The ‘Fargo’ Cast and Creator on the Unpredictable Joys of Season 4
In Season 4 of the FX series Fargo, the year is 1950 and the location is Kansas City. The central struggle? Well, that’s between two crime syndicates who are fighting each other for their own piece of the American dream by any means necessary. In a rather unusual move, Loy Cannon (Chris Rock), the head of the Black crime family at the center of the story, has traded his youngest son, Satchel (Rodney Jones), to Donatello Fadda (Tommaso Ragno), the head of the Italian mafia, who has turned over his youngest son Zero (Jameson Braccioforte), and the two families continue to see how far they can push the other while they fight for power.
During a series of 1-on-1 interviews with Collider that took place while filming was still going on, co-stars Rock, Jason Schwartzman (“Josto Fadda”), Jessie Buckley (“Orietta Mayflower”), and Ben Whishaw (“Rabbi Milligan”), along with showrunner Noah Hawley, spoke about how the story for Season 4 evolved, the biggest production challenges this time around, the appeal of their roles, the interesting conversations that happen on set with such a diverse ensemble, being a part of the world that gets built around them, and whether they’d want to do something like this again.
COLLIDER: Since you weren’t initially sure that there would actually be a fourth season, what was it about this story this season that made you want to return to the world of Fargo?
NOAH HAWLEY: I walk out of it always feeling like, “Well, that’s gotta be it, right?” But then, invariably, there’ll come a moment where I go, “Oh yeah, we could do that.” It always comes as a scenario, like two men in an emergency room, or a woman driving home with a man stuck in the windshield of her car, that makes me go, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Here, it was this idea of these two crime families who have to trade their youngest sons in order to keep the peace. That seemed really interesting to me, as a way to look at immigration and assimilation and also, how painful is that for these families? Who are these kids gonna grow up to be? What are the sacrifices? In continuing, Fargo is an exploration of crime and that criminal mindset. If you look at Bill [William H.] Macy in the movie, he’s a criminal. We don’t often think of him as the criminal in the movie but he is, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he’s rejected all accountability. He’s gonna get away with the thing that he wants. He’s put his needs above everybody else’s needs, which ultimately is what a criminal is. So, Loy [Chris Rock] gives his son away as a strategic move. Is he a good guy? Is he not a good guy? It’s up to you to decide. You’ll be like, “I like him. I’m rooting for him.” But there will be moments in the story where you’re confronted with, why do you like him? Why are you rooting for him? That goes for [Jason] Schwartzman or any of the criminal characters in it.
What have been the biggest production challenges of this season?
HAWLEY: It’s 25 characters, so it’s just logistically supporting that big of a cast and all of the period stuff, which means that nothing’s cheap and nothing’s easy. The cars don’t actually run. Whenever you’re like, “Okay, and go,” the car dies. Because it’s period, every extra has to be dressed. It’s a huge undertaking. I find that exciting. I’ve really aspired to do period storytelling on some level because I always felt like, if you make a period piece, it has to feel like a period show or a period movie. I was like, “Let’s do something period that feels modern.” That was exciting. The tension between those guys, in their wide lapels with their broad shoulders, but with a modern tone of voice felt really interesting to me. You realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Chris Rock is not necessarily an obvious choice for a show in this world. Why him? What was it about him that made you want to cast him?
HAWLEY: I could say it was an intellectual process but the reality is that his face was the face I saw when I thought of this story. I’ve learned, over my career, to trust my casting instincts. America is a nation of entrepreneurs. In a lot of ways, that’s what the immigration experience is. People come to this country and, like Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, through sheer force of will, they figure out a way to build an empire and get rich. With Chris, I felt like he has this self made man identity. He has that great voice. It just felt right to me. And so, I talked to FX and I said, “I have an idea for Fargo and I wanna do it with Chris.” There was no script. I pitched them what it was and they were excited. I met with Chris and he was excited. Chris came on board, and then four or five months later, there was a script. We jumped in early.
Did he have any input?
HAWLEY: Of course. There are a lot of experiences in this story that are not my experiences. It would be arrogant of me to think that I have better ideas of what it’s really like to be Loy Cannon in 1950. What was exciting was to expand the Coen sensibility to characters that you haven’t seen in Coen brothers movies before and to say, “What is the tone of the Coen brothers voice in the African-American experience, and the Italian immigrant experience?” You saw some of that in Miller’s Crossing. That’s the fun of it. To be able to talk about humor with Chris, a big part of Fargo and the Coen brothers’ tone of voice is rooted in a very Jewish, Kafkaesque state of mind. It’s a comedy that’s rooted in suffering, and that feels like it applies to these stories. To explore that is really exciting. I don’t know about every other writer but I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I get really excited when it’s like, “Oh, I’ve never thought of that,” and there are new things that you can explore. So, we’ve had a great collaboration.
What do you enjoy about watching Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman?
HAWLEY: What’s great is that Chris is the comedian but Jason is the funny one. Chris is playing this much more dramatic role. He’s very aware of his comic persona and is trying to play against it. Jason is just a ham sandwich. He’s so great and funny and fast. We’ve just had the best time doing this. In cracking Jason’s character a bit, you never want anyone to be acting tough. What’s interesting is that the sweet spot for Jason’s character is that he’s juvenile, so his acting tough is petty. Cracking each character is really fun.
You weren’t even sure if you were going to do a season 4 of Fargo. Are you always thinking about possible ideas to see if you could continue with the show? If you come up with another idea, would you want to do another season?
HAWLEY: It’s so all-consuming, these stories. I really do end them with a great feeling of emptiness, like that was everything that I had. So, I don’t know. One wonders how much is enough, on some level. Part of what’s good about how it’s been three years since the last one is that we’ve got some distance and some time from it and people can approach it fresh. It’s not like, 12 months ago you’ve finished and now here it is again, and it feels familiar. Because it is its own story, with completely different characters and themes, you can appreciate it as if no one had ever made a show called Fargo before. And I love the state of mind. It’s a crime story and a family drama, and a comedy, and sometimes there’s a UFO. I haven’t really worked on anything else where you can tell that kind of grounded, emotional drama that has all of those elements. It’s a state of mind that I love being in but I just don’t know.
Chris and Jason, how are you enjoying doing this show together?
CHRIS ROCK: How many scenes have we done together? We haven’t done that much together. I remember when I did New Jack City, a long time ago, I got one scene with Wesley Snipes. It was me and Wesley, and we only got one scene through the whole movie.
JASON SCHWARTZMAN: How was it to do?
ROCK: It was great. But I saw that guy one day after the rehearsals. Within a movie, there are a lot of movies going on, and this is 10 hours of television. There’s a lot going on and a lot of characters that are never gonna meet.
SCHWARTZMAN: Before we started shooting the season, Noah did a camera test for the crew to film us, and it was nice for the actors because we all met. I haven’t seen a lot of them since. I was thinking like, “This is cool. I’ll get to hang with this person.” I haven’t seen them since then. It was nice for that first day just to see everybody and the world of everything. That’s what’s fun about watching the episode. You get to see all of the characters.
ROCK: We’re filming in Chicago, so it’s 12 degrees. No one socializes. I’m not going out.
When this project came your way, what was your reaction to being a part of Fargo?
ROCK: It goes back to New Jack City. Now, I’m Nino. I was Pookie, and then I aged into Nino. That’s basically what happened. I’m 55. My reaction was, “Wow, I can’t believe this guy, Noah, wants me. Whatever he wants, I’ll do. I’ve watched all of the seasons, so sure, let’s go.” I don’t want to dis any other work that I might’ve turned down.
SCHWARTZMAN: I was a fan of the show. When Noah asked if we could meet, I just was so excited. He explained the character to me and I was just very excited to be a part of it. And then, when he said Chris was gonna do it, it made total sense to me.
ROCK: I had the opposite reaction. I was like, “Jason?! Okay, I guess I’ve signed up.”
SCHWARTZMAN: I think Noah has good instincts and a skill for putting people together that are interesting. On a set, that doesn’t necessarily make a movie or a show good but I’ve never heard more interesting conversations, ever. I was just excited to work with Chris because I’m just a humongous fan. I hope we do have more scenes. I just want some more time with him. I’m trying to get more intimidating. I went to the bookstore and was looking up books on leadership and power, and then I realized, “I have no power if I’m buying a book about power.” I needed to learn how to be manly and intimidating. It’s fun.
Ben, how was this presented to you? How much are you actually told about the season and your character?
BEN WHISHAW: Hardly anything. I read one episode – the first one – and that was it. One of the first things that I really responded to was this sense of how much of an outsider he is. He was given over to this Jewish family and partly raised by them for a while, and then he murdered a Jewish boy, was handed over to an Italian family, slaughtered his own entire family, and has now been given this strange position in this Italian family when he’s not really accepted. He’s part of them but not. He doesn’t really belong anywhere. People call him Rabbi but he’s Irish and he lives with Italians. That’s what I really loved about him. Someone said he’s Cinderella and it’s true. There’s no place for him, really.
Does the degree to which the characters are stylized help you in finding the person that you’re playing?
WHISHAW: The whole world really helps. It definitely helped. It always does but particularly with something like this. Because the cast is so huge and there are so many characters, it’s like a Dickens novel. There are so many characters and each one has to have definition and a sharpness to them. That really does help. As soon as I got the costume, that really helped. I’ve also really loved not knowing what’s going to happen. I still don’t know what’s gonna happen to my character or anybody else. I’m quite enjoying that, and I’ve never worked in that way before.
Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into by doing that?
WHISHAW: Not really. I really trusted Noah. I knew the show and I loved the show, and I just thought the writing was so excellent and unusual. It was new for me. I’ve never worked out here [in the States] on a television series, so I was intrigued. And I liked what the show and this installment seemed to be about and what it seemed to be exploring. It felt important, in some way, at the present moment.
When you play a character like that, who doesn’t really ever have anywhere to fit in and probably never will, does he just have to find his own way?
WHISHAW: Yeah, exactly. What becomes increasingly central to the character’s storyline is his relationship with the African-American child who’s been loaned to the Italian family. That’s completely an invention by Noah but it’s brilliant. I love that the story is about Rabbi’s relationship with Satchel, that the kid who is a mirror image, in a way, of himself as a boy. There’s something quite touching about that relationship.
Jessie, I love your character but have no idea what to make of her. How was this season and character presented to you? Did you have any idea who she was going to be?
JESSIE BUCKLEY: No, and I’m still finding out. Every day, I’m like, “Oh, my goodness, she’s coming this way at me?” I just had read the first script when I spoke to Noah and I just thought she was wild and fun. I also quite liked the idea that she was this female Grim Reaper, baked in a sweet pie. That’s the kind of psycho I am.
Noah, I love Jessie Buckley’s character but at the same time, I feel like I know the least about her. What should we know about her?
HAWLEY: All I would really say is that I got really excited when I realized that I could make this crime movie about these two crime families colliding, and then their movie could literally collide with another crime movie. There’s this wild card element to it, in a way that you didn’t see coming. The tension of that, where she’s in her own crime story and they’re in their crime story, was something that I loved. You probably haven’t seen that before. Your brain doesn’t have a formula for how that’s gonna go. That’s what I like about it. You’ll definitely learn more about her. She’s gonna remain connected to some of the characters. There’s a real journey there that’s really fun.
What made you see Jessie Buckley in that role?
HAWLEY: There’s so much dialogue that she has and it’s so colloquial. There are actors who that’s old hat to, and then there are other actors who would struggle with it. She’s so facile, effervescent, unpredictable, and unexpected. From one take to the next, it’s always like, “Oh, that was interesting. I didn’t see that approach coming.” I did my homework on her. For me, it’s an instinct. It’s was like, “Yeah, she’ll do. She’s good. She’s Irish. Those people can talk.”
Jessie, as you learn more about who this woman is, does it change your perspective of her?
BUCKLEY: No. I love her, and I love playing her. She’s just so much fun. It’s interesting to play her because she’s so contained. In this series, there are different worlds. There’s the 1950s world and the gang world, and she’s in her own world in the middle of that world. It’s like trying to shoot somebody with one of those kiddie guns that just deflects off of her all the time. I genuinely am just having a lot of fun. Sometimes I go, “Is this too much? Is this too far?” And apparently, it’s not. She’s really fun.
Was there a process for finding her wardrobe, how she carries herself, and how she sounds?
BUCKLEY: Yeah, there was. She’s an enigma. It was interesting piecing her together because I had a very strong vision. I had an immediate visual of who she might be, but then actually inhabiting it and physicalizing it and creating it was a different thing. She’s somebody who shapeshifts. She’s like a vampire who shapeshifts in a very small way. She’s somebody who can be invisible at the same time that she’s incredibly colorful and seen. I always find that with characters you get drawn to different things. Edith Piaf is my music in my ear for this character. Birds are in my head. I sound insane when I’m talking to you. I’m sorry but that is truly what came to mind.
Then, the costumer, J.R. Hawbaker, had this huge room and she was like, “I don’t know what she is but I love her and she’s really exciting.” So, we just pared it down. The shoes and the bag and the knickers were the main things that made me go, “Oh, there she is.” The underpants of the ‘50s are the worst experience of your life. Death by knickers, is what I will go down by, in this series. You cannot breathe. They’re massive. The knickers are down to your knees and up to your tits, and basically have wire inside them. I don’t know how they managed. Now, they’re like tooth floss. I know, we’re talking about knickers now. How are you gonna write this?
You’ve been playing such a wide variety of characters. Does it feel lucky to be able to do that?
BUCKLEY: So lucky. It’s been awesome. I never, in a million years, ever expected that I would get to work with these brilliant people. All of these women [that I’ve played], I’ve just really fallen massively in love with and they really taught me something about myself. Everybody is completely different. There is no one person that is the same. It’s my job and my absolute joy to eke that out and make it the most human and colorful and bold thing that it can be. They always surprise me, as well. I’ve been so, so, so, so lucky. It’s just pure luck.
Chris and Jason, do you ever make music playlists for the characters that you play, to help get you in a specific mood?
ROCK: I haven’t done it but that’s a good idea, now that you say it. Especially in a period piece, it seems like it could come in handy.
SCHWARTZMAN: I like to listen to music playlists and stuff but ironically this one is the hardest one because, specifically with the character, I don’t know if he even likes music, at all. I thought, “What would he be interested in?” And I don’t know. I don’t think anything, truly. I think he just sits in a chair. But as the music on Fargo has always been really good. The Coen brothers’ music is really great, as well. When I first got to Chicago, I was trying to figure out the music but it didn’t feel right to be wearing these outfits and holding an iPad. I was gonna get a record player. Cut to three weeks later, I was just playing Words with Friends by myself. It’s fun to get absorbed in the world and music is very helpful with that.
As you’ve gotten to know these characters more, are there things that you appreciate about them that you didn’t realize, in the beginning?
ROCK: Life is about how it is. Every story is about how it ends. Right now, I really love this guy. We’ll see how it goes and where it goes.
SCHWARTZMAN: I’m still finding out some things about my character that I didn’t know but it’s cool. I like that. You’ve gotta adapt. I can keep trying because it is just in the moment. I love it because it’s elongated and you can keep going and keep discovering.
When you have an experience like this, where it is so fun and you’re enjoying it so much, does it make you want to do it again?
ROCK: I’ve just gotten to the point, 30 years in, where I don’t think of it as everything being a part of this big plan of a career. Yes, it was for a long time. When you start, you’re not thinking that way because it’s just about whatever job you get. And then, if you’re lucky, you get four good jobs that people think you made these great choices about but you just got lucky and now you have a career to protect. Now, I’m at the point where I’m like, “Okay, this works. I hope this works. I’m gonna work really hard at it and I’m gonna hope it works.” I wanna work with good people and hopefully everything works and I’ll work again, but I literally don’t think that I’m gonna die if it doesn’t.
WHISHAW: With every script you read, you go, “Oh, he does that, as well? That’s a part of who he is?” It unfolds like that, in a nice way. Sometimes I wish that I did know the whole thing but I’m embracing it. I would do anything, really, if the writing was exciting to me. I don’t know whether I would wanna ever do a recurring character, only because the thing I love about this job is the novelty of things. I like the short span of time, and then a new job. I can’t imagine returning, year after year after year, to a project.
Fargo airs on Sunday nights on FX at 9/8c.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.
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