The Coen brothers’ Fargo is one of the top contenders for the directing duo’s greatest film. No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, and Raising Arizona are all strong contenders, but something about the combination of bleak landscapes, pitch-black humor, and a twisted crime story in Fargo makes it feel like the pinnacle of the brothers’ iconic style.
Since wowing critics and moviegoers in 1996, Fargo has inspired a TV anthology series based on its unique style. How that style came to be pioneered by the Coens is a series of fascinating stories. So, here are 10 Chilly Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Fargo.
10 Frances McDormand’s baby bump was made out of birdseed
When Frances McDormand was performing as the pregnant cop Marge in Fargo, she wore a “pregnancy pillow” to resemble a baby bump. It was filled with birdseed that weighed out to about the same as a growing fetus, so McDormand didn’t have to deliberately try to look pregnant – it just came naturally with the added weight.
In preparation for the role, McDormand worked with a pregnant cop in St. Paul. One day, during shooting, McDormand left her prosthetic pregnancy suit in her cold trailer overnight. The next morning, the silicone breasts were frozen, and one of them ended up popping.
9 William H. Macy really, really wanted to play Jerry
William H. Macy originally auditioned to play the state trooper in Fargo. After doing two readings for the role of Jerry Lundegaard, Macy became convinced that he was the perfect choice for the part. The Coens didn’t see it that way and never got back to Macy about his audition. Instead, they wanted to cast Richard Jenkins.
So, Macy flew out to New York, where the Coens were about to go into production, and told them that casting somebody else as Jerry would be a big mistake and they would end up screwing up the whole movie if they did. He may have been being hyperbolic, but it landed him the part.
8 Fargo is filled with references to Stanley Kubrick movies
The Coen brothers often include references to Stanley Kubrick’s movies in their work. In Fargo, Steve Buscemi’s character Carl mentions “the old in-and-out,” which is a slang term used in A Clockwork Orange. The song “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” plays on a car radio at one point, which is a reference to its inclusion on the Full Metal Jacket soundtrack.
The most obvious visual reference is the framing of certain shots during the kidnapping scenes, which was influenced by The Shining. For example, when Gaear breaks down the door, it’s framed the same way that Kubrick framed the “Here’s Johnny!” scene.
7 All of Jerry’s stutters were scripted
Jerry Lundegaard’s stuttering, halting, nervous way of speaking has led to a widespread misconception that William H. Macy improvised a lot of his lines in Fargo, but he hardly improvised any of his lines. In fact, every single one of Jerry’s nervous stutters was rigorously scripted by the Coen brothers.
Usually, actors don’t like writers telling them how to deliver the dialogue in the script, but they’ll make an exception for the Coen brothers. It’s fair to say that the Coen brothers have a strong sense of character. Plus, some actors are just happy to play a character according to the writer’s vision.
6 Frances McDormand and John Carroll Lynch made up a backstory for their characters
In Fargo, Frances McDormand and John Carroll Lynch play the pregnant cop Marge and her husband Norm, respectively. Before Fargo went into production, director Joel Coen asked the two actors to come up with a backstory for their characters.
Between them, they came up with a sweet story about how the characters met: Marge and Norm fell in love while they were working on the police force together, and when they got married, they decided that one of them should quit; since Marge was the better officer, Norm was the one who quit and took up painting as a hobby.
5 The Minnesota weather proved to be a nightmare for the filmmakers
When Fargo went into production during the winter of 1994 and 1995, Minnesota coincidentally went through its sunniest, warmest summer in history. That winter brought the state’s lowest recorded amount of snowfall ever. The whole point of the movie was to feel cold and unforgiving, so this was hardly convenient for the people in charge of composing each shot.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins managed to work around the unexpectedly pleasant weather, and only one scene in the whole movie was shot on a sunny day. But Deakins still hates that one sunny scene, because it detracts from the bleak feeling of the movie.
4 Steve Buscemi has over nine times as many lines as Peter Stormare
Peter Stormare’s Fargo character Gaear is known for being softly spoken. He has just 16 lines of dialogue in the movie, and none of them contain more than one coherent sentence. Steve Buscemi’s character Carl, on the other hand, who is known for running his mouth, has more than 150 lines of dialogue. So, for every one of Stormare’s lines, Buscemi got about 9.3 lines.
The role of Carl was reportedly written specifically for Buscemi, as he’s one of the Coens’ most frequent collaborators. Stormare went on to form a band called Blond from Fargo in reference to his star-making turn in this movie.
3 William H. Macy’s doodling between takes made it into the movie
The scene in which Jerry mindlessly doodles wasn’t in the original script. William H. Macy was actually doing some doodles himself between takes. The Coens took notice of this and realized that doodling would work for both the scene and the character, and they decided to incorporate Macy’s doodles into the movie.
This can be filed under the same category of film trivia as Matthew McConaughey’s chest-thumping chant in The Wolf of Wall Street growing out of the actor’s pre-filming ritual. Sometimes, the missing golden nugget to make a good scene great is right in front of the filmmakers the whole time.
2 None of Fargo was actually shot in Fargo
Fargo is named after a city in North Dakota, but most of the movie is set in Minnesota. Fargo is just mentioned in passing. There isn’t a single scene in Fargo that was actually filmed in Fargo, North Dakota.
The Coens had originally called the movie Brainerd, named after the location of the majority of the plot. They only changed it to Fargo when they realized it sounded like a cooler movie title than Brainerd.
The movie Fargo has become a controversial subject in the city of Fargo, despite the fact that the city is barely mentioned in the movie, outside of its title.
1 The Coens only told the cast and crew it was a fictional story after three weeks of shooting
Fargo’s opening title card boldly announces that it’s based on a true story. Supposedly, it took place in 1987, and the names have been changed, but the events have been left the same.
The Coens wrote the story entirely as a work of fiction, but they were so committed to the “true story” lie that they let everyone on the cast and crew believe they were making a true-crime thriller. It wasn’t until three weeks into shooting that the brothers revealed that the movie was fictional. The “true story” epigraph has been carried over into the FX anthology series inspired by the movie.