The absolutely brilliant second season of the FX series Fargo (my personal vote for Best Returning Series of 2015) is now available on Blu-ray/DVD. The latest chapter of the pitch-perfect take on the Coen brothers’ world takes you back to 1979 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Luverne, Minnesota, when Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) was a young State Police Officer recently back from Vietnam. He finds himself investigating a case involving a local crime gang, a major mob syndicate and small town beautician, Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst), along with her husband, Ed (Jesse Plemons), the local butcher’s assistant.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Bokeem Woodbine (who gave a stand-out performance as crime syndicate enforcer Mike Milligan) talked about what a joy it was to be a part of Fargo, how pleasantly surprised he’s been by all of the positive attention, how much time he had to prepare for the role, both before and during production, finding the character’s swagger, and what a lack of a tortured actor scenario there was on set. He also talked about his next project, the A&E drama series The Infamous, which is set in the highly charged atmosphere of pre-1992 riots Los Angeles and follows a South Compton gangster (Woodbine) trying to go straight, as an LAPD detective is trying to take him down.
Collider: Your performance in Season 2 of Fargo was such a stand-out and so memorable that many people said Mike Milligan was the role of your career. How did it feel while you were making it, and what’s it like to hear something like that from the folks that were watching it?
BOKEEM WOODBINE: Well, making it was just a joy. From the time I found out I got the gig, throughout being on set, every day, it was exciting, refreshing, inspiring and just comfortable, as far as the talent was concerned. I haven’t enjoyed myself like that, working, in a long time. And as far as the positive feedback I’ve been getting, I didn’t even really think about how it would be received, so it’s a real pleasant surprise to get all of this nice attention.
Did you know, while you were making it, that it would turn out to be such a special experience, or did it take looking back on it, once you were finished, to realize what a gem it was?
WOODBINE: I knew the piece, in general, was gonna be special. I was watching and listening to the other actors, and I was seeing everybody do such good work. I remember thinking, “So and so is really going to shine in this scene,” or “This set looks great,” or “These words are fantastic.” I never really looked at the monitor, as far as watching myself, but every once in awhile, I would take a look at other people on camera, just to see how they were doing, and I’d think, “Wow, she looks great,” or “This guy is really doing his thing.” I didn’t know how I was going to look, but I knew that everybody else was doing great. I knew it was going to look really, really good. I wasn’t really thinking about myself too much. Aside from me, I thought it was going to look fantastic.
Fargo is so specific with such specific dialogue, but at the same time, it really allows the actors to shine. How did you find your place among everything that this show is? Did you have a process for making it comfortable and second nature for yourself?
WOODBINE: I had more time than usual, ahead of time. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had five or six weeks before I got in front of the camera to prepare. Just having some time to get prepared was a huge advantage. And while we were shooting, I still had plenty of time. It was weird, I always had a lot of time. I wasn’t rushed. I always had enough time. Even if I had what, for my character, would be considered a challenging week, where I was there four or five days, every day, all day, the week before, I would have the weekend to prepare for it. I always had enough time. There was never a shortage of time. That was a tremendous advantage for me. So, I took advantage of all that time that I had to get ready, and while we were shooting, I had time. They just paced it out really nice. You’d go hard for three weeks, and then you’d get seven or eight days off. We did that for four to four-and-a-half months. They never beat us to death. We were always fresh. They were really smart about how they did it. I don’t know how they knew to do that, but it was great.
This is a character that was very distinct among this ensemble of characters. He has a certain amount of confidence and swagger that the other characters don’t have. Was that on the page, or did you just feel that that was right for this character?
WOODBINE: When I read it, that’s how he seemed to me. That’s how he seemed from the page. Now that I think about it, a lot of it wasn’t necessarily specifically on the page, but the dialogue and his actions were such that that’s how I interpreted it. They were very, very cool about letting me do it my way, so I just played him the way that I saw him on the page.
This character is simultaneously an adversary and a reluctant hero, and he’s something of a romantic guy. How rare was it to get the opportunity to do all of that in one character?
WOODBINE: Rare is an understatement. I can definitely say it was a first. He got a chance to be actualized over ten episodes. That would be five movies. It was a blessing. He got a chance to really be fleshed out. People aren’t one-dimensional, two-dimensional, or even three-dimensional. I’ve met some four-dimensional cats who are really out there. So, when you have this opportunity to appear in ten episodes, you just get more of a chance to express this character. And it goes back to how it was written. I really can’t take that much credit. It was Noah Hawley. He thought of Mike Milligan. That came out of his imagination and mind. I just put on the wardrobe and said the words. This was all his idea.
What do you think would most surprise people about what goes into making this show?
WOODBINE: Maybe how much of a lack of a tortured actor scenario there was. People were having fun. There was a lot of smiling, a lot of laughing, and a lot of people just thrilled to be a part of it. Given the heaviness of the work and the deeply heavy material, you’d think there would be people in the corner, banging their head on the wall and saying, “Don’t talk to me!” It wasn’t an angst-riddled set where people were pulling their hair out. There wasn’t any of that. It was just a joy to be on set. Everybody did their homework. I don’t know what other people’s processes were, but it seemed like people did their work before they got on set. When they got on set, everyone was happy to see each other, and it was a very friendly, upbeat vibe. I think that might surprise people.
That must make you not want to leave and move on to the next job, but you actually already have your next job lined up, with the upcoming A&E series, The Infamous, which sounds interesting and intense.
WOODBINE: Yeah, I’m lucky. I took Noah’s advice and just hung in there and waited. After Fargo, I auditioned a few times and the text just wasn’t there. I used to get excited or moved by that type of material because it was an opportunity to conceivably get a job, and that’s my thing. I like to work. But then, after doing Fargo, the same type of script that I used to get excited about just felt like drivel. I was like, “Where’s the flare? Where’s the artistry? Where’s the passion?” It was like eating the best meal, and then getting some watered-down slop. It was really, really hard. It’s a double-edged sword, after you work with a cast and crew like that and that type of text. Working with somebody like Noah makes it hard to go to the next thing. But luckily, The Infamous came along, and it was definitely worth the wait. Sometimes you’ve gotta do that, if you want to move forward.
If your bar was set that much higher, what was it about your new show that really did reel you in? Was it the character or was it the specific subject matter?
WOODBINE: It was both. The character is intriguing. He’s definitely not somebody that I’ve played before. It’s set in an era, similar to Fargo, that was a turning point in the country, and it has to do with music, which is something that I happen to love on a personal level. I remember the era of Hip-Hop in the early ‘90s and how it was just a brave new world. It’s set back in that time, and there are so many different elements that go into nit. And I love the network that it’s on, too. Everything seemed to come together and I said, “Okay, this is worthy of me, following up Fargo with. This is good. This is on par.” I just feel blessed to be a part of it. I’m excited to start shooting in a couple of weeks. I’m pumped up about that.
Fargo Season 2 is available on Blu-ray/DVD.