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Martin Freeman on the Return of Sherlock and Perfecting His Minnesota Accent for FX’s Fargo

For his next project, Martin Freeman is working diligently on his Minnesota accent. The actor’s taking on hallowed ground in FX’s adaptation of Fargo (premiering April 15), playing a character not unlike the film’s stammering, henpecked Jerry, who in this reimagining, befriends an eccentric hit man played by Billy Bob Thornton. Freeman says it’s certainly a different sort of bromance from the one he plays in Sherlock, which returns Sunday to PBS. Vulture snagged a few minutes with Freeman in Los Angeles last week to talk about remaking the Coens’ Oscar-winning film, why you should never, ever hug him, and Sherlock’s fall fallout.

Did a remake of Fargo seem crazy to you at any point? This is not the first time someone has tried to adapt it for TV.
The first I knew about it, I was getting the script for episode one and the offer to play Lester. In a vacuum, just hearing about it, I might have thought Well, do we need that? I had the same feeling, by the way, about Sherlock. Really? Do we need that? But after the first few pages, that turned into, Yes. We do need it, and I need to be in it. The fact that it uses a very famous and brilliant film as a jumping-off point was not really an attraction; you could have an appalling version of Fargo. But this is a really, really good version! I can only go on the script that I'm sent, and this one was interesting, it was engaging, and it was surprising. I got to cover ground that I haven't covered before. I showed it to my Mrs. and she's like, "You have to fuckin’ do this." So I did.

The Coen brothers approved of the script and are executive producing, but they’re really only tangentially involved. Does that make it more or less exciting?
I like the fact that in some removed way, I'm working with them [laughs], although we are not married directly. I like the fact that they're at least onboard. It wouldn't be happening in the way that it is if they didn't approve. It's funny and it's gruesome like the original, but it's also quite singular. I'm not interested in playing an echo of something that was done 20 years ago. This is its own thing.

This is the first time you’re playing an American. What’s your take on Midwestern culture?
Well, it's alien to me, and I guess it's alien to a lot of Americans too. Most people don't experience it. My concern was to try and embody what was on the page without taking a mickey and without sending it up and without just being comic with it. The potential is when you're endearing about people, you patronize them. You're hugging them, and, as someone who is hugged a lot and patronized, you don't like it after all. I get the receiving end of that a lot and — "Fuck you." Every time that somebody comes up to me like that, like, "Oh, little baby" … I'm a grown man. But the truth of some of those Minnesota accents is that even some Minnesotans think that they're kind of funny. So it's a fine line of getting that and honoring those characters. Not being reverential to them or patronizing them, but to also acknowledge that some of the things the characters say are funny in the way that some of the things that are classically English are kind of ridiculous.

Moving on to Sherlock, how did the explanation for Sherlock’s survival of the fall sit with you? I’ve seen the first two episodes of this season, but let’s keep it vague.
Aren’t the episodes wicked?

So wicked.
The explanation was … well, I guessed some of it. Some of it I figured, and some of it I didn't know. Series executive producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss never sat down with Benedict and I to say, "This is how we did it." They probably didn't know themselves two years ago when they wrote that episode. A lot of people I know had kind of been doing a lot of guessing and spending more time on that than they have on their education. I will say some of them were quite spot on.

[Mild spoilers ahead] Two years have passed since Sherlock’s “death.” How has John been doing?
Well, he's moved on. He's fallen in love and he's getting married, and it's all groovy in that respect. So when his best friend basically goes, "Oh by the way, I'm not dead." He's like, "Fuck that."

Yeah, he’s not exactly happy.
In 2014, I think it would be slightly more difficult to accept what Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, which was that John fainted. When Sherlock comes back, he's so overwhelmed by surprise and everything, he literally passes out. I think we want more than that, especially because the John and Sherlock that we've established are a bit more bite-y. They're a little bit more sharp with each other. So there's no way that John could have just … he has to punch him, really.

John’s fiancé, Mary, is played by your real-life wife, Amanda Abbington. How did that come about?
Mark [who both executive produces and plays Mycroft] had worked with her before and so had Steven. During season two, Mark said to me, "You haven’t talked about who might play Mary." That was the first time this conversation had ever come up. I said, "Well, to be honest, I think Amanda would be pretty good," and he goes, "That's exactly what we were thinking." They knew she was able to be funny and engaging and just right. I mean, the last thing you want is to feel like you're being John and Yoko, but Amanda can do this all day long in her sleep. Of course, I love her, but I know also she's really fucking good. I wouldn't say she should play everything in the world, but as far as this casting, it’s pretty good.

I love that she takes it upon herself to help mend the friendship between John and Sherlock. It’s really funny.
As is often the case in real life when two friends piss each other off, a third friend will go, "He's all right. Why does he piss you off that much? I quite like him!" Which of course annoys you even more, right? "Don't you dare like him when he's just shown up and not been dead!" But she likes him. Well … I mean … have you haven't seen episode three yet?

No.
Okay, say no more! I won’t say anything else, except I think it's one of the best scripts I've ever read. Episode three is even better than one and two. It's a really great ending and a fantastic villain.

Photo: Luca Teuchmann/Getty