An original adaptation of the Academy Award-winning feature film, the FX drama series Fargo features an all-new crime story with all-new characters. Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) is a ruthless and mysterious man who turns the life of small town insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) upside down, in a way that he never could have imagined. From executive producer/writer Noah Hawley, the show also stars Bob Odenkirk, Colin Hanks, Allison Tolman, Oliver Platt, Keith Carradine, Kate Walsh, Glenn Howerton, Adam Goldberg and Joey King.
During this recent interview to promote the show, actor Bob Odenkirk (who plays Deputy Bill Oswalt) talked about what attracted him to this role, his approach to comedy versus drama, how this shoot compared to Breaking Bad, what he did to prepare for this project, why he loves playing this character, how he sees Bill Oswalt as a good guy who wants to believe in the goodness of his community, his most challenging and his favorite scenes, and how the balance of drama and comedy in Fargo compares to that of the Breaking Bad spin-off series, Better Call Saul. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
BOB ODENKIRK: I love the movie. I got the script and my first instinct on it was, “Please don’t ruin the movie I loved,” and I would say, by about page eight or nine of reading the script, I felt, “Oh, man, this is great. This is everything good.” They took the great vibe from the movie, and they took the darkness and the comedy. Noah Hawley is the writer, and he did all this work on it. He took what you can take without taking the specifics of the movie. I could just tell that it was very entertaining, so I wanted to go in on it. I just worked on my part, and went in and I read for it. I hoped that I would get it, and I did. And then, I was surprised at how it grew, over time, as we were shooting it. My characters gets to go somewhere emotionally, and it’s pretty great.
You’re such an accomplished comedy and sketch performer, with such a long resume doing that kind of work, and now you have this whole second career, as an actor in dramas, or at least dramas that have some comedic elements. Do you approach these types of roles differently than with your comedy work?
ODENKIRK: I wouldn’t say I approach them differently, but they’re pretty fundamentally different. My experience, and it might be just the kind of comedy that I do, which is usually sketch comedy, is that there’s a lot more texture and subplot in drama than in comedy. In comedy, you can read the script and know the motivations and the reason for the character very quickly, off a simple, quick first read. With drama my experiences, and it comes off Breaking Bad, is that as you read the dialog, which at first might look like just an argument or obfuscation or something, you start to see these inner drives of the characters that were planted there by the writers. Drama is more focused and it reveals itself to you, whereas comedy is just right there, when you first read it.
How was this shoot different from Breaking Bad, and how was it similar?
ODENKIRK: The similarities were that these are amazing casts of people, who are completely professional and grateful to be working in this area. I know I’ve been lucky. I know that this isn’t the norm, so I’ve got to be real careful not to get deluded by these wonderful experiences that I’ve had in the last two years, or four or five years, if you include Breaking Bad, Nebraska, Spectacular Now and Fargo. Those casts, except for Spectacular Now, are veterans. They really know to appreciate good writing because they’ve seen not so good writing. So, when they’re on a project with a great original voice and integrity to the work, they are thankful, and you see it and feel it, all the time, every day. They show up every day, glad to be in something that has quality. And so, I think I’ve been very lucky, but I keep that in mind, not to get deluded and forget that this is just a special case for these great projects.
What type of preparation did you do for this show?
ODENKIRK: One of the reasons I was interested in this was how truly different the character is from Saul. This guy is defiant and innocent, and he’s fighting like hell to hang on to his innocence about the people around him. Saul is cynical and clever, he’s ahead of everyone, and he’s trying to maintain that. So, having just played Saul, I was eager to play something like this. I will say that I hope I did a good job with the accent. Everyone in the whole cast, from the get-go, was extremely thoughtful about trying to do a good job with the accents. The Minnesota accent fluctuates. It comes and goes. It’s not strong all the time. It can be very strong with some words, and then it can be gone completely with other words, or even a sentence. That’s tough to do. It’s tough to get it right, but I think what we all tried to do is to not push it too hard. I’m from Naperville, Illinois and I spent a lot of time in Wisconsin, as a kid, because I was in Boy Scouts and I would go there once a month. There were a lot of Minnesota kids who were camp counselors, so I’d heard this accent, as a kid. The Wisconsin accent is not exactly the same as this strong Minnesota accent, but there is a little bit of crossover. So, I was familiar with it. I just hope I did a good job.
Since you play a deputy on this show, how has being a part of this show changed the way that you view law enforcement?
ODENKIRK: I don’t think it’s changed it much. My godfather was a Chicago policeman, and I’ve always looked at law enforcement as a challenging and interesting job. There are so many decisions that law enforcement officers have to make, and the incident or situation changes so much, from moment to moment, and day to day. I have a lot of respect for officers and what they go through. We had a couple of officers doing background for Fargo that are some real sheriffs from Canada, and some retired police. I always try to see my character’s side of whatever is happening, whether it’s Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad or Bill Oswalt on Fargo. He might be misguided, but he’s trying to protect the community and maintain his own faith in the community. I love playing Bill Oswalt. It’s really a great part, and you’ll see, as it plays out, that it has all these layers to it.
On the surface, your character seems to be a pretty simple guy who doesn’t want to think that Lester has anything to do with these crimes. What will your character be going through, in that regard?
ODENKIRK: You’ve only started to scratch the surface of what Bill thinks his job is. His notion of to protect and serve, which is the motto of many police departments, he takes the protect part a little too far. He’s literally wanting to protect these people, and in this case Lester, from suspicion. I think he thinks it’s his job to believe in his local community. In this case, he’s defending this person he’s known his whole life from even being investigated. He’s a frustration, if you’re the character of Molly, but he’s a good guy. He just wants to believe in the goodness of his community, and that’s a good instinct for a police officer to have. So, it’s a conflict that will put him in an emotional vice, as time goes by in this show.
How has Bill gotten this far, not being used to the sight of blood and gore?
ODENKIRK: I hope there aren’t these bloody, insane crimes happening in small towns across America, on a regular basis. I think he’s just not seen this. It’s not a part of his life. He’s been able to avoid this kind of violence and horror. Also, keep in mind that it was purely by this horrifying incident that he became sheriff. It doesn’t seem like he was really planning on it. He wasn’t preparing himself.
Are there a lot of laughs on this set? Will there be an entertaining blooper reel for the Blu-ray/DVD?
ODENKIRK: The blooper reel for the DVD will have my moustache falling off, and me continuing to do the scene. Sometimes I could feel it, and sometimes I couldn’t. Usually, you can tell, but not always. We had a lot of fun on set, and we also had a lot of fun off set, spending time together up in Calgary.
What was the most challenging aspect of this season?
ODENKIRK: I have some scenes in the latter half of the season that took some concentration and effort, but that’s incredibly rewarding. I think that acting is no fun unless it’s hard. I’m not titillated by acting or being an actor unless I have to work hard. Otherwise, you’re just a prop that talks. But if you have to struggle to feel those feelings and to understand the person that you’re playing, and you can feel like you can get there with some truth and dignity for the character, even if it’s an undignified scenario or situation, then that can feel really great. It really can be a trip into another person’s experience, which is really rewarding. So, there are some scenes in Episodes 8, 9 and 10 where you see a whole other side of Bill, and those were work, but they were great. I’m not intimidated by it. I’m thankful for it.
Have you had a favorite scene, so far?
ODENKIRK: The scene where we confront Lester in his house, and I’m begrudgingly doing it because Molly is forcing me to question him. That was so fun to play because I’m not helping. If you watch me in it, my character is distracted the whole time. I almost made Martin [Freeman] laugh.
What do you think has brought upon this Renaissance in your career, in recent years? Do you think it’s just the variety and richness in TV programming today?
ODENKIRK: Yes, absolutely. It’s because there are so many outlets for shows, and that encourages unique voices that wouldn’t find a spotlight when there were fewer opportunities and fewer places to go. Now, with all these outlets, people are able to narrow casts and play to a smaller audience that’s more interested in a strong vision. There’s a stage for people like us. I think that the industry has changed and made room for us, in a place where we can perform and find an audience.
Is a show like Fargo in your sweet spot because you can come in and do a well-written role in an ensemble cast, and then go off and focus your creativity on your own creative projects?
ODENKIRK: The answer is yes. What a well-stated observation about me and how I handle my career. I do have a lot of interests and I really enjoy being a part of these great shows, but also having the ability to juggle a couple of different balls in the air while doing it. Of course, I will not be able to do that on my next project, but we’re not here to talk about that. Maybe in a few months, you can ask me how I handled that. Wish me luck, will you? I have a book coming out in October, of pieces that I wrote. And when I was doing Fargo, I was able to do these other projects, like Birthday Boys.
Does it ever bother you that some of your earlier stuff, that’s considered groundbreaking by people who are into comedy, isn’t as widespread as your character on Breaking Bad, or are you happy about the fact that being on Breaking Bad has exposed that audience to some of your older stuff?
ODENKIRK: It has exposed Mr. Show to people. Mr. Show cannot be seen anywhere, except illegally on YouTube. HBO refuses to replay it, so the only place it can be found is hidden on the internet. So, people go there and become fans. They’re seeing this stuff that I’m incredibly proud of. Mr. Show was my life and it was my voice, and I will always be super proud of having created and run that show with David Cross, and the material we did. I’m always happy when people can find a way to see it. It’s not easy to find. But, I like the idea of keeping these things a little bit separate. I don’t know. I guess I like the idea of being able to do different things and really have people not know. I don’t know whether I’m titillated by that, or I think it’s a useful quality. I’ve just always wanted to be able to do was a variety of things, and do them well. I think it’s cool that people don’t know about some of them, but they don’t know others. That’s kind of neat.
How do you predict that Fargo will compare to Better Call Saul, in terms of balancing drama with comedy?
ODENKIRK: Wow, that’s a good question. First of all, I haven’t read anything from Better Call Saul, so I don’t know anything except the vibe I’ve gotten, which is that that show is going to be pretty intense and dark. I think Fargo might be more overtly comic and lighter than Saul, but that’s just conjecture based on guesswork and wishes on the wind. When things get dark around me, in character, I find moments to play things to make it funny. It’s something to play against. It’s really a great vibe to have around you, to find these funny little moments, so I think I’ll be making it funny.
Fargo airs on Tuesday nights on FX.