‘Fargo’ (FX) Interview: Glenn Howerton on Not Playing the Smartest Guy in the Room

Best known for his role as Dennis on FX’s critically-acclaimed cult comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Glenn Howerton is currently playing against type as the not so bright Don Chumph on Fargo. Don’s bumbling attempt to blackmail the supermaket king Stavros (Oliver Platt) led to the simple gym rat becoming embroiled in Lorne Malvo’s (Billy Bob Thornton) scheme to extort a large sum of money from the man.

TV Equals recently joined a conference call with Howerton where the actor discussed playing the “dumb” guy, working with Thornton and much more.

An all-new episode of Fargo airs tonight, Tuesday, May 20th at 10/9c on FX.

On Not Playing the Straight Guy

Howerton has grown accustomed to playing the straight guy in comedies. His characters may not be brilliant, but they are usually smarter than the other characters around them. Howerton said he had long expressed interest in joining an FX drama and since he is “part of the FX family” he did not hesitate to take the role of Don Chumph on Fargo when it was offered to him, even though playing Don came with its own unique challenges.

“I think this guy is not so much afraid of any kind of violence against him as he is just sort of getting caught,” Howerton explained on getting into the right mindset for the role. “It’s just sort of getting a feeling of being innocent again.”

Howerton continued, “I guess it’s just bringing a real openness to the role, more listening than demanding or saying.” The result is a character who projects a profound sense of misplaced trust, particularly in Malvo, while also providing the series with a straightforward bit of comic relief.

Working Closely With Thornton

Of all the actors on Fargo, Howerton is perhaps the one to work the closest with Thornton, particularly in the first six episodes of the series. They become an unlikely duo with Don being the unwitting puppet in Malvo’s master plan. Howerton had nothing but positive things to say about his co-star, even noting that Thornton was one of his heroes.

“He is just terrific,” Howerton said of Thornton. “He’s extremely open to suggestion, he’s very, very easy to work with, very professional, came to the set knowing all of his lines and clearly is– I’m a big fan of people who I feel like when I’m talking to them in a scene, they’re actually listening to what I’m saying. So, even if I did flub a line, he was listening to me and he’d pick up on it. It kind of became like a really weird sort of Abbot and Costello-ey kind of relationship where I kind of end up becoming his lackey. I’m not accustomed usually to playing, for lack of a better word, the dumb one in the comedic relationship. I’m usually the straight man. So, it was a lot of fun not playing the straight man.”

What if ‘It’s Always Sunny’s’ Dennis Found Himself in Don’s Shoes?

Howerton’s iconic character Dennis comes from a world of hard knocks. He is far less likely to be wide-eyed and trusting of a man like Malvo. When asked what would happen if Dennis found himself in a situation like say, getting locked in a closet by Malvo, he was quick to say Dennis would have a very different reaction.

“I think the difference between Don and Dennis is Dennis would have spent the entire time trying to figure out how to get out of that closet whereas Don just spent the night eating whatever he had in the cabinet and peeing into his shoe or whatever the hell he did,” Howerton said. “I think he’s just a much more docile, trusting character, Don, whereas Dennis is much more cynical and untrusting.”

Howerton Reveals His Favorite Fargo Scene

Fargo has produced a number of memorable scenes in its short run, but Howerton’s favorite in which he has a discussion with Malvo in the smallest room possible is a fan favorite as well. “The scene I did in the closet was a lot of fun, which in the script, it was actually a little bit of a longer scene,” Howerton noted. “There was more in there, but as I’m well versed on with Sunny, you only have so much time to tell a story, so you have to cut out anything that’s not absolutely essential, but I had a really good time shooting that scene. It was really funny. It’s so awkward to be literally inches away from someone’s face doing a scene, but I think that’s part of why it was so awkward and funny to shoot.”

Follow me on Twitter @sljbowman