Fargo was a hit Oscar-winning film in 1996, but nearly 20 years later, it remains to be seen if fans want to see more.
On Tuesday at 10/9c, FX is betting that they will when it debuts its new Fargo series starring Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton and Hobbit star Martin Freeman. Like the film, the 10-episode limited series is set in a small Minnesota city and will feature a true-crime story with a darkly comic tone. "I thought, Fargo? OK, it's a good film. Do we need to make a version of that?" Freeman tells TVGuide.com. "And I started reading the script, and it was just really good. It was just too good to not take." Thornton agrees. "The script was amazing, and the Coen Brothers gave it their blessing so I never even questioned it," he says.
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Freeman, who has been busy with The Hobbit films and Sherlock series, did have one major concern, however. "When am I going to see my kids?" he says. "It was the tail end of shooting the last [season] of Sherlock, and Jo Yao, my agent here, sent me an email with [executive producer Noah Hawley's] letter and the first script. She kind of prefaced it by saying, 'I know we don't do American television.' Not because of snobbery, but because you've got to sign up for something for six or seven years, and I'm not in that game." Fortunately, Freeman was able to sign on since Fargo will wrap up this story after 10 episodes, but could continue on as an anthology, similar to American Horror Story and True Detective.
Although Fargo will tell a new story separate from the 1996 film, it's clear that the two share DNA. The series even begins in a similar way, with a car driving down a wintry road introduced by the words, "This is a true story ... At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred," on the screen. Also, Freeman plays sad sack insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, an echo of the film's car salesman character Jerry Lundegaard portrayed by William H. Macy.
Lester isn't really the best insurance salesman, a fact that his wife points out loudly and repeatedly. "I would describe Lester as someone whom life has just been happening to," Freeman says. "He's not in control and hasn't felt love in his relationship for probably 20 years since they were in college. He's spoken to disrespectfully by his wife. ... He wants those things like control or love or respect, but he doesn't know how to go about getting them."
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Enter Thornton's character Lorne Malvo, a ruthless drifter who comes to town after a freak accident on the road. He's the kind of guy who takes action and isn't bothered by issues of morality or ethics. "Malvo's a guy with no conscience who has a sick sense of humor because he likes to mess with people," Thornton says. "Most criminals just go in get the job done and go, but Malvo can't help it. His only recreation or social activity is to mess with people. He's kind of like a snake charmer. I mean, I weigh 135 pounds, but Malvo can look someone in the eye and say something, and they think he means it, like, 'This guy is probably insane. I better do this.'"
After a run-in with the town bully, Lester encounters Malvo in a hospital waiting room. During their brief interaction, Malvo shares his view on how the world works, which makes a huge impression on Lester. "He's never met anyone as magnetic as that, as charismatic as that, who shows him almost explicitly that there's another way to look at the world and you don't have to be the victim of it," Freeman says. "No one's ever said it to him so convincingly before. So for Lester, it's a dark fascination with someone I think he knows is a bad guy... but unfortunately there's a logic to a lot of totally amoral people. There is some logic to it, if all you want to do is get ahead and protect yourself." Check out part of Lester and Malvo's conversation below:
Malvo has his own reasons for striking up a conversation with Lester. "Malvo smells stuff like an animal. He smells fear and a lack of confidence and weakness in this guy," Thornton explains. "And he thinks, 'This guy could come in handy. I better talk to him.' You feel for Lester, but you can also tell that Lester can be had. You can turn him if you want."
That turn, for better or worse, will happen before the end of the hour-and-a-half premiere. "Lester changes within the first episode. He's capable of doing things that you'd never have thought from the outset," Freeman says. "He's the worm that turns. In classic terms, he's a bit of a loser who becomes not exactly a winner by the end because he's done a terrible f--ing thing, but he starts in his own clumsy, terrible way to take control of his life."
Fallout from Lester's actions and business that follows Malvo to town will draw together a disparate group of people ranging from cold-blooded murderers to a has-been trophy wife. The impressive supporting cast includes Kate Walsh, Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk, Glenn Howerton, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine, Oliver Platt and Adam Goldberg.
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Two other hallmarks from the original film will also carry over to the series. The "Minnesota nice" lifestyle and setting are once again foils to the brutal events that take place. Thornton feels that Bemidji, Minn., where the series is set, is the perfect backdrop to highlight crime."It's the only place in America that the rest of America kind of looks at as they're almost like foreigners to us. You know what I mean?" he says. "It's so different, so white bread. I think that's why were so fascinated with them, because that doesn't exist except for just that little area because they are so straight there. Or at least on the surface, they appear so straight. You have black and white. And that's the place to go to get the white. And I don't mean that in a racial sense or an ethnic sense. I just mean it is truly black and white."
Fargo will also feature that familiar yet exaggerated small-town Minnesotan accent from the movie. Surprisingly, Freeman did not have to audition with the accent to land the series. "I didn't read for it, I didn't test for it, and that's quite a big [thing to] ask really, purely as a logistical thing. They never heard me do an American accent. They certainly never heard me do a specifically f---ing Minnesotan accent which is quite a hard one to do even for Americans without camping it up or without making it a gag. So they'd never heard me do it, and I thought gives that show some foresight and trust and taste on their part that they thought I'm the right actor for it. I hope they were right."
Fargo premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on FX.
(Additional reporting by Sadie Gennis)