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Fargo Preview: “Buridan’s Ass” [VIDEO + INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: Chris Large/FX
Photo Credit: Chris Large/FX

Lester’s infected hand finally sent him to the hospital. Gus and Molly discovered Lorne Malvo’s identity (or at least the name he left in the book at the motel in Bemidji), but still had to release him from police custody. The Fargo thugs seem satisfied – at least for now – that Lester wasn’t responsible for Sam Hess’s death. But the most concerning and alarming development is that Malvo now knows where Gus lives. This is very bad.

TV Goodness recently participated in press calls with Gus Grimly’s Colin Hanks, Stavros Milos’ Oliver Platt and Don Chumph’s Glenn Howerton. We learned how these actors become involved with the project, how they approached playing their characters and their favorite scenes in the series so far.

On playing Gus

Colin Hanks: “Well, at times it could be pretty frustrating. You try not to judge your characters too much, but there were definitely some moments where I was frustrated. I was frustrated at Gus’ inability to do certain things so, that was really something that I leaned on and drew from. The thing I enjoyed most about Gus was the fact that there was an awareness to him. Oftentimes you see these characters and they know that they’re not good – they’re just instantly beat down – but this is something that slowly eats at Gus. He makes this decision to let Malvo go and although technically he does the right thing, it’s the wrong thing. It’s not something he should have done. It obviously leads to very bad things. I like the fact that here was a character that made this mistake and spends his time – even though he doesn’t necessarily want to – atoning for it and trying to fix it, and he fesses up, to a degree, to what he did and actively tries to right the wrong. That really appealed to me. That was the initial kernel when I read the pilot, and then, as the show progressed, I kept trying to come back to that regardless of my frustrations of Gus not being able to get his act together, so to speak.”

On Gus’ decision to let Malvo go after their first encounter

Colin: “You can even argue that Gus didn’t even make a decision. You can argue that Gus just was so scared and had so many things running through his brain at that time that that caused a paralysis in him in which he didn’t even let him go. He tries to make a move but he ends up not making a decision and Malvo just leaves. You’re lucky if you get a scene like that as an actor. You’re lucky if you get one scene like that and I remember some people are like, ‘God, that must be a bummer. You’re only in one scene in the pilot.’ And I’m like, ‘Look, if you’re only going to be in one scene in the pilot, that’s the scene you want to be in because there’s so much going on within that moment between those two characters, within that moment just within Gus.’ I think that scene- everything is at work there. You see Malvo and the way that he plays people and the way he manipulates people with fear, with intimidation. You see Gus completely out of his element, not sure what to do and his indecision is in a way his decision, but that eats at him and it will eat with him for the rest of his life. That is a decision that he will have to live with forever, and so that kind of complexity within a scene, within characters, as an actor, you salivate for that stuff.”

On Stavros’ back story

Oliver Platt: “[Noah Hawley and I] developed this idea that he had come from Chicago with his family and that he was just on hard times – a devout man on hard times who is given this gift if you will. That was pretty much it. The material, itself, is pretty alive.”

On what attracted Oliver to the role

Oliver: “Just such a muscular arc, you know? One of the first things you’re looking at is, where does the guy start and where does he end and how do they get him there? That’s what we yearn for as actors, is that distance to travel and Noah laid that out in spades. It was a story that took this guy and took everything that he believed in and turned it on its head, and he didn’t know who it was, who was doing it to him and that’s the brilliance of the scheme, is the ninja mind tricks.”

On what attracted Glenn to playing Don

Glenn Howerton: “I knew that the Coen brothers were involved.  I’ve been a big fan of FX dramas for a while and I’ve been a part of the family for many, many years. The president of FX, John Landgraf, called me. He knows that my background is not really in comedy and a lot of my background is actually in more dramatic stuff, which is weird.  So, he threw it out there, ‘Would you ever want to be on one of our dramas?’ I said absolutely. So, this came along and even though it’s kind of a comedic role, he felt like it was something that I hadn’t really done comedic-ly before, and it was part of a drama. He explained the concept to me, who the character was, what the tone of the show was. I’m a big fan of the movie and without ever even seeing a script, I said yes just because of all the people that were involved.”

On the biggest challenge of playing Don

Glenn: “I think the biggest challenge really is sort of getting into the mindset of someone who is, as one of the other people put it, not the sharpest tool in the shed just because I tend to get cast more often as the smart guy, some characters who might not be the sharpest tool in the shed but they think they are.  So, I was not in my comfort zone playing the dumb guy, the non-straight man character in the scene. That was a little bit of a challenge for me, but it was also what made it so fun and then also, of course, feeling free and loose in a scene. Some of the tools are not meant to be sharp. You have a lot of blunt instruments in the tool shed. I know I’m one of those guys that I have to just kind of feel it. Otherwise, it becomes a very intellectual exercise if I start thinking about it too much. It’s more, for me, getting into a very open-minded mindset where I felt like this was the kind of guy who is very easily influenced, especially by someone with such a presence as Lorne Malvo has. Obviously, there’s the threat of violence behind it all, but I think this guy is not so much afraid of any kind of violence against him as he is just sort of getting caught. I don’t know. It’s just sort of getting a feeling of being innocent again. It is a very different character than the character I play on [It’s Always] Sunny [in Philadelphia], who thinks he knows everything. This guy thinks he doesn’t really know as much as he needs to know. I guess it’s just bringing a real openness to the role, more listening than demanding or saying.”

On how Stavros evolved into the man he is when he meets Malvo

Oliver: “Well, he built this extraordinary supermarket empire and he’s been very, very focused on the externals. He’s all about how everything’s looking. Obviously he doesn’t really feel he deserves it, which is probably why he’s so focused on the theatricality of it all. I think that that’s where we are when Malvo shows up.”

On working with Allison Tolman and Gus’ first interaction with Molly

Colin: “I had gotten to know her while we were shooting the first two episodes, but we hadn’t had a scene together. So, I had spent a lot of time with her, really enjoyed her company, but hadn’t worked with her, so to be able to finally get that scene with her was great because I was so impressed by her skill to be quite honest. She was so comfortable and relaxed and also so good in the role that that scene was almost sort of a relief not only for Gus and his character and his journey but also for me because she’s fabulous. This is going to be a lot of fun being able to do more scenes with her, I hope we have more scenes together. It was the beginning of a very strong friendship between me and Allison whom I love dearly. She’s great, and in regards to Gus and Molly, this is the beginning of a journey of them together trying to solve this case and they’ll probably be spending a lot of time together.”

Photo Credit: Chris Large/FX
Photo Credit: Chris Large/FX

On Don and Malvo’s dynamic and working with Billy Bob Thornton

Glenn: “Billy is great. I’m always a little bit concerned anytime I get into a scene with somebody who I have as much respect for as an actor as I do with Billy just because they say never meet your idols. But he could not be a nicer, easier to work with person. He is just terrific.  He’s extremely open to suggestion, he’s very, very easy to work with, very professional, came to the set knowing all of his lines. I’m a big fan of people who I feel like when I’m talking to them in a scene, they’re actually listening to what I’m saying.  So, even if I did flub a line, he was listening to me and he’d pick up on it.  So, it was a lot of fun. It kind of became like a really weird sort of Abbot and Costello kind of relationship where I end up becoming his lackey. It was a lot of fun. I’m not accustomed usually to playing, for lack of a better word, the dumb one in the comedic relationship. I’m usually the straight man. So, it was a lot of fun not playing the straight man.”

On working with Greta’s Joey King

Colin: “Well, Joey King is a force to be reckoned with. Within the first day of filming, I turned to Noah and some of the other producers and said, ‘Wow, okay, she’s really good,’ and she’s still young. But she’s been doing this for a long time so in a lot of ways she’s probably more professional than I am. For me, this was a great experience. It was the first time that I’m playing a father. I am a father in real life. I have two kids. So, it was nice to be able to act like I have an older child as opposed to a three-year old and a ten month old so we can pretend to have conversations. Joey is so good and so easy. Gus is the father but they really do learn from each other and she really does guide Gus quite a bit in regards to how he deals with this circumstance that he’s found himself in even though she doesn’t really know any of it. I really enjoyed the beauty of that and the simplicity of that and look, that’s not too different from any parent/child relationship. You learn stuff from your kids every day. So, that was a really fun world to play in and I think it brings a lot to Gus’ character and it really focuses him and really drives a lot of the action that Gus ends up taking throughout the course of the show. So, those were gems. Those scenes were treats to do.”

On how being a father in real life influenced his performance

Colin: “Well, it’s all there in that first scene. The reason why he really lets Malvo go is because of his daughter, and not even necessarily because Malvo threatens his daughter, but if something bad happens to Gus, what then happens to his daughter? Once you have kids, it sort of makes you reevaluate things and all of a sudden you’re important but only to a certain degree. In that scene, he decides to make this decision to let Malvo go because he needs to be there for his daughter because their mother is not there. Gus is all Greta has so that right there tells you a lot about Gus and tells you a lot about the way that he looks at things. Then in the subsequent episode, he pretty much says, ‘I have two jobs.’ Gus has two jobs, and his first job is being a father. His second job is being a policeman and really what that is, is getting the dogs when the dog catcher isn’t there and doing the menial cop tasks. Those two scenes together, I just went, ‘Oh, I totally understand that. I get that,’ and I felt that that told me everything I needed to know about Gus and the way that he looks at things. In comparison to the way Lester looks at things, in comparison to the way Malvo looks at things, I understood where Gus’ mindset is within this universe. Do you know what I mean?”

On working with great actors

Colin: “We were all so blown away by how well the show was written. It was all—pretty much the first thing out of everybody’s mouths w[as], ‘Hey, can you believe how lucky we are that we get to say this dialog, that we get to be involved with this?’, and that’s everybody. Billy Bob and I talked about that the first time I saw him up there in Calgary. I said the same thing with Martin [Freeman] and pretty much said that with everybody and I remember saying that to Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key about that. Just like, ‘Hey man, I’m so glad that we all get to do this because this is a really rare thing to be able to be in something this good on the page.’ When the material is that good it makes your job a little bit easier. When the person you’re acting with is good like Billy Bob or Martin or Bob Odenkirk or Allison Tolman, that makes your job a little easier as well. Not to say that it’s a cake walk, because it’s still a challenge and you still work hard and it still can be frustrating. It’s not, How do we make this good? It’s how do we make this the best that it can possibly be? When they say action and you’re working, that’s the best part of the day. That’s the part that we all want to do. That’s the part that they don’t pay us for. They pay us to wait around. They pay us to go on location. They pay us to do all that stuff , the acting stuff we all love to do. When you’re surrounded by as many talented people as you can be – and I think everybody on the show is incredibly talented from Billy Bob all the way down to the two boys playing the Hess kids, literally everybody. It’s all fun, and it’s been a treat. It was a treat to make it and it’s been an absolute treat to watch it and see what everybody does.”

Photo Credit: Chris Large/FX
Photo Credit: Chris Large/FX

On how to approach playing an unlikable character

Oliver: “The first key is that you don’t look at the person that way. You look at the person, you say, ‘How does he think he’s helping? How does he think he’s making the world better?’ You catch an actor judging the character that they’re playing and it’s not terribly interesting. Much more importantly, I think that Noah appreciates those aspects of Stavros, too. He has that perspective and it’s something that we talked about.”

On the challenge of playing a character who is usually in control

Oliver: “[That’s] the fun of it. Not knowing why his head has been so successfully messed with, so artfully screwed with and it’s just a delicious sort of menu of obstacles for an actor to – is it God, is it my ex – who could possibly be doing, or orchestrating these things. On top of that, his medication has been messed with so that the way he’s perceiving it is- orchestration actually isn’t a bad word to describe the whammy that [Lorne Malvo] put on me.”

On developing his character with Noah Hawley

Colin: “I had a conversation with Noah very early on before we started filming, a few months before we started filming, just about what the show was going to be like – not plot points or anything like that – but just the idea that this is going to be a miniseries with a beginning, middle and an end and here’s what we’re going to do. Gus is a very well-meaning guy that’s out of his elements and is not necessarily a cop to be a cop and save lives but to be a cop as a form of community service. That was really all that I had to go on until I would read the scripts. Then I would really just go off of whatever Noah had written and oftentimes you find out stuff down the line about why Gus is the way Gus is or you get these kernels of his back story later on. I have no problem with that. After my experience on Dexter in which I spent pretty much an entire season thinking my character was talking to a real human being to only find out that it was a figment of his imagination, I now realize all I need to know is what the scenes are and what is talked about in the scenes and everything else sort of magically comes together within the magic of television or movies. So for me, I would just try and play the beats and play emotions and things like that and connect that way. I didn’t necessarily know a lot about his back story or his history but I just knew enough and knew what his goal was righting the wrong of letting Malvo go. That was really all I needed and then everything else I found was pretty much on the page.”

On how Gus isn’t set up as the typical hero of a story

Colin: “I think it’s an interesting point. Obviously with Gus, you definitely don’t think, ‘Oh, well here’s a hero.’ He doesn’t necessarily hold himself in a heroic stance. He doesn’t necessarily speak in heroic tones or anything like that, but in approaching this in as realistic a manner as we can – and that was a goal for all of us with the show. Real heroes are not necessarily six-pack abs and huge biceps that come and save the day. They’re people that maybe don’t want to be heroes. The thing that they’re doing, they don’t want to be doing, but they have to do it because they’re compelled to do it. Oftentimes, I find that the people you really call heroes, they’re just doing their job. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do because they have a sense of duty, but it’s not this super cue the music telling the audience how to feel – here’s our hero moment. They call them hero moments for Christ’s sake. But for Gus, I feel like he doesn’t want to be doing what he’s doing. He’s doing what he’s doing out of a sense of responsibility because it’s the right thing to do because he’s trying to set an example for his daughter and I think it’s fair for you to say that that’s heroic. I don’t know if it’s fair to me to say it, but I think Gus is a good guy trying to do the right thing and clearly, in that scene, sometimes doing the right thing is technically the wrong thing to do, and so, he tries to right that.”

On his favorite scenes

Colin: “Well, there were a couple of scenes. The scene with Gus and Molly was one that I was very excited about and also the scene with Gus and the lieutenant if only for the creation of the word dipshittery, but also the way he’s stepping up and making that decision to go forward and admit this mistake that he’s made while also covering his tracks a little bit to try and lessen the blow. The scene that actually kind of surprised me was the scene between Gus and Greta at his desk where Gus is wrestling with how to initiate this,’How do I go and tell a cop from another precinct that I’ve made this horrible mistake and let this guy go that could be responsible for some serious, serious, serious crimes?’ To see him wrestle with that and then to hear the simplicity from his daughter, there was a connection there between Gus and Greta that I was not aware that we had done and I was really pleasantly surprised by that scene and impressed that they let that scene linger as much as they did because you got to live with Gus at that moment. I really enjoyed that scene tremendously, watching it.”

On his comedic timing

Colin: “I’ve always been a big fan of comedy and sketch comedy and I like to laugh. I’m a big fan of comedy, but you can’t just be funny. You do have to work at it and you have to try and know what your role is and when you can insert humor or when it’s best not to, but oftentimes I find, especially in regards to Fargo, there was a balance to it. Obviously, it’s not a straightforward slapstick comedy. There are realistic moments, but there’s also levity and humor. As much as snow was a character in Fargo, humor is as well. So, you just try to play the funny moments as real as you can and hope that people get the joke, but it’s not necessarily dealing with punch lines or anything like that. It’s a little bit of a tight rope that you have to walk, but I remember when we were shooting a scene – I think it was in the second episode where Gus has to like fall and get the dog, Noah Hawley looked at me and says, ‘Oh, so you can do like physical humor too.’ I go, ‘Hey man, I’ll do anything as long as it’s right and as long as you like it.’ He goes, ‘No, that was good.’ We only did one take and that was the take that was in the show. I’m a big comedy nerd so I’m always looking at a chance to be funny and, for me, for whatever reasons, I always get this question. There are people that have only seen me in dramatic stuff and they go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you could do comedy,’ and then there are comedy people that go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you could do drama.’ It’s like you want to try and do both, you want to try and do as much as you can.”

On letting the writing affect his performance

Oliver: “That’s usually the way you want to go about it, is to let the writing tell you, inform you, guide your own sense of rhythm and it’s very much in there. In the best case scenario you can’t see the joke. You know what I mean? It’s just arising organically out of what the conflict that’s been created between the people in the scene and the way the guy regards himself and all this stuff. It’s happening on a lot of different levels and you just get on the horse and you ride.”

On how the weather affected his performance

Oliver: “Well, it was funny. It was very, very cold when I was there, but then we also- there was a little bit of the chinook, too but apparently the chinook wasn’t visiting with the frequency that it usually did. There’s a scene that takes place in [this] episode that was pretty intense. We were in, I think, ten degree below weather doing this stuff over and over again. What can I tell you? It helps. It’s like in terms of you’re putting yourself in the position of what the character’s going through with Mother Nature giving you a huge assist. The landscape- it’s a very, very well chosen location in terms of feeding that sense of the expanse and sort of the desolation and maybe the loneliness of those people.”

On what Colin learned about himself by playing this character

Colin: “I think it was much more of a liberating experience. I was talking earlier about the confines of television sometimes, the rules of TV, and sometimes I find that as an actor that can be very constrictive. This character, but more importantly the job as a whole and the writing really allowed for – I like to call it breaths. It allowed for a moment of really being able to sit with a character and see them stew with their decision and see their wheels turning and really become involved in their journey. Most television programs, and I don’t mean to badmouth TV on the whole. I’ve been on a lot of different kind of programs and they’re all great and they all serve a purpose, but as an actor I found this one to be very exhilarating and liberating. There wasn’t this incessant cutting from one angle, so here’s the coverage, here’s the close-up, here’s the two-shot and going back and forth and you sort of almost become dizzy from all of the fast editing, and here’s a show that really lets it lie, really lets you live with these characters and experience the moments that these characters are having. As an actor to not have that be rushed while you’re doing it was great. I’ve always really been a fan of scenes in which you’re able to be as natural as you want. I find that Fargo is really more about observing these characters and what they do as opposed to just watching the story and eventually the characters tell you what’s going to happen or tell you how they’re feeling or there’s that ambiguity there that I really enjoy.”

On whether or not this story would appeal to audiences

Colin: “I wasn’t necessarily even thinking about that. I found it appealing to me and I like to think of myself as the audience, as someone that watches a great deal of some of the fabulous shows that are on TV now. I was engaged and that first episode that I read was so well done. I wasn’t thinking about the movie, I wasn’t thinking about how people would respond to it. I thought it was so engaging and I was so involved with it that that was really it. That was all that I needed. The fact that people have taken to the show the way that they have, [that] they love the show obviously is great and I’m relieved in that regard. You don’t want to spend all this time and energy doing something that then people go,’Eh, not interested.’ So, it is nice to find that the same things that I liked about reading the pilot or reading that first episode, people are enjoying as they watch the show. That’s always good to know. It’s good to know that there are like-minded people out there.”

On what is it about the show that’s made fans love it so quickly

Oliver: “I think it’s a combination of the storytelling and the style. There’s something so compelling about exploring the menace and the loneliness beneath that culture, the people that ostensibly are incredibly polite, button down way of- the way that people relate to each other on a superficial level. I think that there’s a fascination to that and then the fact that if good writing is compelling sequences of events then Noah’s really got that nailed.”

On whether or not there was trepidation about staring in a TV adaptation of a well-known and beloved film

Oliver: “The answer is, absolutely. The stuff that I was shown, the story that I was told, the fact that Joel and Ethan had blessed it was not insignificant. I have to say, I think that Noah’s done a pretty remarkable job of sort of threading that needle of writing in their tone, but he had his own voice and, to me, it’s pretty impressive stuff.”

On deciding to do a TV series

Colin: “Well, I think in this day and age now an acting job is an acting job. I don’t really see any difference between whether it’s a film or a movie in so much as a job is a job. Is it a TV series? Okay, great. How long will it be? Is it a movie? How long will it take? They’re both sort of the same in that regard. The way that I find that they’re very different now is that the quality of television is so great and now you have television series that are not necessarily entrenched in the old television rules. Our show is very different. It’s a ten-episode series. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. So, in that way, it’s almost like a ten-hour film. It takes its time to tell its story, but it also doesn’t follow by the rules. I’m a season regular and I don’t show up until about 40 or 50 minutes into the first episode. So, those sort of rules don’t have to be followed every time. I find that now storytelling is a lot more freeing in that regard and I like that. I like the fact that now you can really spend time with these characters and get to know them and it’s not this paint-by-numbers storytelling or paint-by-numbers acting. You really get to take your time as if it was a film, but you get to take nine more hours as opposed to just one. That’s kind of refreshing, but for me, it’s all about the writing and the characters. I don’t care if it’s a movie or a television series, whatever is best.”

On the evolution of TV

Oliver: “Depending on who you talk to we’re in either the second or third golden age of American television and the advent of the limited miniseries [is] a marvelous thing for actors because you don’t have to sign your life away. It’s also allowing television to do what really only television can do, which is use the format, the serialized format, to tell us a story over a period of time and really get under the character’s skin. Television’s going strong.”

On how TV is different than when he started in the business

Oliver: “Network television was very, very different and, again, it was about having closed episodes. Like I say, the fun part is to take part in a story that’s unfolding. People walk up to you on the street and they grab you by the lapels and they say, what’s going to happen next?”

Edited for space and content.

Fargo airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.


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