A year ago, Allison Tolman didn’t even live in California. The Texas native was training at Second City in Chicago, trying to hone her improv chops after helping create her own troupe in Dallas a few years earlier. She was working as a receptionist to help pay the bills when she put herself on tape in the hopes of landing a role in “Fargo.” Lo and behold she did just that, securing the part of Molly Solverson, a big-hearted sheriff’s deputy with a sharper mind than her higher-ups and a firmer resolve than the criminals hoping to elude her.
The rest, as they say, is history. Tolman became an instant fan favorite and earned accolades from critics across the country, enough to help land her an Emmy nomination for her breakout role. Tolman has since moved to Los Angeles, and though she won’t be in the prequel season of “Fargo,” is keeping herself plenty busy in a town of opportunity.
In late November, Tolman spoke with Indiewire about how her life and career have changed since “Fargo,” what it’s like to work the awards circuit for the first time and what you can see her in next (LA readers, pay heed).
I read you started your own comedy troupe down in Dallas, so I was curious if those skills translated at all to the set or the audition process on “Fargo.”
I think so. I think my history of equal parts comedy and equal parts drama [helped], because I started in theater and did three years of it—that’s what my degree is in. But when I got out of school I started performing with these improv troupes and all of that. My interest in it is why I eventually moved to Chicago from Dallas, because as much as I loved theater I really wanted to pursue comedy seriously. So I went to Second City! I feel like “Fargo” is a good blend of those two skill sets. It’s such a dark comedy. I don’t even think of it as a comedic role. Besides “Fargo,” I’ve mostly done supporting roles in sitcoms, which is funny since this is the most dramatic role I’ve done. But it helps to have comedic training to help you play that dark comedy delicately. I think my background in improv and my time at Second City helped me prepare for handling that.
“Fargo” was such a perfect blend between really dark dramatic elements and crucial comic timing. Were there any conversations about your background with Noah Hawley before you started?
I don’t think Noah and I had conversations about it, but a large draw of coming from Second City was that I was different. My resume was different. Coming out of Dallas and doing commercial work in Dallas—if you had improv background in Dallas than you were instantly shot to the top of the list of commercial bookings, because they loved improvisers because you could elevate the material. I moved to Chicago when I was 28, and I wasn’t completely idealistic about going to Second City and making a living from comedy, but I knew it would be great for the resume. I don’t know how much that played into me winning the role or me being called back in for the role.
So you got the job and the show is a huge hit, but you knew you wouldn’t be coming back because of the anthology structure of the show. Still, fans are clamoring for your return because you were such a highlight of the show. What has that been like?
It’s nice to know people connected to that character so much. It’s a really bizarre experience, and wonderful, too. It was such a great introduction to the public and to the business to play this role. […] But the public response was really sweet, and I think I was pretty quick to tweet out about not being upset over not being included in the next season. I’m going to watch Season 2 so hard! I won’t be involved, but I know if it was the right thing to bring me back, than Noah would have done it. But it wasn’t the right thing, and I’m sure he’ll turn out something fantastic. I can’t wait to see what it is.
What are you working on right now? Your publicist said you moved out to LA. Is that for any specific reason? Are you auditioning for roles or working on writing any sketch comedy? What’s your focus now?
When I heard I wasn’t going to be in Season 2, I thought I should get out to Los Angeles pretty quick. I’m aware me getting a role out of Chicago as a complete unknown is an insane anomaly, so I knew I’d have to get out here to LA as soon as the door opened. I would be a fool to stay put when the door was open, so I picked up and moved as soon as I could, which was right after the Emmys actually. I knew it was time to come out here and see what’s next. I’m reading a lot of television and film scripts. I’m basically just reading whatever comes my way. I’m doing guest spots here and there to not get too rusty, and also “Fargo” is the only set I’ve ever been on, so just being on different sets ends up being very helpful for me to actually learn how television is made. The next step hasn’t come along yet, but I’m hoping by the end of the year I’ll know what the next big step will be, whether it’s TV or film. I’ve been in LA for about two months, so I’m also settling into the city a bit. It’s quite different from Chicago, and I loved Chicago. I would have stayed in Chicago longer had I been given a choice, so I’m getting used to the city a little bit. I wish I could say I was writing, but I’m not. But that needs to be done. I need an office and a place I can sit down to get away from television and just write. I can’t just write a little bit every day, I really have to make time for myself and get it done, and I haven’t really had time for that either. I’m not suddenly struck in the middle of the night with script ideas. If I don’t make myself sit down and doing, than I don’t.
I did! When I was first starting press for “Fargo,” my agent asked if I wanted to write my own bio for IMBD, and I totally did! So I wrote this thing that’s half facts and half smart-ass jokes and sent it in to PR and they cut out all the jokes, so I went back to my agent and told her this was my introduction. No one knew who I was, and if every bio is going to be super straight that’s fine, but if anyone can veer off and make jokes in their bio than I want to do that. My agent totally understood and he went to PR and they let me keep it!
We keep checking to see if it’s ever going to change as you keep getting more and more roles.
Thanks! I’ll eventually have to re-write it and expand on it. [laughs]
Tell me about the Emmys. What was it like attending this year?
It was such a surreal experience. Not even just the Emmys, but the whole weekend beforehand was just party after party after party after reception. Making “Fargo” was its own bizarre planet that I landed on, and then promoting “Fargo” was the other bizarre planet. It was a weird, weird experience. And fantastic too! I had so much fun fooling around with my co-stars and boyfriend and manager doing all these different things. Getting to wear fun clothes was nice, especially after spending months in that brown coat on set. It was really a lot of fun. But it was a lot of work and it was exhausting. I can understand why people who have been doing this for many years just don’t have the energy to do it anymore. When I hear this person didn’t go to the ceremony or this person didn’t go to the after party, I totally get it now. It’s work, man! It really is. To be able to meet a lot of people who I’m fans, and to meet people who have seen the show, it was great. The whole year has been so surreal that of course we went to the Emmys, and of course all these bizarre things happened. Every day was slightly weirder than the day before.
And it’s not over yet! I’d imagine you’re ramping up now for the Golden Globes.
Yeah, that’s kicking off tomorrow. That’s the official kick-off party, so I’m going to that. […] I’m actually doing a play in Los Angeles. It’s Christmas [themed] and it’s a play I’ve done before, so it was low commitment and high yield. It’s a series of vignettes, so I get to do one scene. And I get to stay in my comfy pajamas! But I realized that I accepted this play and now they’ll probably be all these Globe parties, so now it’s starting to hit me that I’ll probably have to pull double duty every weekend. [laughs]
At least it’s a good kind of busy.
Exactly! It’s all good problems to have.
So what’s the name of the play, and where are you doing it?
It’s a play called “Almost Maine,” and it’s a series of nine vignettes at the Hudson [Mainstage Theatre]. The first week of December is when it starts. It’s sweet and warm without being saccharine at all. It’s a perfect date play. It’s very wholesome without having you feel like you ate a bunch of sugar cubes.
Is there anything you can tell us about playing Pam’s sister Edie on “Archer”?
It worked out so well. I met Lucky Yates back during my first press thing for “Fargo,” which was at the TCAs. I was a fan of “Archer” anyways, but Lucky is this really fun, exuberant guy. So within seconds of meeting him it was already like we were best friends, at least that’s how I was taking it, so we kept running into each other here and there and we became friends. During Critics Choice, I got to meet the “Archer” producer and creators, and they were fans of our show and I was a fan of their show. We chatted and the next morning after the awards we were checking out of the hotel at the same time and one producer talked over his shoulder as he got into the car and said, “Well, come do our show sometime!” And I just let out an evil laugh in my head. So I got in my cab and instantly called my manager to find how serious the producer was about me coming to do their show. They got on it straight away and got back to me quickly. I love voiceovers. That acting is really freeing because I feel most free when I only have to use my voice. I’ve never been a slapstick person or into really, really broad comedy, so I really have to push hard if I’m going to do that, but with voice-over it’s different. I had an absolute blast recording that episode and I can’t wait to see it.
Is it just the one episode?
Yes, but I’m certainly open to coming back. [Edie’s] not a villain, but she’s also not a pleasant woman. [laughs] I would jump at it. It’s such a good time with those guys.