If you watched the second year of FX’s acclaimed drama, there were two things that were incredibly clear: Mike Milligan, a midwestern mob enforcer, was the coolest guy in the game, and Bokeem Woodbine, the actor, was a major, yet underappreciated talent.
While Woodbine is a veteran actor with a career stretching back to 1993, “Fargo” was a true game-changer for him. Indiewire spoke with the former guest star of “The X-Files” via phone to learn about what Noah Hawley’s series has exactly meant for his career, what he’s moving on to next, what differentiates period-set roles from contemporary parts and the “thrill” of getting to walk in Mike’s shoes (literally). An edited transcript is below.
When you first got offered the role, did you have an understanding of how big a role your character would play in it?
I had an inkling because I had two scenes — I didn’t have a whole script — I had two scenes from Episode 2 and I just had a feeling. I was determined to make it a memorable character, but I had a feeling that it would be an impactful character.
Do you remember what scenes those were?
It was the typewriter scene, from Episode 2, and then there was another scene from Episode 2 where my character and Ted Danson have a conversation by the side of the road.
Was there anything about those scenes, in particular, that intrigued you?
Just the challenge of getting it right, or trying to get it right. I knew that it was early on in the season, so, how much do you want to give away? How much do you want to express? Given the fact that there’s 10 episodes, and that’s only the second one, how much do you want to do? How much is appropriate? Just the challenge of getting that right was the most intriguing thing.
Of course. I’ve talked to actors and sometimes they say that they really want to know where things are going. They want to know the whole roadmap in front of them. But some people really don’t like it. Do you have a particular way you fall in that regard?
I think I was lucky because I had the best of both worlds. We had six episodes out of 10 ahead of time, and the last four were a mystery. I was just blessed. I’m not married to any one way. If they had given me all 10, that would’ve been fine… but if I had to wait, episode by episode, it would’ve driven me crazy, now that I think about it. [laughs] Gotta have six at least. It’s nice sometimes to have a road map. But if I had to, just to be a part of this project, I would’ve made it work. Ultimately, I was blessed to have the best of both worlds.
I’m curious: I mean, you’ve been working for quite some time, but this role was a real landmark for you. Has anything changed for you, in particular, since the show came out?
Yeah, things have definitely progressed. Things are moving in a direction that I’ve wanted them to for a long time. I’ll just give you an example: There was a day, about three weeks ago, where I spoke to my agent three times. And each time they called me, it was with an offer for a series regular on a different show. Every single time. So I got three offers in one day for three different shows. I didn’t audition or anything. That had never happened before.
Yeah, it’s like night and day.
You are moving on to something really interesting right now–
Oh, “The Infamous!”
That’s another period piece?
Technically, yeah, it is. It’s 1992.
How’s that been so far, looking back at those years?
Just listening to a lot of music from that era, just trying to remember how it felt to be 19 years old in 1992. That was the year I got my first job, so trying to remember that feeling. Just staying in touch with those memories and working on the material. I think it’s coming along well. We start shooting in a couple of weeks in California. With the cast we’re assembling, the material we have, and our director, Anthony Hemingway, we’ll be in good shape. And our network, A&E, is a good network and they’re taking care of us. I’m confident we’ll be in good shape.
In general, is there something about doing a period piece that strikes you as interesting, as opposed to contemporary?
For whatever reason, I think, if I’m in the past or if I’m in the future, I tend to have an opportunity to play roles that are a little bit more dynamic. At least in my career, when I’ve played like, say a soldier in the Vietnam era, or in a sci-fi agent somewhere in the future, or in most recently “Fargo,” which is the perfect example, I get better dialogue. I get better wardrobe. I just have more of an opportunity to stretch. It’s more than not that when I play characters who are set in contemporary times. They’re just not as dynamic for whatever reason. I don’t know why that is. So I just like playing in different time periods.
I mean, Mike’s look in “Fargo” is so distinctive.
Was that particularly fun?
Oh, without a doubt, that was one of the great joys of coming to set, was getting dressed up. I mean, it was like… Man, that was a thrill, I’m not gonna lie. I’m not really that fond of wardrobe fittings or the process of doing the fittings and the wardrobe, things relating to that. It just kind of sucks the energy out of me most times. It’s not that fun. But for Mike Milligan, it was a thrill.
I even had some suggestions about the clothes. At one point, I suggested, “Hey, why don’t we switch it up and give Mike a different suit for the last couple of episodes?” I was just throwing it out there, and then they were like, “I think that’s a great idea!” And then, boom! For the last four episodes, he had a purple suit. It was just great. I actually really enjoyed the whole wardrobe aspect of this show.
That’s funny, because I got to interview Jeffrey Donovan a while back about it, and he was complaining about how polyester was not the most comfortable material for him.
[laughs] That’s funny that you say that, yeah. I mean, Mike Milligan’s wardrobe was just so cool, though. I was lucky. I could see why they didn’t necessarily dig it, because not everybody got to dress like Mike, you know?
I mean, I love that you used the word “cool” because Mike, if you were to just boil him down to one word, it’s “cool.” I’m wondering, for you, where does that come from? How do you play “cool?”
Well, the text that takes the character to me, it’s just my interpretation of it. It was all on the page. It was all how I saw it. It’s how I saw him. It’s what he read like to me: uber-confident and capable and somebody who isn’t confident in a bloodstream way, but someone who has tested themselves and has been tested by this environment and come out a winner. That kind of confidence.
“Fargo” Season 2 is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and other platforms.