When FX CEO Jon Landgraf described the network’s 10-episode miniseries Fargo as “one of the better things we’ve ever put on the network,” he undersold it. It truly is a tremendous series and reminds us yet again that the most compelling characters and storylines these days can be found on the small screen.
Set in 2006, the series preserves the hyper-real version of Minnesota (Bemidji to be exact) that the Coens’ so boldly established in their 1994 film, but with an entirely new array of characters. Insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (an against type Martin Freeman) has long been at the end of his rope, enduring an inconsequential and mundane existence. That changes though when he encounters the mysterious Lorde Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), who encourages Lester to abandon his pathetic ways and fight back.
At the center of it all is the tense yet comedic dynamic between Freeman and Thornton, who brilliantly balance one another. As a deadpan hit-man who makes Heisenberg seem rational, Thornton is as austere as he is quick-witted. Whether he’s playing a horrific prank (blood shower anyone?) or sporting an unforgiving sweater set and pretending to be non-threatening, he’s relishing every moment of it.
Recently, we had the chance to jump on a conference call with Thornton to find out his approach to the murder and mayhem that plays out in the series and his own reaction to watching the FX hit.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
Throughout the series Malvo has killed a lot of people, and you’ve had a lot of shooting scenes and blood and all that to work with, can you talk about the logistics of doing those kinds of scenes?
Billy Bob Thornton: First of all I’ve been doing this for 30-something years, so you get used to it. Although this time I’m the giver rather than the receiver, but we have really good technical people. The crew up there in Calgary was very good and the stunt people, everybody, they were really, really terrific, so we couldn’t have asked for more help.
What you want to do is you want to try to stay in a world of reality as much as possible, so you don’t try to ever think of it as fake blood or anything like that. You just want to stay inside the scene as if you’re really doing this stuff, and I guess that’s the main trick is just keeping your head on straight and never getting outside of the scene. It’s just like having a camera in front of you; you’re supposed to not know it’s there. And that’s why I never quite understood when actors don’t want someone in their eyeline because if you’re really in the scene, you’ve already got a camera operator, a boom guy, and a camera assistant and all these people in front of you. So I’ve never understood the difference between 5 or 6 people in front of you and 13 people in front of you. I think the main thing as an actor is you just have to try to ignore anything else and just do things as if you’re doing it.
If Lester had walked away, do you think Malvo would have left him alone, or do you think he would eventually come after him anyway?
Billy Bob Thornton: I think Malvo is kind of like a cat with a mouse. I’m not sure—I think the temptation would have probably been too great. I’m not sure he could have left him alone. Malvo is almost like God and the devil wrapped into one and I think these things were just going to happen. Do you know what I mean? I think a lot of this is about faith. You always think about if I’d only gotten on my motorcycle two minutes later, then I wouldn’t have hit that deer or whatever it is. Malvo is kind of the spirit that makes all those things happen, sort of lines up people’s faith for them.