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 has turned the life of small town insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) upside down, in a way that he never could have imagined, and stirs up trouble everywhere he goes. From executive producer/writer Noah Hawley, the show also stars Bob Odenkirk, Colin Hanks, Allison Tolman, Oliver Platt, Keith Carradine, Kate Walsh, Adam Goldberg and Joey King.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Martin Freeman talked about what attracted him to this show, being a sucker for a good script, his approach to finding this character, the challenge of playing someone so restrained, and whether Lester Nygaard might ever have reached his breaking point without the assistance of Lorne Malvo. He also talked about how much he loves being a part of his other TV series, Sherlock. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
MARTIN FREEMAN: Yes, it does feel like that sometimes. Absolutely! It’s not fair. I have to remind myself sometimes to sit back and enjoy it, and remember that these are good times. All of your working life isn’t like that. When I did The Office twelve years ago, that was a once in a lifetime job. If you get one of those in a working life, that’s not bad. That’s pretty good going. And I’ve been very fortunate. At the moment, I seem to be in a very fortunate place.
How were you able to fit in doing another TV show?
FREEMAN: We had finished The Hobbit, and Sherlock takes about three months to film, so I do have time.
What was it about this show that made you want to sign on?
FREEMAN: Both story and character. I’m just a sucker for a good script. So, if I read something that appeals to me, that will immediately be enticing. I’ll immediately think, “Oh, that’s interesting,” if it appeals to me, at all. And if it appeals to me a bit more, and the character is interesting and contains something I haven’t done before and with people I haven’t done it with before, it’s all good. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I must do a Coen brothers spin-off TV serial.” I love the Coen brothers, but that, in itself, was not what appealed to me. It was just reading the first episode. I was finishing off the last [season] of Sherlock, I was in my hotel room, and my agent sent me this script, which was an offer. I get less American offers than I do British, so I thought, “Well, what’s that about?” And I read it and loved it. I heard Billy Bob [Thornton] was going to be doing it, so I read those scenes with him in mind and thought, “I’ve gotta do it. It would be silly not to do it.”
How much fun was it to play with the dynamic between Lester Nygaard and Lorne Malvo?
FREEMAN: I love watching Billy Bob, just as a punter anyway. I like his work. But working with him is really easy and really straight-forward. He’s immediately good. He doesn’t have to work up to it. He doesn’t make your life difficult. He listens. He’s a very good listener, in terms of his acting. He has a certain calmness about him and a certain anchored-ness that brings something out in you, as well. Lester is pretty skittish, but there’s something about those scenes that he had with Malvo. He has this, “Trust in me,” quality. He’s still jumpy, but Malvo seduces him. He’s a very seductive character, and Billy Bob is able to do that.
FREEMAN: Yeah, I loved the movie. But I didn’t seen it again, in the run up to doing this show. I don’t want to be influenced or put off, by any of it. But, I like the Coen brothers, very much.
Were you more hesitant about even reading this script, knowing that it was inspired by the movie?
FREEMAN: For me, it wasn’t the connection to Fargo. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, great, I’ll get some reflective glory off of a film that was amazing and is considered a modern classic.” It was just because I liked the character. Naively, I wasn’t even thinking about Bill Macy or Frances McDormand, or anything like that. I was just thinking, “These are good [characters].” And it’s not literally the same characters and story, even though it’s the same universe and there are recognizable traits in the series that were in the film. It feels familiar, but it’s still different. If I thought, for a minute, that my job was being brought in to do a bad Bill Macy impression, I fucking would have run a mile from it. There was no way I would have done it. I have less than no interest in trying to replicate another brilliant actor’s work, thank you very much. But, to play a character who’s going through some serious business is always appealing. And to do technical things, like a very, very different vocal inflection than the one I’ve got, is always appealing. Every job you do, you want to slightly challenge yourself or cover ground you haven’t done before. There’s always going to be ground you have covered because there are only so many characters in the world. There are only so many human types or tropes that end up in films. But as long as you can think, “Well, I’ve not played that before,” then let’s go. That appealed to me about this.
How did you go about finding this character?
FREEMAN: Like with anything, good writing suggest itself pretty strongly. Beyond that, my experience on this was that I got to Canada, read a couple of scenes, and rehearsed with Allison Tolman and Bob Odenkirk. My main priority was thinking, “Fuck, am I getting this accent right, or am I the Englishman in the room that’s messing this up.” I never fully know, weeks in advance, what I’m going to do. I don’t think you ever know, until you hear yourself speak. But, they were happy. Your job, as an actor, is never to just do what you’re told. That’s boring, and life is too short. It’s your job to bring something, and it will either be to other people’s taste or your own taste, and you have to try things out. Actors say, “Well, as long as the director’s happy,” but I don’t believe that and I don’t agree with that. I want the director to be happy, but if I’m not happy, I won’t sleep at night. However happy the director is, I have to be okay with it. I’m pretty strict with myself, about throwing things out or trying to be true to whatever the situation dictates. Lester, as a character, afforded me the opportunity to throw some big stuff out there, some of which was too big and wrong, but I had to try it. That was fun.
FREEMAN: Yeah, it is, but at the same time, I can do it. Without being arrogant about it, I can do it. I don’t know why because I’m not particularly like that myself. I’m a lot more direct than that, in real life. Clearly, there’s something in me where I’m able to access a feeling of not feeling right in the world.
Do you think Lester Nygaard would have eventually reached his breaking point without Lorne Malvo encouraging him?
FREEMAN: I think it definitely took Lorne Malvo, yeah. It needed his intervention to do that. That was definitely the catalyst for it. He might have gotten there by the time he was 60, but he wouldn’t have gotten there that day. No way! That’s what I love about the economy of Noah Hawley’s writing in Malvo’s mouth. He has to say so few things, but really, really effectively, to make another character go, “Huh? The fuck?! I can actually control my own life.” Of course, how he did it was disastrous and totally wrong, and all of that, of course. Mind you, his wife was a cunt. She was a dreadful person. We talked about how she didn’t deserve to die, but she was an awful person.
Do you think that Lester Nygaard is a guy who’s just always been picked on?
FREEMAN: Yeah, I do. He ends up in the hospital because he bangs his head after talking to Sam Hess, and Sam Hess gladly tells his idiot sons that he picked on Lester at school and was appalling to him. That’s what ended up reignited all of Lester’s memories of being that person who could be picked on, all the time. I think it was pretty eternal for Lester. I don’t know how he got together with Pearl. Pearl sounded like a slightly good time gal, in the way that people are when they’re 18. I don’t know why she ended up with Lester, if she hated him that much. Something obviously shifted. Maybe Lester had a bit more of a spark when he was younger, before like truly quashed him. I think all of us are generally more open to our spouses when we first meet them because we’re still trying to impress them, and we don’t know all of the things that will annoy us about them yet. Maybe she thought he was a bit brighter than he actually is, or a bit more brave than he actually is. But, she was a disloyal bully to Lester. In that sense, she had it coming, but it was still pretty horrific.
Season 3 of Sherlock was so much fun to watch. What was it like to get to work with your own real-life partner, Amanda Abbington?
FREEMAN: It was lovely. It was great. It was really good. I love her acting. It’s easy and straight-forward. We were able to hit the ground running, and have a natural chemistry and rhythm together. I loved it. I love doing the show. Me and Ben [Cumberbatch] and everyone involved know that it’s a good show and know that a show like that doesn’t come along, every year.
Fargo airs on Tuesday nights on FX.