time of the year doing that. Itâ€™s not even every year.Â The OfficeÂ was 14 episodes totally by design because precisely of what Iâ€™m talking about, the attitude of retaining quality and leaving people wanting more rather than leaving people wanting less. This 10 episodes was a clincher for me. When my agent sent it to me it was with the understanding that she said, ‘You donâ€™t go out for American TV because you donâ€™t want to sign on for something for six or seven years, but this is 10 episodes. See what you think.’ So, that was a big attraction. Then I read it, of course, and thought, ‘Well, man, this is going to take up four or five months of my life rather than seven years and Iâ€™m in.’ I like moving on, I like going on to the next thing. I like having something else to look forward to as well. I do have a low boiling pressure. I just want to do other things. I want to do other stuff. I think thatâ€™s basically why it is and I want to, hopefully, leave something behind that people go, ‘Oh, that was great,; as opposed to, ‘Oh, why did they carry on with this?’ It was good for the first three seasons and then it all went wrong. Iâ€™m well aware that some things donâ€™t go wrong after three seasons. Some of my favorite things are fantastic for a long time. But, yeah, for me personally, I like the hit and run approach. I love doing this for a bit and then doing something else for a bit and then doing something else for a bit. Thatâ€™s the way Iâ€™m hardwired I think.”
This is your first American TV series. Are there any differences in pacing or how things are approached from what you’re used to? What was the biggest culture shock coming to Calgary from the U.K.?
Martin:Â “Well, one of the surprising things was the pace. I wasnâ€™t used to working that fast. Itâ€™s very, very fast. When I found out how long it takes to make an episode ofÂ Breaking BadÂ I couldnâ€™t believe it. I really couldnâ€™t believe it because I thought, ‘It only takes that long? For something of such quality it must take longer than that.’ We were working at a very fast pace as well. I wasnâ€™t used to that, so you have to adjust to that, which was a really good discipline thing for me because youâ€™re aware that if youâ€™ve got something to bring, youâ€™d better bring it now because donâ€™t bring it in two hours because we wonâ€™t be doing that scene in two hours maybe. So, that was great for me. I loved the breakneck kind of speed of that, but itâ€™s a challenge to work at that speed and work well at that speed. As far as Calgary versus the U.K., itâ€™s the coldest Iâ€™ve ever been in my life and itâ€™s the whitest Iâ€™ve ever seen. In my part of Britain, you might have snow for maybe a week or just under a week in a year, which then turns to slush and black ice very quickly. There never was no snow on the ground in Calgary from late October to April. Iâ€™ve never known that. The culture shock was being prepared to be cold all the time that you were out. Even on a mild day for Calgary in London would be considered a properly cold day. Anything in the minuses, in England weâ€™d be going, ‘Oh, thatâ€™s a chilly one today,’ whereas I still saw local cowgirl hipsters in espadrilles and no socks, minus 10 sort of thing. So, that was the main culture shock with that.”
As a Minnesotan, I really enjoyed your performance.
Martin:Â “Thank you very much. I really did take it, I donâ€™t mean seriously likeÂ War and Peace, but I didnâ€™t want to make a gag of it and I didnâ€™t want to laugh at it and I wanted to get it right. I wanted to honor it in a way and not do a sketch version. Because since the film, which, again, the film was superb, but that kind of entered American peopleâ€™s and worldwide peopleâ€™s idea of what that accent is. Itâ€™s very easy to just get into, ‘Oh, yah.’ Itâ€™s very easy to do that. There is truth in that. Most Minnesotans will admit that stereotypes get to be stereotypes for a reason. There is a kernel of truth in there. But thatâ€™s not the entire thing and itâ€™s not enough just to go,’Oh yah,’ every two minutes. So, if I got away with it, Iâ€™m more than happy.”
Over the last few years you’ve done projects where you had to create something fresh or new from a known quantity.Â FargoÂ is inspired by the movie,Â SherlockÂ is modernized. Can you comment on that and is that something that attracts you to these type of roles?
Martin:Â “I have to say no, itâ€™s not. And, yes, I have done a lot of adaptations of stuff that is already literature.Â The Hitchhikerâ€™s Guide to the Galaxy, which is a series of beloved books on television and radio and withÂ SherlockÂ andÂ The HobbitÂ and now this, itâ€™s not a plan I can assure you. I never wake up and think, ‘What next can I be part of, an adaptation of?’ Itâ€™s just purely, and I hope it doesnâ€™t get boring to hear it because I kind of almost bore myself saying it, itâ€™s just the writing. If something is well written, Iâ€™m interested. If something is not to my taste, then Iâ€™m not. Yeah, itâ€™s just an accident really the fact that I seem to have been cast in a few of those things that youâ€™re talking about. But thatâ€™s not a plan. Itâ€™s not a particular attraction. It could be based on everything or nothing. I love doing completely new stuff. I love doing completely new theater, for instance, he said as heâ€™s about to playÂ Richard III. Iâ€™ve spent a long time doing brand new plays and thatâ€™s something that I dearly love. So, it is just really what floats my boat at the time and it always comes down to the script and your initial interest is always in that.”
What else do you have coming up in the next 18 months?
Martin:Â “I only know that far ahead. I only knowÂ Richard IIIÂ is going to take me up to the end of September and thatâ€™s all I know.”
Martin:Â “Why not? Itâ€™s a pretty good script. He was good with words and, yeah, Iâ€™ve never done Shakespeare professionally. Iâ€™ve, obviously, spent a long time at drama school and theater doing it and studying it and liking it. But Iâ€™ve never done this play in any capacity and Iâ€™ve never done Shakespeare since Iâ€™ve left drama school, which I find amazing actually. I canâ€™t believe that, but itâ€™s true. So, yeah, when it was offered to me, Jamie Lloyd, the director is a very good young director in England, thought of me for it and I thought, ‘Well, I almost want to reward him just for thinking of me.’ Again, itâ€™s a slightly obvious choice I think, casting-wise, and Iâ€™m always up for, as I said earlier, confounding other peopleâ€™s and my own perceptions of what it is that I do. So, I enjoy that very much. Despite that, I donâ€™t know what comes after that.”
Isn’tÂ The HobbitÂ film in there?
Martin:Â “Oh, yeah, thatâ€™s true. Thanks for reminding me.”
You’ve done both film and television. As an actor, do you have a preference? Is there a difference creatively?
Martin:Â “I donâ€™t really see a big difference ostensibly between film and TV, given that my job is basically the same. My job is to work with the camera and focus your performance for a camera. Now, whether thatâ€™s on a film or TV I think, especially these days, is kind of immaterial. Because as the best television gets more and more what we would call filmic and a lot of the best writing, I think, has been pretty much acknowledged for 10 years has been on television, I think thereâ€™s much less of a differentiation now than there was maybe 20, 30 years ago. So I donâ€™t have a preference. I mean, it sounds trite to say, but my only preference is good work. I mean I always want to do good work. I strive to do scripts that I believe in and scripts that I think are either funny or moving or tragic or all of them. So, no, for me thereâ€™s not really much of a difference. Itâ€™s about- I mean thereâ€™s a difference in tone of different things. I treatÂ SherlockÂ andÂ FargoÂ exactly as I would…”
Martin:Â “Yeah, absolutely. But also, if Iâ€™m doing a radio play I treat that the same asÂ The Hobbit, just because there isnâ€™t a pecking order in my mind, do you know what I mean? If you want to be doing the job then you want to be doing it and youâ€™ve got to give the best you can. Within that, then itâ€™s just a question of budgets and sometimes thereâ€™s posher food on some things than others, posher trailers, but the actual work in front of the camera, no. I donâ€™t really see much of a difference and I donâ€™t really have a preference. Itâ€™s just I want to be saying good words and playing good actions.”
What gets you excited about acting and what is it you look for to keep challenging yourself?
Martin:Â “Sometimes itâ€™s hard to say. Itâ€™s like being in love or loving people. If you say, ‘But what do I love about that person?’Â Sometimes youâ€™ve actually got to sit down and think, hang on, do I love them or is this habit or whatever, you know? So, youâ€™ve got to think for a minute about whether you do still love something. I do that with acting. I do think, sometimes itâ€™s really hard and sometimes thereâ€™s no doubt, you have mornings where you think, ‘Wow, this is boring or Iâ€™m cold and wet again and itâ€™s quite miserable.’ You do definitely have those days, however good your job is and, believe me, Iâ€™ve got a good job. You do have moments where you do question it. But essentially I do love it. Nothing else gives me the feeling that I get when Iâ€™m working on something good, working on something that makes me happy and, most importantly, with other actors who make me happy. For me, itâ€™s when Iâ€™m working with other people that it brings out the best in me and thatâ€™s what really engages me. The life itself, the job side of it, Iâ€™m attracted to because of the turnover. Because, well, again, if you are lucky – and Iâ€™m very lucky – enough to work on a lot of different things you go from job to job and meeting a whole lot of new people. You work with different authorâ€™s voices, many of whom are very clever people and very interesting people. So, you get to invest in a different universe every three or six months. Thatâ€™s a lovely job. Itâ€™s a lovely way to earn your living. So, itâ€™s that really. And also what else am I going to do? There isnâ€™t a job where people pay you to go shopping for shoes. There isnâ€™t a job where people pay you just to sit around playing records, so until there are those things acting will do just fine for me.”
Considering the kind of career you’ve had what’s the best advice you could give a young actor or actress starting out in the business?
Martin:Â “I donâ€™t think you could advise that. The mistake is playing the result and not the game. I donâ€™t think you can think too far ahead in terms of a glowing, glittering career or anything. You just have to be in it for the reasons of loving it because youâ€™re going to have to be prepared to never pay the rent and possibly not work for a year, which by anyoneâ€™s standards is hard going on the wallet and on the psyche. So, if you donâ€™t love it, youâ€™d better not do it. Thatâ€™s the only thing I could really advise. Read, be interested, be interesting, take an interest in history, politics, people, yourself and learn your lines.”
Edited for space and content.
Fargo premieres Tuesday, April 15th at 10/9c on FX.
The first 7 minutes of Fargo:
All photos courtesy ofÂ FX/Matthias Clamer andÂ Chris Large/FX.
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