How do BAFTAS and Emmys compare in your mind? You’ve already won a BAFTA.
I did. I’ve lost a couple too. To be absolutely honest, they’re both lovely. I suppose if anything, the Emmy is a little more surprising just because I am British and I think it’s — although it’s getting less so — still a little bit more rare for British people to get Emmys or Emmy nominations because American television at its best is phenomenally good, and there’s an awful lot of talent to choose from, just among people from the States. So when Brits get a nod we’re like, "Oh, wow. That’s nice." You’ve got so many great things of your own to choose from. And so, it’s more eye opening, I suppose, but to be honest I’ll keep whatever people want to throw at me. I’ll keep a BAFTA, an Emmy, a 25-yard breaststroke [trophy] — anything.
That’s great. It’s funny that you say that, though, because we seem to love you guys, especially on TV.
That’s true more and more so. Absolutely. But I think my last time there [was] when I was there with Sherlock, you realize that however big a fish you think you are in the UK, you come to LA and think, "Oh, no, no, no." I mean, sitting right behind me was James Gandolfini, and I didn’t have the guts to turn around and say, "Listen, I love you." Now, I really wish I had, but it’s just wall-to-wall people who you’ve either grown up with or people you really admire now and you are — Yeah, people don’t really pay that much attention to you actually when you’re there. Because there’s always someone 15 times more famous than you are.
The Emmys nominated you and Benedict Cumberbatch for "Sherlock" and Idris Elba for "Luther," so there’s a bunch of Brits this year. You’re competing against Billy Bob Thornton and the aforementioned actors — does it make you feel better to lose to someone you know or do you just want to win all the more?
I don’t know. I’ll let you know when I’ve lost to them. I don’t know. I wish them well and I wish me well, in all honesty. Beyond that, it’s nice thing. Awards are a nice thing, but let’s not pretend they’re the reason we went into the job. So yeah, it’s a nice thing. It doesn’t hold any great importance beyond that, other than a really lovely compliment. And I take it in that spirit. I’m very complimented and honored to be nominated because as I said, there’s an awful lot of very, very good people and writers and cinematographers and producers and directors out there and for me to be one of them — and for me too be one of them twice, I’ll take that as a huge honor.
But it’s not feeding the hunger of the world, you know?
["Fargo" spoilers ahead] So "Fargo" just kind of blew up, earning high enough ratings for FX to renew the one-off miniseries for a second season. It’s a decades ago prequel, so — sadly — you won’t be returning, but did you know your character was going to die and how he was going to die?
I did not. I signed on for it just having read the first episode and the first episode was good enough for me. I thought, "Oh well, I want some of this." I could see the writing was very good. I liked the idea of working with Billy [Bob Thornton]. I didn’t know who else at that point was going to be in it — except maybe I knew Bob Odenkirk was going to be in it, who I was a fan of. But, I just knew it was a good piece of work and every aspect that came to us, all of the cast, we’d just be wanting to eat it up and get onto the next one and Noah Hawley was very tight-lipped about where anything was going. I was smart enough to not ask him too much because I knew he was never going to say it. And so I knew it probably wasn’t going to end well for Lester. I knew he probably wasn’t going to end up being elected state governor, but I didn’t know how and I didn’t know in what manner of end he would meet [his end]. So when I read it, I thought that’s kind of good and southern and nicely anti-climatic [ending] for Lester. It’s not the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It’s just quick and relatively tawdry as an end. And I thought it was, like the rest of those scripts, bloody marvelous.
I remember you saying in preliminary interviews you didn’t want to do the show if it was just going to be a "Fargo" cover band. Obviously it turned out to be so much more.
Thank God it did.
Now that it’s over, can you talk about what in the script helped you realize "Oh, this is so much more. This is why it’s not going to be a retread of the movie"?
It was really nothing more than just the quality of the scripts that kept coming through. So every episode would just be enticing, surprising and funny and violent and it would kind of turn you off and turn you on at the same time. There would be horrible stuff going on and what I knew was similar to the film, some of the poems and some of the sense of humor, but I wasn’t being asked to be Bill Macy, or Alison wasn’t asked to be Francis McDormand. You know, I still haven’t re-watched the film since 1998. I think once I finish my play I’ll probably watch "Fargo" again, but I really have not watched it and obviously I absolutely did not want to watch it during the making of ours.
So that was what convinced me, and it was also the fact that after a very short amount of time the audience was not talking about the film and whatever skepticism there was — I don’t know about in the States, but in Britain there was some skepticism [about remaking] a beloved film. They respect the film. [But] people were not talking about the film after Episode 2.
Now all they’re talking about is the second season and if there is going to be a third or fourth. If they ever approached you about coming back, would you consider returning if it was possible?
I would take any offer from Noah and Warren and his team very seriously. Yeah. And as you may or may not know I’m not pathologically into reruns or reunions or stringing things out for as long as [possible]. I like brevity. I enjoy it. I like things ending. I think it’s natural and I think it has to be done. However, God, I didn’t have a single bad day on that job. I mean, there wasn’t a day I didn’t enjoy and believe me, when you’re that fucking freezing that’s saying something. It was freezing cold and I still loved every day. Listen — if they said "Would you like to come and do this," I would take that very seriously, yeah.
That’s interesting too. I mean, obviously you’re attached to a huge franchise that has an ending. There’s three films in "The Hobbit," but that’s still a beginning, middle and an end. "Sherlock," though, just keeps going. You’ve always been a big supporter of that show, so what about "Sherlock" makes you keep coming back and keep going with that instead of having an ending?
Well again, writing. It’s beautifully written. It’s beautifully shot. Benny’s an excellent Sherlock. The rest of the cast is phenomenal, so it’s just that. It’s playing a great, interesting character with layers, who is able to be surprising, who’s not filler, who’s not just a sidekick [for] someone who’s brilliant and you’re just there facilitating it. You get the chance for your character to be brilliant as well, you know? Sherlock and John both get a chance to be brilliant. What brings me back is the fact that it is very much based on what happens between Ben and I when the camera starts rolling. That is part of it. But I think what Ben and I bring to it is rather unique. I have to say, I’m pretending I’m not in the show. I’m pretending I’m watching it and going, "Oh, that’s quite unique." I know it sounds quite self-aggrandizing for me to be saying this but it’s frankly fucking true.
Hey, you’ve got to be proud of your work. If you’re not proud, it’s hard to imagine why you’d get involved in the first place. I know they announced they’re going to start shooting the fourth season of "Sherlock" at the beginning of 2015 and try to get a special going, too. Is it going to be a Christmas special for 2015?
I believe it’s going to be a Christmas special, the 25th. I don’t think I’m giving anything too strongly away saying that. Yeah, we start that early next year and the premise that I know it sounds fantastic. I mean really, really exciting. All of us want each season to be — you probably find the word season laughable — each trio of episodes, we want them to top the last one. We want each one to be the best one and certainly from what they described to me they’re so excited. I’m very, very spoiled. I’m very, very lucky in being involved in things that anyone of which would be a once in a lifetime gig, and I’ve got a few of them. But yeah, Sherlock is one of those shows you can’t wait to do. Every script that comes you think, "Jesus Christ." If you did one of these in your life, you’d be kind of lucky.
It’s so encouraging to hear you’re so excited about the next season. I mean Sherlock already survived his own death. What can possibly happen to top that?
Well — watch this space.