In FX’s Fargo, there’s always a lot more going on beneath the smooth, snowy surface of the show. During the second season, the show’s world expanded featuring two crime syndicates and stretching over several states, giving showrunner Noah Hawley and his crew a new set of challenges. “The first year I felt like we were putting ten pounds of story in a five-pound bag,” Hawley explained at Friday’s PaleyFest panel. “And the second year it was just really — by the end we were shooting probably three units at the same time just to get all the material.” He was joined onstage by cast members Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Jeffrey Donovan, Jean Smart, and Cristin Milioti, and producer Warren Littlefield, and they talked about their relationship with the Coen brothers, how to nail the accent, and getting into “snow wars” with Alejandro Iñárritu.
They stole snow from Leo DiCaprio and Alejandro Iñarritu.
One of the hallmarks of Fargo is the densely snowy environment it takes place in. This was no problem when the first season was filmed in a record-breaking snow winter for Canada, but the second was not so lucky. Warm weather (for Canada) meant that snow was quite literally thin on the ground in Calgary, where Fargo was shooting. So they had to get creative with how they created frosty Minnesotan and North Dakotan landscapes. “We had to truck it in from the mountains, but Iñárritu was up there shooting Revenant, so we’d have these snow wars,” Hawley remembered. “We’d be like, ‘We got all the snow today!’” Littlefield added, “We were all staring at our apps, going, ‘I think it’s going to get cold enough this weekend and we can make snow.’ And then, yes, begging Revenant for their snow-making equipment.”
The Coen brothers are involved — but not very much.
When the show was first announced, it was hard to conceive of it being a faithful representation of the film’s universe without the Coens’ unique hands guiding every step. So how much do the brothers interact with the small-screen Fargo team? “I try to leave those guys alone,” Hawley said. “You know, they ask how it’s going and we talk about some stuff, and I try not to overstay my welcome, on some level.” Hawley noted that scripts and film are sent over to the Coens, but he has no clue how much of the material they look at, if any. He said, “I like to keep in touch with them, so that they don’t ever feel like we’re not giving them attention or information, but I try not to bother them.” Littlefield expanded on that, recalling the brothers’ thoughts on first reading Noah’s script for the first season. “They said, ‘We’re not big fans of imitation, but they feel, Noah, like you channeled them,’” Littlefield said. “Then we were kind of trying to figure out, so how interactive should we be, and they were just very clear. They said, “You have a vision. Go make your show.’” Quipped Hawley, “And I said, ‘Okay, no take-backs!’”
Cristin Milioti has never seen Cheers.
“We’re all there together in the middle of something,” Littlefield recalled. “You know, it’s one o’clock in the morning, and you’re shooting, and Ted Danson talks about ‘Well, back when I did Cheers …’ And Cristin looks at him and goes, ‘What’s that?’” Milioti sheepishly admitted it was true, to great laughs. “I asked him, because I’d never seen him before. I’d never seen Ted in anything,” she said. “So, I got to sit there and watch Ted pitch Cheers,” marveled Littlefield. “It was amazing!”
The ‘70s styling helped Bokeem Woodbine get in character.
Woodbine, who plays an exceptionally cool hit man for the Kansas City mob, also sports a very ‘70s-appropriate sideburns and coiffure, which helped him get into his groove. “You know, when the sideburns came on, it felt like a switch was being flicked,” Woodbine explained. “I’d be talking to makeup people, chatting away, talking about things Canadians are interested in. As soon as the sideburns would come on, it’s like I’d get quiet. They’d be talking to me and I’d go into my Milliganese thing.” Milioti also joked, about her character’s bowl cut, “I said I wanted to look as much like Javier Bardem from No Country for Old Men. And they did it.”
Always keep the $5,000 rubber chicken.
The panelists also shared what props and wardrobe they’d kept after filming wrapped. Many of the actors opted to keep elements of their groovy costumes — Kirsten Dunst kept a nightgown and a gold heart necklace. But producer Warren Littlefield’s choice of keepsake was the most unique. “In the butcher shop, a lot of that meat was real. We had a full-time butcher who was working with us. But then, for some reason, we purchased rubber chickens,” he explained. “And when I found out that they were like, $5,000 for each rubber chicken, I have that hanging in my office.”
They walked a fine line between subtle and camp with the accents.
One of the impressive feats of the show is how it manages to highlight the distinct upper Midwest accent, but without making it a joke, which was one of the key tenets for the show. “I had done that accent before, but I had to tone it down for this one,” Kirsten Dunst told us on the red carpet before the panel. “In Drop Dead Gorgeous I did it. But that was a campier version, and for this one they wanted us to be a little bit more realistic.” Jean Smart, who plays the hardened matriarch of a crime family, confirmed that: “They constantly wanted us to keep it very, very, very subtle. And I particularly wanted to make it very subtle because they describe that accent as the most friendly, optimistic kind of accent, and I thought — well, that suddenly doesn’t match Floyd too well.” While dialect coaches were always on hand on set to help them tweak things, some, like Milioti, had a little help. “I date a Midwesterner, so I’m around it,” she said. Although that didn’t mean it came to her naturally. “I really leaned in hard to the accent, and they were constantly pulling me back. And then I would like go from like leaning hard in, to then all of a sudden it would like flip into New Jersey, which is where I’m from.”