The FX drama series Fargo is back for another season and an all-new “true crime” case. Set in 1979 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Luverne, Minnesota, it follows young State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), recently back from Vietnam, as he investigates a case involving a local crime gang, a major Mob syndicate, and a small town beautician (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband (Jesse Plemons). The first season was such a tightly woven tale that kept you wondering just who exactly you should be rooting for, and after watching the first few episodes of Season 2, it’s clear that the storytelling and characters will be even more unpredictable and compelling.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, showrunner/director/writer Noah Hawley talked about paying attention to every little detail, his desire to see what he can get away with under the auspices of making a Coen brothers movie, why he never wanted to do this as a continuing story, who Lou Solverson is at this point in his life, playing with the moral spectrum, putting together such a great cast, how this season’s story got so much more epic, and already thinking about a possible idea for Season 3. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: This show pays such extreme attention to detail. Is that something that’s really important to you?
NOAH HAWLEY: Yeah. The first year, I picked every extra. This year, I didn’t pick every extra, but there’s no small details. Every face in a Coen brothers movie is so specific. In the very beginning, I went through stacks and stacks of photos, and it pays off, in the end. Everything feels authentic. You feel like you could open any door and there would be a whole world back there.
This seems like one of those shows that never should have worked.
HAWLEY: Yes, it was a terrible idea!
But it absolutely worked, above and beyond everyone’s expectations.
HAWLEY: I hope so. I’m a subversive guy and I want to know what else I can get away with. It was the perfect vehicle. Under the auspices of making a Coen brothers movie, I can do a lot of things I wouldn’t be allowed to do otherwise. I can say, “I need a 10-minute parable sequence in this episode,” or “We’re gonna jump ahead,” or “We’re gonna start our second year with a fake Ronald Reagan movie, in which Ronald Reagan never appears.” It’s stuff where they would go, “What the fuck are you doing?!,” otherwise. But I can go, “Did you see A Serious Man?” It was the perfect vehicle because it really allowed me to play with structure, theme and character. It’s not a new medium, this limited mini-series, but it’s a really unexplored medium. You also have to be aware that some people are going to watch it on TV live, some people are going to binge-watch three or four hours, and some people are going to watch it three years from now. In the first year, there’s no episode that really starts at the moment at which the last episode ended. There’s always some slightly disoriented connecting piece. They’re all pieces of the story. We’re just used to being told stories in the same linear fashion.
The first season took place a number of years before this season, but you dropped in a clue to what this season would be. Are you doing that again this season, with a clue about what the third season could be?
HAWLEY: No, I’m not doing the same thing, let’s put it that way. I like that the first year is connected to the movie. In the beginning, you were like, “Oh, it’s different. It has nothing to do with the movie.” And then, suddenly, it does connect to the movie, in a way that’s not life-or-death, but definitely plays into it. And then, the second year connects very literally to the first year. My feeling is that, if we do a third year, it should connect to something, but now it can connect to one of three things. This was a big year. There’s a really ambitious and epic story that required my full attention, and I didn’t have a moment where I was like, “Oh, you know what we should do next . . .” It was like, “Holy shit! Can we survive this one?” I’m starting to think about it now. I have something that I think I like, so we’ll see what the response is and if people want us to do another one. People say, “Do you want to do it again?” I’m not repeating myself, so I’m literally not doing anything again, except trying to find different ways of telling the story that fill the same mindspace, on some level. It’s a really fascinating challenge.
Had you ever thought about continuing the story from Season 1, in some way, or had you always wanted to do something very different?
HAWLEY: It’s a credit to MGM and FX. After the ridiculous success we had in the first year, I expected them to go, “Make it two years with Gus and Molly, and then you can change it,” but they never did that. From the moment we agreed to do it, we had agreed that it was an anthology and that it would be a different story next time, and FX was really passionate about that, as something that needed to be protected. I do think that what made the movie so special, and hopefully the first year, is that at the end of it, you know that that’s the worst thing that our heroes will ever see, and that’s why we told that story. Now, they get to go back to their lives. There’s something rewarding and romantic about that, that leaves you with a feeling about it that’s like, “Okay, they’re safe now.” Also, we’re saying that this is a true story. If Molly woke up the next day and there was this new, crazy Coen brothers case, you’d be like, “Really?!” With serial killer shows, you’re like, “How many serial killers are there? It’s Episode 200 now.” So, time wise, things will connect and cross, but it’s never going to be in the most obvious way.
Lou Solverson was in the first season, but this is a very different time in his life. What can you say about what we’ll learn about him this season?
HAWLEY: It’s interesting, we all go through things in life where we’re not immediately sure what they mean. Here’s Lou, who served two tours in Vietnam, and he’s only been back out of the Navy for three or four years. There’s this real sense that they all brought the war back with them and the country is in such a bad place, and his wife has cancer. The burden is a lot. While I was writing this, I was reading about this idea of moral injury, which is not PTSD. It’s the idea that soldiers in war time are asked to do things that would be considered immoral in peace time. And when they come back, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’re bad people, and it’s even harder if the war is unjustified. World War II is one thing, but Vietnam is another. You come back and go, “I did some really bad things, but I feel really bad about it. And I can’t justify it because it didn’t make any sense.” Because he’s been to war, he sees the storm clouds on the horizon. He knows what is about to happen and he has this opportunity to prevent that, protect his community, and keep the people he loves from seeing that. But he’s not Keith Carradine yet. His character was a very calm and wise and comfortable in his own skin guy. Patrick Wilson has a confidence and he’s comfortable, but he’s not Keith Carradine yet. This journey will get him to a place where he can finally settle into his life and really be back from the war.
This show has two kinds of criminals – the ones who do bad things, and the ones who accidentally find themselves having done bad things. Is that fun to play with?
HAWLEY: There’s a moral spectrum. Even in the movie, there is Marg, who is pure good, and there is Peter Stormare, who is pure evil. He doesn’t say anything, the whole movie. He’s just this weirdly demonic, elemental force. And then, there’s Steve Buscemi, who’s a real asshole and who’s despicable, but who’s more recognizably human. And in the middle, there’s Bill Macy, but you don’t know with him. It’s like with Lester. You think that he could go either way. The fact that he’s given this moral challenge and he fails so dramatically makes him worse, in a way. People hate Martin Freeman’s character so much more than Billy Bob Thornton. They love Billy because he was a scorpion when you met him, so there’s no illusion. But Lester was wearing human clothes and he tricked you. You rooted for him, and then he turned out to be really awful, so you hate him for that. I think that’s really interesting because as much as these can be morality plays, that’s where they’re really going to be the most compelling. There aren’t easy answers and you don’t know what’s going to happen. The things that Lester ended up doing were so despicable, and then he walked out of there with that smile on his face and you were like, “Oh, shit! I’ve been rooting for the wrong guy.” It’s that moment, like with Walter White, where you wonder how long people are going to stick with this guy. Some people were with him, all the way to the end, and some people got out earlier. How deep into this are people going to root for Kirsten Dunst? Are they going to root for her the whole time, or are they going to go, “I can’t. I’ve gotta root against her now”? And I don’t know the answer to that.
You get such a great cast of actors together for this show. Did you write any of these characters with a specific actor in mind?
HAWLEY: No, it gets cloudy when you do that, on some levels. You start to go, “Can I see this actor do that thing?” What I like about separating the writing from production is that we break the whole story and have at least three or four hours written before we start casting. That’s really the moment where I go, “Okay, who are these people? What are the faces that go with these characters?” And I think that’s really helpful because then the actors come in and there’s a fully realized character there. The thing with ensembles is that you tend to weed out the divas because they want to be on something where the character’s name is also the name of the show. But, these actors want to disappear into a world. I think they like that.
Were there any of these actors that you immediately thought of for a specific character?
HAWLEY: Brad Garrett came in and was so immediately perfect. He’s 6’8″, and he’s just got that quality to him where you can see it completely. I thought of Nick Offerman very early for that role. And Kirsten was at the top of the list, definitely. For the casting process, people generate lists and you have to find out who’s available, who’s interested, who will meet and who’s an offer only. It’s also hard because the accent and the roles are so specific, and they have to do the comedy, as well. When I created those FBI characters the first year, I thought if we could get Key and Peele, it would be the best thing, ever. It’s been really rewarding. The fact that people want to do this so badly, that we give them such a great experience is really powerful.
Did you intentionally want to tell a bigger story this season?
HAWLEY: I didn’t set out to do it, but there was a crime syndicate and a family, and suddenly, there were all these moving pieces. It’s an epic that is a perfect thing for this moment in history. On an epic level, it is a story about the death of the family business and the rise of corporate America. The idea is how do you turn that into a crime story in a way that doesn’t feel like eating your vegetables to people?
Fargo airs on Monday nights on FX.