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Fargo's Martin Freeman Has Been Waiting to Play a Killer

Lesson learned from Fargo: Even a nice guy can be pushed too far.

Hanh Nguyen

Lesson learned from Fargo: Even a nice guy can be pushed too far.
On last week's premiere of FX's new miniseries, which airs Tuesdays at 10/9c, henpecked milquetoast Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) had had enough of his wife's verbal abuse and killed her with a hammer during her latest harangue. "That's not the best way to deal with domestic issues, murdering your wife," Freeman, master of understatement, tells TVGuide.com.
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Freeman is best known for playing nice guys in The Hobbit films and on Sherlock and the U.K. version of The Office, but he has been hoping to play a much darker character for a while. When the Fargo scripted landed in his lap, the British actor finally got his wish. "I just loved it. I've said to my agents for ages in a kind of lighthearted way that I think I need to play a serial killer, a f---ing rapist, drug dealer, whatever. Partly because people don't see me like that and partly because I want to flex those muscles again. Before The Office, I was a young actor in London who casting agents ... saw as kind of edgy. I would be going up for those parts that were a bit violent or a bit scuzzy.
"It's not that I'm a serial killer or anything," he adds. "But it's in everybody. We all have those moments where you do want to throw someone out of a window. .. Of course for Lester at that point where he kills his wife that wall has just disappeared. There's no film between his thoughts and his actions. He hasn't been able to pull himself back and he's terrified of it and he deeply regrets it."
On Tuesday's episode, Lester is dealing with the fallout from his actions and those of drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), who shot and killed police chief Vern Thurman (Shawn Doyle) during an investigation of Lester's home. And although the good folks of Bemidji, Minn., who knew Lester growing up wouldn't dream of pointing a finger at him, something just doesn't add up for the younger and less biased cop Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman).
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Lester's biggest problem (other than that whole murder thing) is that he's been a punching bag for his wife and the town bully for so long that suppressing his feelings is second nature. "I think he's performing grief for his wife," Freeman says. "He doesn't quite know how to really act because he's never truly acted on his emotions before. So the mourning of her is confused with what he thinks the outside world is going to want to see and how he's going to get away with it and how he's going to convince people that he's really sad. How could he have possibly killed her because he's devastated? But he hasn't quite worked out the performance of it yet."
Although Lester's actions are his own, we can thank his new acquaintance Malvo for planting the seed to take down those who try to degrade him. It's a strange relationship that borders on friendship, at least on Lester's end. After all, Malvo is the person Lester turns to in his hour of need after killing his wife. "I think he trusts him because he senses that this guy has such strength that Lester wants," Thornton explains. As for Malvo, the actor says, "It's probably as close as he ever comes to [friendship]. ... He probably thinks that's in some sick way his pal, but he also wants people to think he's their pal so he can use them."
Regardless of intent, Malvo's influence has succeeded where Lester's wife couldn't. "As you see when the 10 episodes go on, Lester does control his life more," Freeman says. "He does become more of a man in whatever narrow way you want to consider a man. But he's more of a human being as opposed to just a doormat."
Fargo airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX. Check out the preview for the second episode, "The Rooster Prince," below:

(Additional reporting by Sadie Gennis.)