As FX gets set to enter into its first foray in the miniseries business (unless you, like FX president John Landgraf, consider Terriers to have also been worthy of that moniker) with the network’s upcoming 10-episode limited series Fargo, from writer Noah Hawley (Bones). Series co-star Martin Freeman was on hand to share with us some of his thoughts on this darkly comic, violent pseudo-update of the Coen brothers’ Academy Award-winning drama.
While the miniseries may defy specific classification in terms of its relationship to the movie that also bears its name, Freeman was ready and able to give plenty of detail on the character he plays and to explain that while he “understands [the comparison],” he’s not looking to do an “impression of [William H.] Macy” or his character, Jerry Lundegaard. On that note, over the course of the 10 episode series, audiences will be afforded the chance to see Freeman do something else: namely, play counter to the roles he’s most commonly associated with nowadays, such as John Watson in the BBC series Sherlock, and Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy.
Here, Freeman takes on the role of Lester Nygaard, a browbeaten, bullied, at-the-end-of-his-rope Minnesota insurance salesman who finds his life irrevocably altered after a chance meeting with Billy Bob Thornton’s mysterious out-of-towner, Lorne Malvo. Following that encounter, and over the course of the miniseries, Lester undergoes a “huge transformation” kicking off an unpredictable wave of violence that spreads across his small Minnesota town and beyond.
It’s a different role for Freeman to be sure, and the actor commends the producers (which include brothers Joel and Ethan Coen) for making what he calls an “unobvious choice” in casting him. But the more darkly comedic aspects of the role are definitely within his wheelhouse, and so, speaking directly with regard to what first attracted him to the series, Freeman points directly toward the quality of Hawley’s script for the first episode:
“It’s well-written, the script itself is well-written…the first episode, the whole thing is what I based my decision on. Within the first episode, that range [Lester] goes between is really interesting. And I knew that it was only going to grow and expand…In the nine episodes that follow, I get to play, as Lester, the whole gamut of human existence and human feeling. He does the whole lot.”
Another thing that Lester does is speak in the same regional accent the 1996 film turned into something of an ongoing gag, with characters proclaiming “oh, yah” every so often, granting the otherwise dark film a great deal of levity. In revisiting Fargo, the miniseries makes sure to place plenty of emphasis on the same distinctive cadence, but as Freeman states, he was careful not to simply fall into some kind of “caricature.”
“I didn’t want it to be like a comedy sketch,” Freeman said. “I wasn’t playing an accent, I was playing a character that happened to speak like that and to be from that place. That’s why I didn’t go back and watch the initial film of Fargo…I didn’t want that in my head either way. I didn’t want that in my head to copy or consciously differ from…My research, accent-wise, I wanted it to be actual Minnesotans and not actors playing Minnesotans. The same goes for any actor playing a Minnesotan: they shouldn’t study me; they should study a Minnesotan.”
Of course, no matter how Freeman approached the character of Lester or his accent, and regardless of how determined he was to create something different from the original film, there is still going to be comparisons made between the two. And at the end of the day, the opinion viewers have regarding the miniseries is out of his hands.
“If people like well-written, well-directed and hopefully well-acted drama, then they will like Fargo. People who loved the film may love us or they may hate us. I think that will split people one way or the other. But I do hope, and I do generally believe if people go into it with an open mind, within 10 minutes you’re no longer thinking about the 1996 film [you are] engrossed in the world we’ve created.”
Fargo premieres Tuesday, April 15 @10pm on FX.
Photos: Matthias Clamer & Chris Large/FX