Fargo's Jean Smart on Last Night's Shocking Episode

The Actress Ponders What Happened in the Woods, Who to Keep an Eye on, Comparisons to Shakespeare and Bugs Bunny, and How Her Character Wasn't Allowed to Say "Oofta"

by | November 24, 2015 | Comments

FARGO -- “Did You Do This? No, you did it!” -- Episode 207 (Airs Monday, November 23, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt, Angus Sampson as Bear Gerhardt. CR: Chris Large/FX


[Warning: Contains Fargo season two spoilers]

Last night’s shocking episode of Fargo, “Did You Do This? No, You Did it!,” raised the familial stakes to a surprising new level (even for Fargo). In it, Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) has much of the focus, as she is interrogated by Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), slaps Simone (Rachel Keller) across the face during a family argument, and becomes a snitch for the cops.

And in a jaw-dropping twist, Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson) takes Simone, his niece, into the woods with a pistol.

Jean Smart talked with Rotten Tomatoes about the episode and what we might be able to expect as the season starts its descent into the conclusion of its tragic arc.

Kerr Lordygan for Rotten Tomatoes: What an episode [last night]! 

Jean Smart: Yeah, it’s a good one… I know — my husband is going crazy; he’s begging me to tell him stuff. I said, “Do you really want me to tell you?” He goes, “I’m your husband!” I said, “Do you really want me to tell you??” He goes, “No…” [laughing].

Rotten Tomatoes: In the episode, the character of your granddaughter Simone (Rachel Keller) says the Gerhardt family “deserves the ground.” Obviously, Floyd doesn’t believe that. Do you believe this criminal family is worth cheering for as, say, the lesser of two evils?

Smart: You know, it’s funny because I was talking to somebody yesterday and he said, “Why is it that we like to root sometimes for the darker characters rather than the good guys sometimes?” I don’t know; maybe we see our little dark spots sometimes in certain characters. Sometimes I think it’s more fun to root for bad guys. But I think, certainly with Floyd… she is pretty comfortable in a man’s world. I don’t think that there’s too much that phases her or frightens her. But eventually business and family are not going to be completely compatible; and that’s what she’s dealing with because business is business and family is family.

She’s been able to keep them separate for the most part. And moving on in the season, there’s a scene where Dodd, her oldest son, is torturing a guy out in the barn while she’s in the kitchen making dinner. I’m sure she does have a general idea of what’s going on out there. He comes in the house and she bites his head off when he makes a crude joke; and it’s just sort of an interesting kind of contradiction in her character where she’s able to separate the two. But it’s becoming harder and harder for her because she can’t just put business first and not protect her children, and she doesn’t want to lose anymore children.

Rotten Tomatoes: Obviously the most climactic — or I guess even the scariest part of the episode — is in the woods when Bear has Simone at gunpoint and is about to pull the trigger. We don’t see the gunshot, we don’t even hear it. Is there a reason for that other than trying to save us, the audience, from the heartache of watching it happen?

Smart: Ahh. You know what, I don’t really know. I noticed that as well, and I couldn’t remember whether in the scripts they had that sound effect or not. Maybe, Noah [Hawley, writer] was planting a little doubt, maybe in the minds of the audience as to if he actually changed his mind at the last moment.

Rotten Tomatoes: That’s what we’re all wondering now.

Smart: When they were playing “Danny Boy” and showing pictures of the family — ahhh, terribly painful.

Rotten Tomatoes: What do you think will happen if Floyd is not able to make amends with her, after slapping her?

Smart: Well… that’s just going to be one more tragedy that she’s going to have to live with. Anyone who’s lost a child — I would imagine that there isn’t anything worse. She kind of says that in her earlier scene with Brad Garrett‘s character Joe Bulo. You’re kind of invulnerable after that — there’s nothing really that can hurt you after that kind of pain.

Rotten Tomatoes: Yet Floyd justifies the deaths of children — obviously she’s a grieving mother — but she’s able to justify it by saying it was worse back in the old days. When you would lose eight of your 10 children to consumption, or wolves even.

Smart: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure she probably saw that with her parents and certainly with her grandparents’ generation, where — I know my grandparents’ generation — my grandmother had 10 children, lost four, I think.

Rotten Tomatoes: That’s a survival tactic; I mean, obviously Floyd is hurting.

Smart: Oh sure, sure. And I think she’s being somewhat cavalier in front of the policemen cause she has low respect for them. And she’s putting on a bit of a show.

Rotten Tomatoes: The interrogation scene with you and Ted Danson is probably one of my favorite scenes so far in the season. 

Smart: Oh my God — we had so much fun! The only part I didn’t like was having to smoke a pipe all day long [laughing]… Trying to keep the damn thing lit. I mean, I know even pipe smokers have problems with that but, oh my God. We had a fun time doing that scene.

FARGO -- “Did You Do This? No, you did it!” -- Episode 207 (Airs Monday, November 23, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt, Ted Danson as Hank Larsson. CR: Chris Large/FX

Rotten Tomatoes: What’s it like doing drama with “Sam Malone?”

Smart: I’ve been so impressed with Ted in this show. It’s one of my favorite things he’s ever, ever, ever done. I just love him in it. And love his character. I’ve always wanted to work with Ted, and I’ve known him for quite awhile because I’m friends with his wife, Mary [Steenburgen]. And my husband [Richard Gilliland] recently worked with Ted on his series and he’s worked with Ted actually a couple of times — and really enjoys him, so I was really looking forward to it.

Rotten Tomatoes: Obviously this is a dark show, and a dark episode; TV has gotten so dark. Do you think that’s a response to darker times in our lives, and is that a good thing?

Smart: I thought about that a lot. It’s a really good question. It’s a really important question, because I had concerns about that. I do think that — certainly it’s gotten darker —  and I’m sure it probably is in response to people’s fears. I think we’re all feeling more fearful because of the way the world is today. I feel bad for many people that have never known anything different. On 9/11, my son was 11 or 12 years old, so he’s grown up living with that. It makes me feel really bad for him. I have a little girl and she certainly doesn’t know anything. We don’t really talk about any of those things yet; she’s not old enough to hear about the things that go on.

But I do think you’re right, it’s probably somewhat in response to that. Maybe it does help people, I don’t know. Maybe it’s an outlet then for people’s fears. The thing I find about Fargo — which I believe takes the onus off a lot of the violence — is the fact that its very darkly humorous often [laughing]. I believe and I hope that that sort of takes the onus off some of the violence. It’s interesting because, even though the show is performed and written in a very realistic style, there’s something about the style of the overall production that almost puts it in a little world of its own. It’s almost like it’s in a big bubble…  you don’t really identify with those people in an odd way, you know what I mean? So it kind of makes it somehow in a world of it’s own.

Rotten Tomatoes: Almost surreal rather than real.

Smart: Yeah, somewhat bigger than life. I was talking to somebody yesterday about that, and we were comparing it to a Greek Tragedy or Shakespearean Tragedy. It’s kind of on that scale —

Rotten Tomatoes: — or Bugs Bunny.  There’s a lot of violence in cartoons and we laugh it off.

Smart: [laughing heartily] The Roadrunner — my God, how violent was that? Oh my God!

Rotten Tomatoes: Do you think that this season is a commentary on women being the real power behind their men? 

Smart: Yeah, I don’t think necessarily we want that be the message. I think that Noah enjoys writing for women as much as he does for men. I think that he very much wants for the audience — kind of back into 1979 when we were talking about women’s issues a lot and we were talking about you know African American issues and Native American as well — so he’s brought all of those elements into the show. And it feels right for 1979. And even Reagan.

Rotten Tomatoes: In the previous episode, “Rhinoceros,” you tell Simone that women don’t do the work anymore, that those times are over. It’s a period piece, but that branches out into what the feminist message has become. It’s a potent one, even amongst criminals. 

Smart: [laughing] Exactly, exactly. I think she’s very worried about her granddaughter. I think she sees her not developing — she’s going down the wrong path, I think, in her grandmother’s estimation. She also knows what she’s gone through with her dad. So she’s trying to protect her a little bit, give her some good advice. Floyd is of a generation that didn’t think of themselves as liberated or not liberated — you just did what needed to be done.

Rotten Tomatoes: Is she trying to groom Simone to be like her?

Smart: Not necessarily — I mean maybe. I just think that… she is very, very worried about where she sees her granddaughter going. And wants to get her away from the lifestyle she seems to be adopting. Because as liberated as Simone feels — because she’s so young and she thinks that being liberated means just doing whatever the hell you want — that’s not really liberation. In fact, the path she’s on is kind of the path to slavery you know.

Rotten Tomatoes: About the accent — the dialect — was that hard to learn?

Smart: Not really. You know the Gerhardts — it’s more on the subtle side. Partly because we have the German influence in the family… I grew up in a Scandinavian community in Seattle, WA. and all my friends’ fathers were all commercial fisherman — and so they all were first or second generation Scandinavians. So I heard a lot of — not from my friends but from their parents and grandparents — I grew up hearing those accents very heavily all the time. So it’s not a big jump to the kind of Fargo-ness of it, kind of accent. It wasn’t awkward to me. Although, I begged Noah to let me say “oofta.” I didn’t get to say “oofta.” Too bad [laughing].

Rotten Tomatoes: Is there anyone you think — in your opinion — we should be keeping our eye on for the rest of the season?

Smart: Oh, you mean which character? Oh gosh. I was going to say everybody, but possibly one that you might not immediately think it would be Hanzee [Dent, played by Zahn McClarnon], Dodd’s native American henchman.

Rotten Tomatoes: Great character.

Smart: Oh, God; he’s amazing. His face should be on Rushmore [laughing].

FARGO -- “Did You Do This? No, you did it!” -- Episode 207 (Airs Monday, November 23, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt, Angus Sampson as Bear Gerhardt. CR: Chris Large/FX

Rotten Tomatoes: Do you base Floyd on any experiences from your own life or anybody in your own life, or in history?

Smart: No, there was just so much in the script that enlightened her for me. It was very clear in my mind — I could see her. And then once I could see her, because the hair and makeup and wardrobe that she wore were phenomenal… then it was sort of complete. As soon as I saw her in the mirror and they cut and dyed and curled my hair and they started doing wardrobe, I went, “Oh my God. There she is.” It really helps. It really is an important part of the whole circle.

Rotten Tomatoes: I’m so excited to see the rest of the season.

Smart: Me too!

Fargo season two continues Monday nights on FX.

  • Nils Anderson

    It’s spelled “uff da”

  • rackinfrackin

    Slapstick and violence are not the same thing. The Bugs Bunny/Fargo analogy is just plain ignorant. And she’s misusing the word “onus.” It means responsibility, not “edge.” She’s making the case that humor takes the edge off the violence in Fargo but not in The Roadrunner? That’s pretty stupid.

    • rackinfrackin

      Jean Smart: as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?”

  • Af Keck

    I think she is an excellent actor, and is definitely one of the best things on the show. However the comments below are menial, and pedantically ill-spirited, and in a ironic sort of way justify her character’s point of view altogether.

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