Fargo returns soon to Channel 4. The first installment of the FX show was a mega-hit wherever it played. The series returns soon, and the action moves to the 1970’s. Below creator of the series and lead writer Noah Hawley teases what we can expect.
Where did the idea come from for the series?
MGM, the film studio, had the rights to the movie, and were looking to make a TV series out of it, and talked to the FX network about it. They needed a writer and a take on it. I came in and said “It can’t be a television series.” I was basically trying not to get the job, I guess. I just felt that, at the end of the movie, she [Frances McDormand’s character] has seen the worst case of her career. What makes the movie so powerful is that we know tomorrow’s going to be a normal day. You can’t say that every season another crazy Coen brothers case will happen to this one detective, it would start to feel like a television show, and it just wouldn’t have the poignancy. You wouldn’t believe that one cop would just get crazy case after crazy case. But you could do an anthology out of it, where the title, Fargo, comes to represent a mind space, I guess, and a type of story. So every year we should do a different story that feels like it belongs in that world.
Were you surprised by how successful the show was?
Yes. Who wouldn’t be? I mean, I liked it, but there are plenty of great things that are on TV that don’t get the kind of universal acknowledgement that we got. There’s so much to choose from and to watch. You’re not just competing with what’s on television now, but every film and TV show ever made is available when you sit down at night. So the fact that we won all the awards that we won, and we were the one show that everyone could agree on, that was what was remarkable to me, considering just how odd the idea was.
What did you do by way of research? To get into the right mind space, do you go and hole yourself up in the Minnesota winter for months on end?
That would be awesome! There’s a novelist, William Vollman, who write these epics of the Native American wars, and he’ll literally go to Alaska and lay in a tent for three months. I don’t do that. Part of it is because my assignment is not to write the region as it actually is, but as it is represented in that movie. I hope I’m not doing a disservice to the actual region, but it’s about inhabiting the space that the movie inhabits. But it’s fun now to be looking back at a different time, going back to 1979 to see what that world looked like then.
Tell us a little bit about what we can expect from season 2.
It’s a much bigger story, it’s more of an epic. There are a lot more moving pieces. It’s basically about a smalltown beautician and her butcher’s assistant husband who get caught in the middle of this gang war between a local crime syndicate and the Kansas City mafia looking to expand into the region. For reasons that come apparent in the first hour, Ed and Peggy Blomquist, who are played by Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst, find themselves caught in the middle of this story. Then there’s Lou Solverson, who’s Keith Carradine’s character from the first series, now as a younger man in 1979, played by Patrick Wilson.
There were references to the Sioux Falls incident in season one. Did you already have an idea for season 2 when you wrote the first series?
When I first put the reference in, in the second hour, it was not with that in mind. It was a way for Lou to mentor his daughter, explaining that he’d seen his share of savage stuff, he knew what it was like, and once you go down that road, you can’t undo it. So maybe you don’t want to do this. And then I had Gus’ boss say “Oh no, it’s Sioux Falls all over again,” because I thought it was funny. So there was an allusion to a bigger story, which is always fun, that maybe you never hear the full details of. But then, as the year went on, I began to think that if we did another series, it could be interesting to tell that story, so I laid in a few more details in the last couple of hours, to set up people’s desire to see the story.
Why write about the 70s. Was it just because it fitted the chronology, or was it something about the time that made you want to set it then?
I didn’t consciously choose the year when I first mentioned it in the first series. It wasn’t until I got into a room with some writers and started to think about that time period that I started to really mine it as a story drive. I didn’t want 1979 to be just a backdrop against which I told the story. That year is, in many ways, the lowest point in modern American history, post-Vietnam and post-Watergate, there’s a huge recession and a gas crisis and just before the Iranian hostage crisis. It literally seemed like the world was going to end. And then we see with hindsight that a year later Ronald Reagan was going to be elected, and the country was going to make this big move away from the radical and revolutionary 70s to the safe return to the 50s, family values, morality. So we’re able to play with that, almost in a Waiting for Godot kind of a way, with Reagan out there. He’s a huge presence in the season, and even appears on a whistle stop tour in one of the episodes.
The cast is first rate – did you have any of them in mind when you wrote it?
No. I don’t write with actors in mind. I think they appreciate that. You have to create the most specific characters you can, and when you’re writing with actors in mind you’re almost writing to the actor. It’s easier to do surprising things when you don’t have to ask yourself “Could I see this actor doing that.” The fun of it then becomes “Who is the perfect person to play that role?” Very luckily, we have reached the point with both seasons where the right actor to play the role is the actor that we get – whether they’re a film actor or a television actor.
Can you possibly top the villainy of Lorne Malvo?
[Laughs] I don’t try! The danger is to say “Who’s our Malvo this year?” Those iconic characters don’t come along that often, even in your own brain. That’s just a real danger that TV shows get into – they think every year that you need one primary villain, and you end up with variations on a theme. What was nice with a bigger story was that you could create a variety of bad guys, and on some level, the question of “who is the worst of them all?” becomes an active part of the story. Maybe the one you think is the biggest villain early on doesn’t end up being the biggest villain in the end.
As a showrunner, you kind of do everything on the show, from writing to producing to directing. Do you enjoy the process when you’re actually shooting, or is it too hectic?
I love it! It’s three-dimensional writing. They say you write it three times – you write it on the page, you write it when you’re shooting, and you write it in the editing room, and all those are critical. It was great to get behind the camera in a more serious way this year, and to put my money where my mouth is. I directed the second hour. We used the camera more aggressively than we did in the first year.
Would you ever be tempted to revisit any of the characters from season one in the future? Molly and Gus, for example?
Yeah, I think if the right story comes along, certainly. But you don’t have to make the whole series about them. Your story can collide and connect to the other stories in this world – the way we found the money from the movie in the first year, and then we have Lou Solverson’s story this year. Each story should connect, in some way, to the other stories in Fargo, but it doesn’t have to be a literal connection, or even that meaningful a connection. But yeah, I’m sure everyone would be game, if the right idea came along.
Why do you think so many Hollywood stars are doing TV these days?
What you hear a lot is that the $30-$60 million character-driven drama just doesn’t exist anymore. The studios aren’t making them. The place that you’re finding them is on television. It’s a part of the modern landscape of television. You have so many broadcasters and networks, the only way to cut through the noise is to do something different and original and better. Plus you’re really able to explore and expand on these characters in a way that you just can’t in a two hour movie. And we’re not asking for a really long term commitment. We’re asking for five months of your life, the same amount of time it would take to make a movie.
Fargo returns to Channel 4 Monday 19th October at 10.00pm.