Back to IndieWire

Noah Hawley and the ‘Fargo’ Season 2 Cast on Hidden Homages and the Trepidation in Tension

Noah Hawley and the 'Fargo' Season 2 Cast on Hidden Homages and the Trepidation in Tension

With, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning series just kicking off its second season, October 16 marked the perfect time to sit down with the cast and creator of “Fargo,” FX’s hit anthology series. Creator Noah Hawley, Executive Producer Warren Littlefield and the Season 2 cast — including Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Jean Smart, Cristin Milioti, Jeffrey Donovan and Bokeem Woodbine — joined together for a panel moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz at the Paley Center for Media for Paleyfest 2015. Check out some of the highlights from their discussion below.

READ MORE: Watch: ‘Fargo’ Year 2 Is Back, With A First Look at the Snow and Blood to Come

Subtle Homages and Tricky Writing

“You’ve got to be subtle about [homage]” Hawley said. “I never want to feel like it’s cutesy, or I’m going for a ripoff, or that there’s a cheap association with anything. But yeah, you look for those little places; like I don’t know if anybody noticed the bloody placemat. It has a guy’s face in a circle, and it says, ‘You know, for kids.’ [laughs] But the camera just moves past it, you’re not meant to notice it, but if you do notice it. […] It’s different than just saying ‘Hey, let’s hang a lantern on this. Isn’t that cute?’ The show should be as entertaining as possible for people who just want to watch it and then turn it off, and if you want more that’s there for you also.”

“When you start you think the show is about [Rye]” Hawley continued. “He’s the guy you’re going to follow, but really it’s a trick. We’re taking you to a point where his story literally intersects with Kirsten’s story, and so we needed to cast someone like Kieran so that you feel like the show is legitimately about him — and he was so good.”

The Bigger Picture of Season 2

No, [the scripts are] not all locked” Hawley said. “The first year I had eight out of 10. This year I had six or seven, but the whole year is broken. I have outlines for all 10 and so then it just becomes a map of sitting down and getting it done. We separated the writing from the production, which is unusual in television. But doing it allows you to really prep where the show is going, and you’re able to see a lot of years ahead and you’re able to know in the first year that we need a diner for Keith Carradine with two doors because Molly’s going to go in one door and Malvo’s going to go out the other. And I knew that when I was looking for the location within the first hour. So that stuff is really helpful and then you’re making these concrete moves towards the end. When a story has an end, every step is a step towards that end.”

“[Mythological texts] are available to me given the body of work, riffing off of.” Hawley continued. “But I do feel that the show is designed to work on many levels and there’s a lot of thematic underpinnings that are very deliberately worked out and thought through. And I do a lot of reading and thinking about where it’s all going for these people, and how it ties into the larger question that we raise each year. There’s usually a couple of things that we’re trying to work out. It’s not just about, ‘Is she going to get the guy?’ It’s a lot more– There’s a lot of existential angst this year because it was 1979 and wasn’t that when 1979 was? The great malaise speech, which we start with, [from] Jimmy Carter.”

Finding Molly Solverson’s Mom

“There’s the craft of acting and then there’s a quality. There’s a quality that someone has,” Hawley said. “Certainly in Cristin’s case, I’m looking for someone to play Allison Tolman’s mother. And Allison Tolman, when we found her, she just burst off the screen. She had this quality. It wasn’t necessarily could she hit every joke or the dramatic acting — which both things she was amazing at — but she just had this quality. She was working a temp job, and I called her at her temp job. When I saw Cristin she just has this quality, and she’s a hugely talented dramatic and comedic actress, but I could see the similarity. It just feels right.”

“It’s the range of things,” he continued. “The example I use is Bob Odenkirk in the first year. When he came in and read I’m sure he thought ‘This guy’s just the comic foil for her character. I’m just going to be the blustery boss.’ By the end you actually realize he’s the moral heart of the show, and he has this big dramatic journey. The great amount of fun that I have is I can cast dramatic actors to play comedic roles, and I can cast comedic actors to play dramatic roles because really, there’s no such thing. There’s just actors. And the minute that you give, there’s no such thing as a secondary character, especially in a ‘true story,’ everyone’s got a role to play and everyone’s got a point of view. It’s much more interesting when you don’t know which character is going to have a big role. On a certain hand, if you cast Billy Bob [Thornton], he has a big role, but then there are other people who move through that… I hope that was part of the fun of it, being able to play things that you don’t normally get asked to play.”

“Fargo” as a Horse Race

“One of the things that audiences seem to really respond to about the actors that they see in ‘Fargo’ is they’re presented physically and emotionally bundled,” Littlefield said. “Noah’s narrative just strips it all away, and I think that becomes really compelling for the actors to be able to play that.”

“I’m attracted to ensembles, you get a lot of really good moving pieces,” Hawley said. “It’s sort of like a horse race in a way, especially when you know that everyone is on this collision course. It’s like, ‘Who’s going to make it?’ And you can put people together in unexpected pairings. The fact that Ted Danson and Bokeem have that second scene in the second hour it’s like you don’t know whether Ted’s going to walk away from it or what’s going to happen in that scene because you know that by the end of the 10th hour, the story is over and dramatic things are going to happen every week.”

“Siberia with family restaurants”

“Year one was a record high snowfall, record cold temperatures for 20 years,” Littlefield said. “And year two wasn’t, climate change. In Calgary, we call it the Yo-Yo Winter because one day it was winter with snow and 20 degrees below 0, and a day later there was a warm wind coming down from these hills and it wasn’t winter anymore. It really was a challenge to have scenes match and do all those things. We trucked in snow from the mountains. We were watching our weather apps for a weekend to get cold enough where we could actually make snow all weekend on location, and, turns out, that’s very expensive to do. Weather was a challenge as well as doing something we’d never done before, a different story with a different cast in a different time period. All challenges that ultimately I think we rose to.”

“We went into the spring,” Hawley said of the shoot. “I thought it was interesting — now we’ve had the movie and our first year — it’s interesting to see what this region is like at a different time of year. I think that cold is part of that isolation. Joel and Ethan have described the region as “Siberia with family restaurants.” [laughs] The minute you take Siberia out of it, you just have an Applebee’s or whatever. But I think that that frontier-ness to it is something that’s really exciting about it. You won’t notice, for the first five hours it’s still cold, it still looks like winter. It’s just a little browner.”

Tension and Tone

“Tension is all about, ‘Why is this taking so long?'” Hawley said. “The interesting thing about that is that it’s also the tension of comedy. The tension of drama and comedy is similar, and that’s why usually you can get a big laugh in a really tense moment because people need that release. Part of it is trusting that people are going to feel that tension and resisting the pace of television now, which is so cutty. Even movies are so cutty now, to just really let that moment with Ted Danson approaching that car, let that take the time that it takes because it gives you a feeling of dread. And then we had a little chainsaw in the background. That sound, it ratchets up the tension. Or Patrick pulls up outside the butcher shop and Jesse is inside and you’ve got to make that almost painful for people because then the release of it is so much more. You’re so invested in those moments, so when you’re writing it you just have to trust that you’re going to tell the story with the camera, and it’s not about dialogue.”

“Tone is incredibly difficult sometimes to find,” Jeffrey Donovan said. “I think we all have the language because everyone is fans of the Coen brothers. We say ‘It’s like a Coen brothers movie.’ Everyone universally knows what that feels like, so we had a reference. But we could never play the tone, if you played the tone then you weren’t in the scene. You had to play the reality of the situation to be very grounded, and then with the words and the direction and the characters are all around you, it all of a sudden becomes heightened. The funny thing is tone was always on our minds when I did the series ‘Burn Notice’ because we couldn’t define it. There was no ‘Burn Notice’ tone. There was no Coen brothers tone that you could reference. So we just said ‘It’s like porn, you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.’ [laughs]

Television is an “Artist’s Market”

“In both years it’s a moment,” Hawley said. “It’s two men in the emergency room, one with a broken nose who’s a very civilized man and the other is something else. Who are those men? Why is his nose broken? Where are they going? What’s this meeting going to do? And here it’s a woman driving home with a man stuck in her windshield, starting dinner for her husband. Who the hell are they? And who’s this guy in the windshield? You find that and you go, ‘Okay, that feels like the right setup to put me into this world.’ And then you extrapolate out and say, ‘Okay, so the guy in the windshield is the son of this crime family, and they’re about to be bought out by this other organization, and this poor hapless couple is stuck in the middle, and then you have our cops who are trying to protect them,’ and that’s how it all was constructed. It took longer than that, [laughs] transcribing it, but that’s it.”

“It’s an artist’s market right now in television” Hawley added. “There are so many content providers now. […] You’ve got so many people who want to put original scripted dramas on and the only way to distinguish it and to create a brand is to make something better and different. When those are your marching orders, I think that’s a very exciting time. […] The economic incentive to make great television is they need to stand out in a crowd, so that’s a very exciting time to be making things.”

Season 2 of “Fargo” airs Mondays at 10pm on FX.

READ MORE: Review: ‘Fargo’ Season 2 Episode 1 ‘Waiting for Dutch’ Shows How Small Crimes Can Cause Big Problems

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox