Colin Hanks on His Very Funny Key and Peele Sketch and Why Fargo Is Like Marvel

Colin Hanks. Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Colin Hanks didn’t show up until the last 15 minutes of Fargo’s first episode, and in that brief appearance he was introduced as a scared cop who let Billy Bob Thornton’s poorly groomed hit man make off into the night. Last week’s episode revealed that Duluth deputy Gus Grimly (tied with Lorne Malvo for best name) is also a single dad who has to back up animal control on occasion and isn’t above taking a peek at his neighbor undressing across the street. It all seems very sad, but Hanks says his character is no pushover. Vulture spoke to the actor during FX’s press tour back in January about what to expect from gloomy Gus and how he got involved with Key and Peele’s “Thug English Actor” sketch — with a Method Mad interruption in between.

I’ve watched “Thug English Actor” so many times. I refuse to delete the episode from my DVR. How did it come together?
I did a live reading of Clue where I met Jordan, and I did The Thrilling Adventure Hour with Keegan, and they both were like, “You gotta come on the show,” and I said, “I will totally come on the show. Please.” And then they actually came through. It was the most fun I’ve had. Those guys are so insanely talented. I never miss an episode. It ended up being one of the coolest things on the résumé.

What was that day like?
Jordan was actually sick, which was incredible. He was deathly ill and emitting very little energy between takes, but then he’d just come on.

Was anything improvised? 
I remember that I improvised a lot of the stuff where I’m saying just how bad an actor Jordan’s character is. “He’s really bad. I don’t believe him.” At one point I think I asked Keegan’s British actor character if he had allergies to gluten. There was all sorts of stuff. You could easily turn any one of those sketches into 20 minute opuses of nothing but improv. I instantly wished I could do it every single day.

They have recurring sketches. They could bring your director character back.
Consider this the missive I’m sending out in the world. Anytime.

How did you feel about doing Fargo: The TV Show?
Once I found out exactly what it was we were doing — and this was before I even got the job — I thought, Well, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. Someone already tried redoing the movie and it didn’t work out so well. We’ve got all-new characters, all-new stories, and in later episodes you’ll see that the show interconnects with the movie in a lot of cool ways. Anyone who is a fan of the film will dig the references we make, but anyone who is just coming fresh is going to be really, hopefully, entertained. We’re doing things really differently for TV, too. I’m only in one scene in the pilot. As a viewer I find that really refreshing.

How so?
It’s not forced storytelling. It’s not we have X amount of story that we have to tell in 42 minutes. It breathes. It takes its time. It’s not a crammed-down-your-throat scenario. As someone who watches a lot of TV, I appreciate when storytellers take their time. I’ve been trying to think of ways to describe the show to my friends, and I think it’s like how Marvel expands its universe. They’ve got that TV show [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.], and they throw references to the comics. We’re expanding the Fargo universe, just without capes and superpowers. We’ve got parkas and — [Method Man interrupts to give Colin a hug. To Method Man:] Good to see you, brother. I got Denver–San Francisco. [Back to me:] Okay, when he said, “I loved you on Key and Peele,” that’s when I was like, Fuck, yes. Awesome.

Key and Peele is for everyone.
It’s for the children, much like Wu-Tang. It’s for the children. God, when Method Man says hello to you, everything goes right out the door. Sorry.

We’re first introduced to Gus by watching him let Lorne Malvo go. When you signed on, did you know what was coming next?
Yeah, and the thing for me that was most appealing is that Gus makes this decision in the pilot and spends the rest of his time trying to atone for that mistake. He knows that he did the wrong thing, and he’s actively trying to fix it. It’s not one of these passive characters who sits there and goes, “Oh, I don’t know what to do.” So many characters I read are blissfully unaware or they don’t try to actively do anything about their situations. They just whine. This guy admits it.

When I first watched, I thought Gus and Molly (Allison Tolman) were sort of two halves of Marge.
I will tell you that Gus has to come clean at some point, and their paths will cross.

When’s the last time you watched the movie?
I hadn’t seen it since the first time I saw it. I rewatched it one night in Calgary. The Asian guy who tries to get things going with Marge, I had completely forgotten about that and it had me in stitches.

How’s filming in Calgary been? 
The whole thing is a first for me. It was the first time I’d ever heard of a show canceling a day because it was 40 [degrees] below. The equipment didn’t work. The cables literally shattered due to cold. That exterior scene with Billy Bob was brutal. But you learn how to sandwich the toes with toe warmers. You apply heating pads to your long underwear. I haven’t had to bust out the electric vest yet, but it’s coming. Also, watching a game of Canadian football with Bob Odenkirk and Billy Bob is a fun day, so all in all, I’m having a good time.

Colin Hanks on Fargo and His Key and Peele Bit