Fargo (FX) Interview: Martin Freeman Discusses His Complex Character, Acting With Billy Bob Thornton and More

Fargo (FX) episode 1 The Crocodile's Dilemma (5)

FX is taking viewers on a new journey through the Minnesota hamlet of Fargo beginning tonight, Tuesday, April 15th at 10PM ET/PT, and the talented British actor Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit) is along for the ride as timid salesman Lester Nygaard. TV Equals joined in a conference call with Freeman where the actor discussed the challenges of playing Lester, how much he enjoyed acting with his co-star Billy Bob Thornton and more.

What Brought Freeman to American TV

Freeman has long been a staple of British television thanks to his roles on The Office and Sherlock, but the actor confessed he had no desire to invest six years of his life to a series, which is the norm for American television. Luckily for Freeman, Fargo came along. The limited 10-episode format was a big selling point for the actor, but it was not the only reason he took the role.

“The script itself is well written, the whole thing, the whole first episode, which is what I based my decision on,” Freeman said. “It was a lovely episode, and with Lester I just got the feeling that this was going to be a role where you could give rein to a lot of stuff. Even within that first episode the range that he goes between is really interesting and so I knew that was only going to grow and expand in the next nine episodes, and so it proved to be. In all the 10 episodes I get to play as Lester pretty much the whole gamut of human existence and human feeling.”

Who Is Lester?

Lester is a character with more going on under the surface than there appears to be at first glance. Freeman discussed how he unconsciously seemed to shrink when playing the nervous salesman. However, Lester is also a character people will recognize. “I think Lester is pretty universal,” Freeman said. “There are Lesters everywhere, in every race and walk of life and country. There are people who are sort of downtrodden and people who are underconfident.”

A meeting with Lorne Malvo (Thornton) will initiate a change in the character as early as the pilot. “Lorne Malvo, I suppose, is a constant presence in Lester’s life because of the change that Lester has undergone as a result of meeting him. So, everything that Lester does, every way that he develops as a character, for good and bad, you could say is kind of down to that initial meeting with Lorne Malvo.”

On Working with Billy Bob Thornton

Freeman revealed he was a fan of Thornton’s before working with him and an even bigger fan after. His only regret is that they didn’t get to work together more. (A feeling that is mutual.) “We don’t get as much screen time as I would like,” Freeman said. “I think we both really, really loved sharing actual space together and doing work together and we don’t get to do as much of that as we would want.”

Even if Lester and Malvo are not side by side, as Freeman told us, Malvo has an enormous impact on Lester’s life. Freeman hinted the relationship develops off-screen largely with “sporadic” meetings in person.

How He Nailed the Minnesota Accent

For Freeman, it was about listening to actual Minnesotans. He wanted the accent to be authentic, not something to be played for laughs (even though the series has its share of humor). “I didn’t want it to be like a comedy sketch,” Freeman noted. “I wasn’t playing an accent; I was playing a character who happened to speak like that and to be from that place.”

What He Knows About Fargo

Ever the diplomat, Freeman would not give a quote about why Fargo is unique in the television landscape. He believes there is room for all kinds of quality television. What he said he knew for sure is that Fargo is good television and that’s because of the script, the cast and the crew. He believes both fans of the film and first-time viewers will be happy if they go on this 10-episode journey with the series.

“I think if people like well-written, well-directed, hopefully, well-acted drama, then they will like Fargo,” Freeman said. “I do hope and I believe that if people come to it with an open mind, within 10 minutes you’re no longer thinking about the 1996 film. My experience of how people have reacted, they’re pretty engrossed in the world that we’ve created.”

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