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‘Fargo’: David Thewlis on the Details and Delight of Playing a Bad Guy Who’s ‘Out and Out Foul’ 

Thewlis is having a great time as one of the year's most idiocyncratic characters, a performance aided and abetted by production design, make-up and the genius brain of Noah Hawley. 

FARGO -- “The Narrow Escape Problem” – Year 3, Episode 4 (Airs May 10, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: David Thewlis as V.M. Varga. CR: Chris Large/FX

“Fargo” (“The Narrow Escape Problem”)

Chris Large/FX

When “Fargo” Year 3 announced its cast, Ewan McGregor was clearly the biggest name involved, and the fact that he would be playing brothers had everyone intrigued.

But in subsequent weeks, fans aren’t clamoring for McGregor’s Ray or Emmit, but they are obsessed with the character of V.M. Varga. And that’s because David Thewlis is turning in one of the spring’s darkest, most horrifying supporting performances, one that will be hard to overlook this Emmy season.

READ MORE: ‘Fargo’ Review: A Battle Between Ewan McGregors Has Never Felt So Wretched — And Season 3 Never More Exciting

Varga enters the world of “Fargo” cloaked in mystery, after Emmit (McGregor) discovers that a business deal he made has brought Varga into his business as an investor. As the season has progressed, we’ve come to learn more about the reedy man with a British accent and no scruples — including his eating habits, his place of residence, and his ruthlessness.

Many actors, when they commit to playing a villain role, will spend interviews talking about how they went looking for the inner humanity of the character. But Thewlis, during a recent visit to the set of “Fargo” in Calgary, revealed a different attitude.

“I’m very evil. I don’t like anybody,” Thewlis said. “I don’t have any redeeming qualities so far. [Varga]’s out and out foul, which is great.”

FARGO -- “The House of Special Purpose” – Year 3, Episode 5 (Airs May 17, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured (l-r): David Thewlis as V.M. Varga, Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy. CR: Chris Large/FX

Varga’s foulness gets expressed in no manner of fascinating ways, such as his habit of binge-eating and purging, which has eaten away at his teeth. “David, God bless him has perfect teeth,” said make-up department head Gail Kennedy, while brandishing the mouthpiece that Thewlis wears in playing Vargas. “So we built these here in Calgary — a denturist helped us build this. I designed these such that they make his teeth look shorter and ground down and acid-etched from the years of bulimia, and we see these in amazing close-ups.”

There’s also Varga’s house — well, that’s a generous way to refer to the bare bones trailer in which Varga both works and lives. “It’s a very spartan life he lives,” Hawley said. “Obviously he’s got a lot of money, but you’ll never see him in a hotel or in a towncar.”

There was no direct inspiration for the concept of Varga’s trailer, according to Hawley. Instead, “I think there was an evolution in my mind of going from simply a place with some computer servers, to the place where Varga actually lived.”

The computer servers were perhaps the most noticeable thing while standing inside the interior of the trailer while visiting the set. There weren’t that many reporters visiting that day, but due to the confined nature of the trailer, the space still felt crowded — both with people and with the assorted objects that make up the basics of Varga’s existence.

FARGO -- “The Lord of No Mercy” – Year 3, Episode 6 (Airs May 24, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: David Thewlis as V.M. Varga. CR: Chris Large/FX

“Because it was a function over form space to begin with,” Hawley noted, “I decided to keep it that way — you know, very little thought has been given to the comfort of this utilitarian space that they inhabit.”

Notes from that visit might seem a little random:

Chairman Mao
Server farm
Granola on shelf
Classic lit
Old boom box
Cigarettes in ashtray
Laser printer

But it all adds up to something indefinably “Fargo”-ish, a tone that Thewlis said required some re-watching of past seasons to nail down. “I wouldn’t normally do that, go back and watch past seasons, but with this it’s essential to get it right, especially with the character I’m playing.”

This is because Varga is an extremely verbal character, gifted with many long speeches, and “it could be funny because a lot of what he has to say is amusing but also a lot of what he’s saying is thoroughly evil. I’m not in a comedy here,” Thwelis said.

Indeed, when you see Thewlis in character, all of these details add up to a fascinating character portrait, one that created a thoroughly enjoyable experience for Thewlis as an actor. “I just get a bit bored playing good characters — but [Varga’s] thoroughly horrible,” he said.

And we can’t look away.

“Fargo” Year 3 airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. 

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