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 Colin Hanks (who plays police deputy and single dad Gus Grimly) talked about what he did to prepare for this project, how often Gus Grimly frustrated him, why this was such a liberating experience, playing a dad, working in the cold of Calgary, and his desire to constantly do different types of roles, in both comedy and drama. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
COLIN HANKS: Really, the only preparation that I did was just working on the Minnesota accent. That was really it. Gus is not a good cop, really. He is out of his depth and out of his element, so there wasn’t really any police training that I had to do. In fact, I specifically did things poorly. If you play enough cops, eventually you say, “I know how to hold the weapon.” I undid all of that to make Gus look a little bit more out of his element. So, the only real preparation I did was to work with the dialect coach to try to get a little bit of his accent down. We didn’t want to go too big on the accent, but we wanted to make sure that there were some subtle moments in his speech that would indicate that he definitely has an accent.
What has made Gus an enjoyable character for you to play, regardless of his shortcomings, or do you just find him frustrating?
HANKS: Well, at times, it could be pretty frustrating. You try not to judge your characters too much, but there were definitely some moments where I was frustrated. I was frustrated at Gus’ inability to do certain things, but Gus is, as well, so that was really something that I leaned on and drew from. The thing that I enjoyed most about Gus was the fact that there was an awareness to him. Oftentimes, you see these characters and they know that they’re not good, but they’re just instantly beat down. But, that is something that slowly eats at Gus. He makes this decision to let Malvo go, and although he technically does the right thing, it’s the wrong thing. It’s not something that he should have done. It obviously leads to very bad things. So, I like the fact that he’s a character that made this mistake and spends his time, even though he doesn’t necessarily want to, atoning for it and trying to fix it. He fesses up, to a degree, as to what he did, and he actively tries to right the wrong. That really appealed to me. That was the initial kernel, when I read the pilot. And then, as the show progressed, I kept trying to come back to that, regardless of my frustrations of Gus not being able to get his act together, so to speak.
What did you learn about yourself, as an actor and as a person, through this process?
HANKS: Well, for me, I think it was much more of a liberating experience. Sometimes I find that, as an actor, the rules of TV can be very constrictive. This character, but more importantly the job, as a whole, and the writing, really allowed for what I like to call breaths. It allowed for a moment of really being able to sit with a character and seeing them stew with their decision and seeing their wheels turning, and really becoming involved in their journey, whereas with most television programs, and I don’t mean to badmouth TV on the whole because I’ve been on a lot of different programs and they’re all great and they all serve a purpose, but as an actor, I found this one to be very exhilarating and liberating. There wasn’t this incessant cutting from one angle to another, and you almost become dizzy from all of the fast editing. This is a show that really lets it lie, and really lets you live with these characters and experience the moments that these characters are having. As an actor, to not have that be rushed while you’re doing it was great. I’ve always really been a fan of scenes in which you’re able to be as natural as you want. I find that this show is really more about observing these characters and what they do, as opposed to just watching the story. Eventually, the characters tell you what’s going to happen, or tell you how they’re feeling. There’s ambiguity there that I really enjoy.
What’s it been like to work with Joey King, and shoot the scenes between Gus and his daughter?
HANKS: Well, Joey King is a force to be reckoned with. Within the first day of filming, I turned to Noah [Hawley] and some of the other producers and said, “Wow, okay, she’s really good.” She’s still young, but she’s been doing this for a long time, so in a lot of ways, she’s probably more professional than I am. For me, this was a great experience. It’s the first time that I’m playing a father. I am a father in real life. I have two kids. So, it was nice to be able to act like I have an older child, as opposed to a 3-year-old and a 10-month-old. We can pretend to have conversations. Joey is so good and so easy. Gus is the father, but they really do learn from each other. She really guides Gus quite a bit, in regard to how he deals with this circumstance that he’s found himself in, even though she doesn’t really know any of it. I really enjoyed the beauty and the simplicity of that. It’s not too different from any parent/child relationship. You learn stuff from your kids, every day. So, that was a really fun world to play in, and I think it brings a lot to Gus, and it really focuses him and drives a lot of the action. Those scenes were treats to do.
How do you see the relationship between Gus and Molly, and what was it like to work with Allison Tolman?
HANKS: I was so impressed by her skill, to be quite honest. She was so comfortable and relaxed, and also so good in the role, that that scene was almost a relief, not only for Gus and his journey, but also for me. There’s a very strong friendship between me and Allison, whom I love dearly. She’s great. And in regards to Gus and Molly, this is the beginning of a journey of them trying to solve this case together. They’ll probably be spending a lot of time together. That’s about as much as I will say.
Will we see more scenes between your character and Billy Bob Thornton’s character?
HANKS: I’m not really sure if I’m allowed to talk about that, to be quite honest. No one has said, “Don’t,” but I’m always of the mind of not wanting to say too much. But, Gus and Lorne’s paths do intersect again, and it’s not necessarily what you think is going to happen. I think that is the best way to describe it. I’m trying to be really coy, and I’m not sure if I’m doing a good job.
What’s it like to shoot in such cold conditions in Calgary?
HANKS: It has effect on every single aspect of life. The snow and cold temperatures are a character within the Fargo universe, so you have to have that, but it really does affect every facet of your life, when you’re living up there. I love Calgary. It’s a great city. I enjoyed my time there, quite a bit. Shooting and filming in that cold could be very difficult, at times. When you’re shooting nights, and it’s 3 in the morning and minus 35 degrees, that’s hard to work in. The conditions are difficult for everybody, and not just the actors, but for the camera crew. The irony is that sometimes you have to play like it’s a little bit warmer, which is hard when you can’t feel your face. You just try and do the best you can and make sure that you become really good friends with wardrobe, so that they give you all sorts of hand warmers and body warmers.
Is your comedic timing something that’s natural for you, or have you had to work at it?
HANKS: Well, I like to think that it’s a combination of both. I’ve always been a big fan of comedy and sketch comedy, and I like to laugh, but you can’t just be funny. You do have to work at it, and you have to try to know what your role is and when you can insert humor, or when it’s best not to. Oftentimes, I find that, especially in regards to Fargo, there was a balance to it. Obviously, it’s not a straightforward slapstick comedy. There are realistic moments, but there’s also levity and humor. As much as snow was a character in Fargo, humor is, as well. So, you just try to play the funny moments as real as you can and hope that people get the joke, but it’s not necessarily dealing with punchlines, or anything like that. It’s a little bit of a tightrope that you have to walk. I’m a big comedy nerd, so I’m always looking for the chance to be funny. There are people that have only seen me in dramatic stuff and they go, “Oh, I didn’t know you could do comedy,” and then there are comedy people that go, “Oh, I didn’t know you could do drama.” I want to try to do both.
You seem to play a lot of clean-cut characters, even when you were homicidal on Dexter. Do you ever wish that you’d get a character where you can grow your hair and get a scruffy beard, and get down and dirty?
HANKS: If you know of someone with that role, will you give them my name and my headshot? I always want to try and do different things, and I’ve had an opportunity to do it a couple of times. I’m always looking for a chance to do something different. I don’t necessarily want to repeat myself, at any time, and I don’t want to just do the same guy, over and over and over again. I want to be able to do different things and to evolve and constantly try to find those roles. At the same time, I try to find characters that, on the surface, may seem like that, but have things underneath that maybe come to light later on. There is a part of me that is desperately wanting to not necessarily be this cute, endearing, heart-on-his-sleeve type of character that just wants to be liked.
Fargo airs on Tuesday nights on FX.