The first season of FX’s Fargo is on DVD and Blu-ray this week, and it did the seemingly impossible task of living up to the acclaimed Coen Brothers movie. Noah Hawley created the series version, set in 2006 involving another small town murder with quirky characters and police.
Over the summer I got to speak with Noah Hawley after he did a surprise panel for the Television Critics Association. After all the acclaim Fargo received, they returned the favor by coming back to speak to press. Season two is set to take place in the 1979. Spoilers for season one follow, but if you’re already a fan like us it’s a great chance to get Hawley reflecting on his achievement in the first season. Buy it Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.
Nuke the Fridge: In success, do you imagine future seasons of Fargo could end up revisiting some of the movie characters? Like maybe Jerry Lundegaard gets out of prison? Marge is still on the job.
Noah Hawley: Uh, I don’t know. I’m not ruling it out entirely. In some ways it feels like the movie is sacrosanct on that level. I feel like I would need more from Joel and Ethan to do that. I feel like it would be really presumptuous of me to say, “I’m taking these characters that you created and I’m telling people what happened next.” That was a complete story that they told, so I would have to call them and say, “Hey, what happens next to these guys?” Something like that. It’s certainly not where my head’s at right now.
Nuke: Was jumping a year ahead midseason a controversial choice? Did anyone say, “Wait a minute?”
Noah Hawley: They didn’t. It was actually really remarkable. We had it on the writer’s room board as OYL, “One Year Later” because sometimes executives would stop by and you didn’t want people to see it out of context and go, “What the hell are you talking about, One Year Later?” We turned in nine outlines to the network, 115 pages and they got to read it as a story. I think that was really exciting for FX and MGM, this structural risk we were taking. And then, in some ways, I tempered it by giving people what they wanted. I mean, everyone wanted Gus and Molly to get married, right? So we just skipped to that and everyone was happy.
Nuke: There were some great passages with a long buildup to a sudden, violent act. Did those become more challenging to develop the further it went on, and a tough act to follow for next season?
Noah Hawley: You know, every piece of violence that we built to was deliberately mapped out. It was never like, “Oh, we chopped a guy up with a ceiling fan last time, let’s do…” The violence in Coen Brothers movies is always really fast and brutal, and feels really real. So that was our mission, was not to do violence as entertainment.
Nuke: My favorite was Lorne keeps asking Lester, “Are you sure you want this? You sure you want this?”
Noah Hawley: And that certainly was part of the spending time with him as a dentist and fiance, these people and introducing the storyline. Obviously people are thinking, “I need to pay attention to this because it’s going someplace.” The idea that you established, obviously he’d been with this woman, proposed to her and yet he was willing to throw it away like that. If we hadn’t invested the time, it wouldn’t have been as shocking.
Nuke: I guess that’s the joy of knowing you set up everything as if it’s going to go on forever, and we don’t know what could end instantly.
Noah Hawley: That’s good. You want to keep people on their toes.
Nuke: Was FX on board with how much of Fargo could play without any dialogue at all?
Noah Hawley: That was never an issue. They understood that not only are these Oscar winning screenwriters, they’re two of the best filmmakers of all time as far as I’m concerned. That was our bar. I couldn’t write these scripts and then shoot it as a television show, in a way. Cinema is about telling the story with the camera. That’s the definition of it, otherwise it’s a stage play. So I think they were really excited about that. If you read the outlines, there’s camera moves in the outlines. It was very clear from the very beginning that that was our goal, was to be filmmakers.
Nuke: Since the aesthetic of the movie was so much in the snow, could you have shot Fargo on television as recently as a few years ago before digital cameras had gotten there?
Noah Hawley: It’s hard to know. That’s a hypothetical I don’t really know how to answer. The snow was a challenge but one that they were quite used to up there. They were like, “Yeah, just throw a blanket over the camera and you’ll be fine.”
Nuke: So it was the local crews who are used to filming in that environment?
Noah Hawley: Exactly. They’re wearing shorts and it’s five below.
Nuke: Has casting the second season been easier? Are people lining up to join?
Nuke: It was a coup to get Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks so I wonder if more actors are lining up.
Noah Hawley: I think our phone will ring, but I need to write it. Then I’m going to sit down and look at it and go, “Well, who do I see in my head for these roles?” and see what’s possible. It’s good that at this point no one’s saying to me, “Well, who’s the Molly this season? Or who’s the Malvo?” It’s a very different story so at the end of the day we’ll see who’s in it and then we’ll cast those roles.
Nuke: Is there a moral code to Fargo? I think it does.
Noah Hawley: The existence of morality is acknowledged. It’s not code like it’s Heat with Robert De Niro and he’s got a code, not in that kind of way. What civilization has that the wilderness doesn’t is it has some sense of morality, that some things are right and some things are wrong. I like exploring that. But then the flip side of that of course is that animals don’t do crazy sh*t. Human beings need morality because people do things that aren’t just about survival and eating and reproducing. I like to explore those lines but the universe itself doesn’t have a specific moral code.
Nuke: I imagine it could be as simple as: Easy money never pays off.
Noah Hawley: Certainly the Coens in their films tend to almost have a horror movie morality. If you transgress you will be punished. Whether that’s Nic Cage in Raising Arizona or Josh Brolin taking the money in No Country, there is that “every action has a consequence.” Certainly that’s interesting to play around with, that idea that even for Malvo, Malvo came into town, he killed Sam Hess, he left, he never thought about it again and then suddenly he’s ambushed in the middle of a blizzard. His action had a consequence that caught up with him and he was startled by that I think.
Nuke: The consequence might not even be death or prison. It’s just you won’t have a good life.
Noah Hawley: I love the Schrodinger’s Cat material in A Serious Man where the minute he changes that kid’s grade, the phone rings and it’s the doctor saying, “Oh, your test results came back and you should come in.” You leave him not knowing, is he alive or dead? It’s really interesting.