If you've been watching Season 3 of FX's Fargo, you may have said "is that...?" when watching the last two episodes. To answer your question, yes, that's ubiquitous character actor DJ Qualls playing the nearly silent assassin dispatched by Varga (David Thewlis) to finish off Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) -- or rather, was Qualls, since the character met a gruesome end in "Who Rules the Land of Denial?"
Qualls, who made his name in early '00s teen comedies like The New Guy before becoming a versatile movie and TV presence who's appeared on everything from Breaking Bad to Supernatural, made his first Fargo appearance in "The Law of Inevitability" trying to kill Swango via lethal injection while impersonating a cop. He helped cause the bus crash at the end of that episode, and in "Who Rules the Land of Denial?" followed Swango and her deaf savior through the woods to finish the job he and the bus crash were unable to carry out, only to get decapitated with a chain.
It was a surprise to see such a recognizable actor in such a small role with almost no dialogue, but as Qualls explained to TVGuide.com, that's what Fargo's visionary showrunner Noah Hawley was going for.
"Noah Hawley is pretty specific, and he wanted me, and if he wants you, you go. The guy's a genius," Qualls said over the phone from the airport while on his way to Vancouver to shoot The Man In the High Castle. "It's so nice to work on a show where the scripts are solid and everybody sort of drank the same Kool-Aid and is united in the same goal."
Qualls went up to Fargo's set in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in March, where he braved average temperatures of eight degrees Fahrenheit while he ran down the side of a mountain and thrashed around in the snow.
"Physically, it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my career," Qualls said. Surprisingly, it's also the first time he's ever died onscreen, which is one of the reasons why he took the role. And it turned out to be a spectacularly gruesome death that soaked the snow with as much blood as Steve Buscemi in the woodchipper in the movie. "I saw it last week and I got tears in my eyes," Qualls said. He has high praise for Fargo's makeup effects team, who made a cast of his head for the occasion. Qualls said it was uncomfortable to look at a replica of his own head, which made him say "That's what I look like?"
It was also an interesting challenge for him to play a nearly silent character.
"I love silent films. I think that a lot of times we say too much," he said. "The medium of film and television is very intimate, so you don't need to say a lot to show what you're feeling or what you're going through." It's true -- Qualls was able to convey "I don't want want to get my head cut off" with just his face. Seriously, though, it's a very striking villainous performance by the usually affable Qualls.
Qualls' character is credited as Golem, as in the creature from Jewish folklore made from clay or mud who carries out the physical dirty work that its controller won't do. In spite of his decidedly non-kosher pig's head, he's Varga's golem. As for how exactly that connects to Ray Wise's mystical ruminations later in the episode about the lost souls of Jewish victims of the Massacre of Humán in 1768 and the Cossacks who killed them, Qualls said you'll have to ask Hawley (This writer suspects it's all part of Hawley's constellation of Coen Brothers references, in this case to A Serious Man and its famous dybbuk, another creature from Jewish folklore. The myths connect to the season's larger theme of stories becoming true through assertion and belief, not fact. But that's just a theory).
Fargo airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.