From showrunner Noah Hawley, the third installment of the FX series Fargo is set in 2010 and follows the rivalry between Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor), a self-made real estate mogul, and his slightly younger brother Ray (also played by McGregor), a balding and overweight parole officer who blames his older brother for the hand that he’s been dealt. At the same time, V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) provides Emmit with an unwelcome business proposal that will upend the perfect life that he’s built. The third season also stars Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Stuhlbarg, Shea Whingham and Olivia Sandoval.
To promote the new season, Collider participated in two different conference calls with executive producer/writer/director Noah Hawley, and we’ve combined what he had to say to shed insight on where things are headed. During the interviews, he talked about the connections between the seasons, deciding to set this in 2010, the reason for the dual locations, wanting the same actor to play both Emmit and Ray, and the challenges that come with that, creating the looks for each brother, the importance of the show’s female identity, naming characters, the process for creating a visual style for each season, and putting together the music.
Question: The first season was connected to the movie, and the second season was connected to the first. What kinds of connection can we expect from Season 3, and how do you decide what connections you’ll use?
NOAH HAWLEY: I think the seasons always need to stand on their own two feet. The first season is a good example because the first three hours of the show were completely unconnected to the movie, and that allowed the audience to settle in and say, “Oh, okay, I thought there would be connections, but there aren’t, and that’s fine because this is working on its own.” And then, in that fourth hour, we found the money from the movie and, suddenly, we gave people what they wanted. They were happy to watch it without a connection, but they were thrilled to have a connection. Obviously, our second season was a literal prequel, so the connections were obvious. This season, I wanted it to stand more on its own two feet. If the first two seasons are two chapters of a story, on some level, then this is a new book. But that said, I think it is rewarding for people to find something along the way, either that other people don’t notice or that is obvious to everyone. And I don’t know that I want to tease it. I think there’s something rewarding about waiting for it and being happily surprised. It won’t be early, but it will come.
Why did you decide to set this in 2010?
HAWLEY: I thought after 1979, it was important to tell a story that felt more modern. Obviously, our first year was set in 2006, before the big global event of our time, which was the financial crash in 2008. And then, 2010 was the aftermath and the struggle of everyone to get back to prosperity. And I thought it would be interesting if one of our characters was a real estate magnate. What were those last two year like for him, and what did he have to do to survive this financial collapse? It also allowed me to play with other elements of the modern world that have occurred since 2006, like the rise of social media and what it does to a place where community is based so much in tangible human interactions, in a very wintery, isolated region. What does it do when, suddenly, you have access, all the time, to a virtual community? What does that do to your real-life relationships? I wanted to explore all those things, as a color of this crime story, but certainly not in any lecture-y way.
What was it about St. Cloud and Eden Valley that made you want to use that as the location?
HAWLEY: With Eden Valley, I had a very tangible need for a town that had a very similar name to another town because there’s a mix-up that occurs, and they needed to be close enough together that you could see driving to the wrong one by accident. If you just look at the map and see Eden Prairie and Eden Valley, with 30 or 40 minutes between them, you can see how a guy that’s not in his right mind and who lost a piece of paper might drive to one and not the other. And then, with St. Cloud, I needed a city setting that was close enough in proximity that you could see Gloria driving up to check in, and it all feels local enough. This season, we are more stuck in a triangle of close proximity, and that intimacy is nice for the story.
Each season contains elements that are left of center and beyond the reality of our world. Should we expect anything like that, in this new season?
HAWLEY: One of the things I love about Joel and Ethan Coen’s movies is that there is this element of the ethereal and the mythic that they play with. They take a very grounded story and they add an element in that shows that these stories are being played out, both on a realistic, grounded level and also in a mythological way. So, I definitely feel like that’s part of the identity of the show. The question is not, can we top a UFO? The question is, what are the organic, ethereal elements that are at play here, and how do we write to those, instead of thinking about it in terms of scale?
Your work has such specificity to it. How has your process evolved, over the years? Do you feel any pressure to go bigger, with each season?
HAWLEY: I don’t think it’s bigger. The great thing about an anthology is that each year is its own 10-hour movie, and the only requirement is that it’s the best 10-hour movie that I can make out of the story. I don’t compare the years or stories, or anything like that. It’s more just that writing is writing, and filmmaking is three-dimensional writing. Specificity is the fun of it. It’s the play of the creative process. Just taking nothing for granted, and you’ll make something more interesting.
Did you know, from the start of working on this season and creating these characters, that you wanted the same actor to play Emmit and Ray? And because you have the same actor playing both of those characters, sometimes in the same day, what have been the biggest and most difficult production challenges?
HAWLEY: From the very beginning of the idea, there were two brothers and, when they were teenagers, their dad died, and he left one of them a stamp collection and the other one a Corvette. They traded, and the trading was somebody’s idea, and ever since, there’s been a grievance between them. From the very first moment, there were two brothers and they were played by the same actor. I couldn’t tell you why. That’s just what the idea was, so I didn’t question it. And when I told the network, I think they were very happy because obviously it becomes an attractive job for an actor to get to play two roles. When you’re trying to recruit actors of a certain caliber, you want to be able to offer them something they can’t get anywhere else. I think everyone was thrilled about that. And practically, it’s not that complicated, mostly because we’re not doing a lot of crazy stunts and things that would require a lot of time, in terms of the filmmaking. It takes about 90 minutes to change Ewan from one role to the other, and because we’re a lean cable show, we have to always figure out what we’re shooting during those 90 minutes. There’s usually a techno-crane shot that marries the two actors into one scene, but then it’s just coverage like any other scene. We don’t want to draw a lot of attention to it. We just want to shoot it like we would anything on this show. And they’re not in every scene together. There are some episodes where they’re not in a scene together, at all. It hasn’t really been that challenging. I think the challenge is more for Ewan, who will have to play one side of the scene in the morning, and then change over and play the other side of the scene. It becomes about really needing a double that he can actually act against. Part of the challenge is finding someone who looks enough like him that they can be a stand-in, but also can act.