“It’s meant to snow quite a bit today,” Jon Hamm said as he sat down to speak with Rotten Tomatoes and other outlets during a visit to the set of Fargo season 5 in February of 2023. It was, indeed, a snowy day at the show’s Calgary, Alberta, Canada soundstages — although not the coldest the production ever faced — and for stars like Hamm, Juno Temple, Richa Moorjani, Lamorne Morris, and Joe Keery, it was also a respite to discuss their characters and the nature of debt.
“Every year we explore some element of the things people do for money. A crime that gets committed for money,” executive producer and showrunner Noah Hawley said of the key theme. “This year, the idea is about debt. Both financial debt with Jennifer Jason Leigh‘s character, who is the queen of debt — she runs a multinational collections agency,” he continued. “Then also the moral concept of debt and the things that we owe each other.”
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That less literal aspect of the theme is explored via the tale of Dorothy “Dot” Lyon (Temple), a woman who seems to have a happy suburban existence in 2019, but a close encounter with Minnesota law enforcement (and a pair of kidnappers) reawakens her past and brings an old debt back into her life, unraveling a surprising number of lives in the process.
In addition to debt, the story also allows Hawley to explore notion of “wifeyness” in a “much more restrictive, masculine world, in which women’s role is very submissive” and its freer opposite. The latter is Dot’s wifeyness with Wayne (David Rysdahl) – one role Temple believes Dot is “super proud” to take part in as that relationship features “a lot more freedom to be a woman and a wife.”
“Me and David talked a lot about how gentle that introduction would’ve been and how she would’ve been allowed to kind of navigate it,” she said. “I think that through the relationship that she has with Wayne, she fell in love for real; that kind of true love that hopefully everyone gets to experience.”
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To Rysdahl, Wayne’s gentleness and thoughtfulness needed to be expressed in a genuine way. “It was important to both me and Noah that Wayne isn’t just a joke and he wasn’t just a pushover,” he explained. “That there’s ways to support your wife, and love your wife and love your family, and it’s not a weakness.” He stands somewhere in between television’s tendency to cast husbands as toxic or weak. And though he teased other sides to the character, he said, “there’s a sense of what it is to be a man and what it is to be a good man” underpinning his actions throughout the story.
With all that in mind, it makes sense why Dot chooses to deny the life she once knew, as referenced in the season 5 trailer. “She does not want her family to bear the burden of her past, so she’s going to do everything in her power to protect them without bringing them into it,” she explained. Although, she teased that course of action will result in some “cracks” as she takes it all on and keeps it to herself.
And there is ample reason for her to insulate her current family from her past: Hamm’s character, Sheriff Roy Tillman, who has been looking for Dot for quite awhile. “[He’s] a rough character, [a] pretty bad guy,” the actor said of the man who indulges in the “deeply disturbing violence” of the series. Although, he also mentioned that, like many of Hawley’s Fargo antagonists in installments past, there are “some moments of humor in there that make the needle skip a little sometimes.”
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“We live in such an odd world at the moment, where ridiculous narcissism can be perceived as somehow rugged individualism, and it really isn’t,” he continued. “Noah pitched this character to me as Sheriff Joe Arpaio mixed with the Tiger King, and I was like, ‘I’m in.’ As an actor, it’s f—ing fun to play that man, because delusion is a real fun place to live in a character study, for sure.”
Asked if Roy is a true villain, Hamm said, “There may be people who watch this show and think he’s the coolest. But I don’t know if I do.”
One other person who may have a complicated answer to that question – besides Dot – is Roy’s son, Gator, played by Keery. At the time of our visit, Gator’s hairstyle was something of a secret, although it has since been revealed in promo pictures and the trailer. But hair may be the least of Gator’s issues, as Keery quickly pointed out a complex dynamic between his character and Roy that is seemingly rooted in the theme of debt.
“There’s something really interesting about what a son owes a father,” he said. “And how do you fulfill that? And how do you reckon with that debt?”
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With that question lodged somewhere in Gator’s mind, Keery said his relationship to Roy is “very loaded.” Granted, that statement only just breaks the surface, as Keery felt the depths to which the situation is explored forms the real meat of Gator’s place in the story, from how much he feels indebted to his father to the way he ends up emulating him.
“It was really fun trying to connect this outward persona of what Gator promotes to the world to his interior life,” Keery said. “That just makes a complex character and, hopefully, will make people torn over whether they’re rooting for or against Gator.”
While debt may lead to some unexpected places for Gator, Minnesota Police Deputy Indira Olmstead (Moorjani) faces a more literal negative balance. “She has [a] debt that she just cannot, no matter what she does, get out of,” she explained. “And on top of that, she has this deadbeat, loser, narcissistic husband who contributes nothing to the relationship financially or emotionally or spiritually or anything.” Unfortunately for Indira, he has one ability: making her feel like a bad wife despite all the work she puts in. “I think this is something that is so real. There’s this duality for Indira. In her work she’s so confident and good at her job and she’s tough, but then at home, she doesn’t have that same energy to fight back,” she said.
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Nevertheless, the character is good at her job, which Moorjani said has its origins in Indira’s “caretaking personality.” Of course, it remains to be seen how that aspect of her character resolves itself when Indira comes into the story’s orbit.
The same can also be said for the installment’s other major law enforcement character, North Dakota Deputy Witt Farr. Although, Morris teased the character is very much “Mr. Reliable.”
“In every aspect of life he is this person. He’s the definition of nice,” he explained. “When he’s called upon to do this as the Black dude in this town with some crazy white folks that might be after him or might not be after him, he still has to put on this [nice] face.” Like Indira, he also believes in the notion of law enforcement and that justice will be served in the end, an occasionally difficult proposition in a place where he still ends up othered.
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Granted, Farr embraces the “everyday malaise of his job” as he is one of the few characters free of a literal or metaphorical debt. He has the bandwidth to enjoy things in a very particular way, whether it’s the more boring day-to-day aspects of being a cop in a rural part of the country or setting aside parts of his past. Although, Morris teased a “100 pound backpack” may be in Farr’s future.
If Danish Graves (Dave Foley) also carries a backpack, it’s probably his admiration for Leigh’s Lorraine Lyon, Wayne’s mother, the aforementioned owner of a major debt collection agency, and Graves’ boss. Although Foley described his character as cold and ruthless, he said he lacks Lorraine’s “steeliness.”
“[Danish] looks up to her and admires her,” he explained. “And as we went along, I think Jennifer and I found that there was a weird affection between Lorraine and Danish. He was, basically, her Dobermann Pinscher. His job is whatever terrible thing she wants done, he goes and does it.” As the “actuator of terrible things,” Graves is empowered to be verbally abusive and manipulative, but Lorriane is very must the instigator.
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That relationship also informs the debt the character feels he owes to Lorraine. “She gives him the only place where he seems to belong,” Foley explained. “He seems to solely exist to execute her will. And he wants to be a part of her family, even though she doesn’t seem to want [him] to be much.” As a result, his Doberman is also, very much, a lost dog.
One other actor we had to the chance to talk to during our visit was Sam Spruell, who plays a drifter known as Ole Munch. Employed by Roy to track down Dot, he is one of the installments more enigmatic characters. Hawley described him as someone “who somehow feels other than human” in the Coen tradition of No Country for Old Men‘s Anton Chigurh and like a fable of the American expanse. He also added this curious detail: Munch is “born of debt.”
According to Spruell, Munch somehow stays off the grid and uses cash in an increasingly cashless society. “I don’t think he has a mobile phone. I don’t think he has any kind of digital connection to the world,” the actor added. Speaking to Hawley’s suggestion that he was born of a debt, Spruell said it was a result of a choice Munch made, but also that the choice was forced to some extent. It even put the character in a situation where he is owed something, although Spruell declined to get too far into that aspect of the tale.
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“It’s not a classic television business, but it’s a passion,” executive producer Warren Littlefield said of the way Hawley crafts Fargo stories — and the gaps between seasons. “Noah gets the theme [that] comes to him, the motivation, the desire, and it comes to life.”
“It’s not an easy show,” fellow EP Kim Todd added. “It’s a challenging show.” Nevertheless, she thanked the tireless Calgary crew who return to the show whenever it comes back to the city. “We’re going to go to the edge of our ability, the edge of our resources, the time and money we’ve got to execute these scripts excellently, and every member of the crew bought into that.”
And although set in 2019, there is a certain period feeling to the story. Or, at least, Morris felt that way. “When you do go to small towns in North Dakota and Minnesota, sometimes it can feel like when you’re in the desolate areas, it feels like you’re in a time warp.” He also added the adoption of certain technologies and COVID precaution procedures in just the four years between when the story is set and now make it feel further away than it might seem.
In explaining his reasoning for the 2019 setting, Hawley said, “I wanted to be close enough to our modern moment, where the struggles that Americans are having [now], they were having then.”
Hamm, meanwhile, noted a certain timelessness in the imagery and the subject matter. “The sort of rugged cowboy, on his own, living off the land kind of thing, which we’ve romanticized in our culture. But I think has a very dark underbelly as well,” he explained.
“I think it definitely feels present right now,” Temple opined. “I think a lot of it, unfortunately, [is] very present and a lot of it, awesomely present.”