If you’re considering committing a crime in Minnesota, you might want to give that there a rethink, don’tcha know. The 1996 movie Fargo and the TV series of the same name both insist that it never works out for the criminals. The fun is in watching them fail so spectacularly, though.
Fargo, from series creator Noah Hawley, is back for a third season on FX. In it, Ewan McGregor plays the dual role of Emmit and Ray Stussy. Emmit is a businessman who’s gotten in too deep along with his partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg). Ray is a parole officer who’s dating one of his parolees, Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Carrie Coon plays the sheriff, Gloria Burgle, who’ll be on the case once these jokers make a mess of things.
Winstead recently spoke with Rotten Tomatoes by phone from the set of Fargo in Calgary, Canada, while Coon and Stuhlbarg gave us some background earlier this year in Los Angeles. Here are 10 things they shared about the new season.
Nikki’s introduction on Fargo is straight out of Raising Arizona. We won’t spoil the moment here, but fans of the 1987 Coen Bros. film starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter will definitely know it when they see it.
“That was a reference that Noah had brought up,” Winstead confirmed. “That was sort of a Raising Arizona moment — which is one of my favorite movies.”
Hawley has also confirmed a Big Lebowski reference, which Winstead said they were just getting ready to film.
“I think there might be a couple, but there’s one we’re getting ready to shoot that is most definitely a very clear Big Lebowski moment,” Winstead continued. “It’s pretty clear when we’re shooting things that Oh, this is sort of a No Country for Old Men moment or this is a Miller’s Crossing moment.”
At first glance, Nikki may appear to fall into that classic crime-story tradition of the femme fatale who means nothing but trouble. Fargo gleefully defies genre, however, and Nikki may actually be the one who helps bail Ray out of trouble.
“I don’t feel so much like I’m playing a femme fatale,” Winstead said. “The relationship that she has with Ray is that they’re always trying to bring each other back to reality in one way or another. They have this really, as she calls it, ‘simpatico’ kind of relationship.
“So they’re always saying, ‘Now hon, look at my point of view,’” Winstead continued. It’s very sweet the way that they interact and try to always be a team and on the same page, even if they’re both in the wrong at times.”
Keeping this spoiler free, let’s just say that Nikki does something in episode 2 that no other woman has probably ever done on TV or in a movie.
“Which I think is fitting for her personality,” Winstead said. “She’s feminine, but she’s also very tough and brash so she doesn’t really give a sh– what her enemies think of her. Not a very ladylike move necessarily, but very bold and very fitting for who she is, I think. I loved it when I read it in the script. I thought it was such a badass move on Nikki’s part.”
Coon said the following episode is a big one for Gloria.
“I’m particularly looking forward to episode 3, because I’m just looking forward to my arc and what I get to do,” Coon said.
Emmit is closer to Sy than he is to his own brother Ray.
“We find that he’s a partner in the business and that they’ve been working together for many years,” Stuhlbarg said. “They finish each other’s sentences. There’s almost a very fraternal relationship there. He’s good at his job, and he picks up sort of where Emmit leaves off. They’re kind of, at least in Sy’s mind, attached at the hip somewhere.”
Fargo’s dual-role casting of McGregor isn’t just a bunch of CGI tricks. His co-star says the experience was very much like working with two different actors playing unique roles.
“For some takes, I was standing with Ewan’s double and for some takes, I was standing with Ewan,” Winstead said. “Watching how the doubles interact with him and have to learn his way of walking and his posture and his way of standing was interesting. They make it feel very natural and grounded and real. They’re reading the lines and the scenes are existing as they would regularly, just swapping out the people. Which is somewhat strange, but it still doesn’t feel like you’re doing a trick of any sort.”
Set in 2010, season 3 is the most modern of Fargo so far. Season 1 was 2006 and 2 was 1979. Even with cell phones and internet, it’s still Fargo.
“It sort of became a nonissue, because, in terms of the behavior, there’s not much that’s that different from 2010 ‘til now,” Winstead said. “We have an older version of an iPhone, or we’re talking about Facebook as opposed to Twitter. Certain fads and things are different, but it’s not something that really needs to be at the forefront of our minds, because it doesn’t really affect performance in any way really.”
Gloria even tries to avoid technology altogether in her police work, but the crime sort of forces her to use it.
“She finds it a bit disconcerting and a little bit alienating, but she has to use it,” Coon said. “You’ll see her coming up against that conflict I think quite a bit.”
No one dies easily in Fargo. Murder often occurs in a wood chipper or an elevator bloodbath. Season 3 promises more memorable Fargo violence.
“All the deaths that have happened have been incredibly creative and strange, but also very fitting for Fargo,” Winstead said. “Oftentimes [they] are symbolic of something else or give you a deeper meaning into a character. So far there has been no real use of guns this season.”
That might be sad news for Coon, who was excited to enforce the law when we spoke to her: “I love that I get to carry a gun around, and I hope I get to use it.”
Every season of Fargo has a new cast and crime. It’s the tone that makes it Fargo. The cast says season 3 has a new feeling.
“We would try something one way, and we’d also do it very, very differently,” Stuhlbarg said. “So we weren’t necessarily going to fall into the kind of rhythm that people will expect. It will be its own thing.”
Winstead said season 3 takes the best of seasons 1 and 2.
“There’s something about the fact that it takes place so close to our time frame that feels more like season 1,” Winstead said. “Also [it] has more of the intimacy I think season 1 has: fewer characters, a bit more quiet in moments. But it has the cinematic flash as well of the second season. It feels very, both intimate and large in scope at the same time, which, for me, makes it feel like something new, but also reminiscent of the first two.”
Like the movie, most seasons are set in part, if not entirely, during winter in Minnesota. To endure take after take, the actors have hidden, warm underwear, even under Nikki’s fishnets and miniskirts.
“We’ve been recently doing a lot of outdoor night shoots so it’s really just been an extra challenge in terms of how to get eight layers underneath a fitted outfit and things like that,” Winstead said. “We have a team of people who specialize in those sorts of things. That helps quite a bit.”
Just what makes these crooks think they can get away with it? Haven’t they seen Fargo? Stuhlbarg had a theory.
“I think when you set out to do something perhaps you haven’t done before, you have to have a kind of tunnel vision for it,” Stuhlbarg said. “So maybe they didn’t see all the angles of everything. Also, there’s always that element of surprise which you don’t see coming.”
Winstead suggested the characters are more reactive than proactive.
“In the world of Fargo, it tends to be all a big misunderstanding, which is what makes it so comic and so tragic at the same time,” she said. “I think that’s the same for Nikki. She maybe has a bit more of a shady past than the other characters so she’s maybe a bit more calculating than some of the other typical Fargo people that you’ve seen, but she’s doing what she thinks is right in the moment. She thinks this is what she needs to do in order for her and the person she loves to make their dreams come true.”
Fargo season 3 premieres Wednesday, April 19 at 10 p.m. on FX