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July 15, 2014

‘Fargo’: Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman tap into their alter egos

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FX debuts its new limited run series “Fargo” tonight, and judging from a media screening and a new video teaser of the series released Sunday, this series stays true in form and tone to the original film of the same name. But what you may not realize is that although the series is named after the movie, and set in the same place, it features a whole new cast of characters and an entirely different crime under investigation.

The cast includes a range of talent, from big-screen actors to TV favorites to independent film darlings, including Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Kate Walsh and relative newcomer Allison Tollman. But perhaps the most anticipated screen matchup is between “Sling Blade” and “Bilbo Baggins”: The premiere features the pivotal meeting of Lorne Malvo (Thornton) and Lester Nygaard (Freeman), which sets off the chain of events at the heart of the series.

As previously reported here (see the link below), Freeman discussed the series in a media conference call last week, where he talked specifically about some of the screen time he shared with Thornton. And addressed a question about comments where Thornton said he had to expand his ego a little bit to play Lorne and that Freeman had to bury his personality a bit to play Lester.

“To a certain extent, yeah … Yes, I’m a more confident person than Lester is and I’m not quite as upset as that. So, yeah, it’s just about tapping into those insecurities that you have — we all have — and just kind of magnifying them a little bit. And I find that stuff interesting to play… So, yeah, basically to answer your question I think I did have to slightly rein my gigantic ego in for a while.”

Freeman and Thornton have a key scene early where they engage in a lengthy discussion while waiting in a hospital emergency room — a discussion that completely changes the course of Lester’s life. The dialogue is sharp with a sly, dark humor, and it should come as no surprise the actors play well off each other.

“I love working with Billy Bob, to be quite frank,” said Freeman. “I love it, I love it. And the limited scenes I had with him were joyful… [T]he first thing I shot with him was the scene in the emergency room. And it was just a pleasure, it was just a pleasure from the get-go … You see for the scene there’s not a lot of blocking, there’s not a lot of choreography to do, but just sitting there doing it with a fantastic actor and who I’ve long admired was an absolute joy.

“And he’s a real, real pleasure as a man, as well. I like spending the limited amount of time I’ve spent with him. And I think I’m right in saying both of us kind of wanted to do more of it together because it just instantly clicked. It was very, very easy. We had a good chemistry together I think. It certainly felt that way anyway.”

Indeed they did, as evidenced by the video above. It’s only a small piece of the full scene, but enough to get a feel for the actors’ rapport and the overall vibe of the show.

Besides the different characters, other ways this series might differ from your expectations is the accent is a little more subtle in the TV version than the film, but the very friendly and laid-back nature of the locals is definitely present in the premiere episode. And the quirky sense of humor.

True to FX’s history as a bit of a maverick in the TV world, they allow the creators to follow unconventional storytelling for TV land. Characters are allowed to have extended dialogues, which could be a bad thing in the wrong hands, but well handled by the writers. That doesn’t necessarily translate into big ratings, but hopefully “Fargo” will be an exception to encourage more quality TV series.

Let’s just say this — if you liked the film, you’ll like this series as well, most likely. Or at least that is what FX is counting on.

“I think if people like well-written, well-directed, hopefully, well-acted drama, then they will like ‘Fargo,'” said Freeman. “I don’t really know what it makes it unique. There aren’t many things set in Minnesota. Maybe it’s that. There are not many things that use a classic modern movie as a jumping off point and maybe it’s that.

“I guess people who loved the film ‘Fargo’ may love us or they may hate us. I think it’ll split people one way or the other. But I do hope and I sort of believe that if people come to it with an open mind, within 10 minutes you’re no longer thinking about the 1996 film. I think you are, sort of my experience of how people have reacted, they’re pretty engrossed in the world that we’ve created.

“So, I don’t know what makes it unique, but I do know what makes it good and that starts, as all good things do, with a script and it’s beautifully shot. And, if I say so myself, not including myself, but it’s fantastically cast. I think the cast across the board is phenomenal. So, yeah, I don’t know whether that’s unique, but I do know it’s good.”

Check out the premiere Tuesday night on FX at 10 p.m. ET for this 10-episode limited run series.

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