‘FARGO’ Q&A: Jean Smart Hints at Season 3, Discusses Character’s Twisted Nature


 CR: Mathias Clamer/FX

Preston Barta // Editor

The world of FARGO is a fascinating sight to behold. Its richness and diverse characters are beyond most television shows, which is all thanks to creator/showrunner Noah Hawley.

Ever since FARGO‘s first season, Hawley has gave us faint glimpses into character’s backstories. Just enough to mark them as engaging and complex, but never enough to where we feel like we know every aspect to their being. It’s the perfect amount of mystery, leaving us to wonder and create sequels and prequels in our head.

This season we’re getting Lou Solverson’s (Patrick Wilson) violent trip down memory lane, but what can we expect in Season 3? Enter Jean Smart, who plays mafiosa matriarch Floyd Gerhardt in Season 2.

Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to speak with Smart about her twisted Floyd, what to expect going forth and the possibility of a third season.

Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt. Photo courtesy of Chris Large/FX.

Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt. Photo courtesy of Chris Large/FX.

Floyd is powerful, unshakable and iconic for television in many ways. What was it like to play her?

Jean Smart: “It’s great to play people that complicated. Her practical side as a businesswoman comes into conflict with being a mother. But she’s seen it all, nothing can scare or faze her. But she knows if war is declared what’s going to come, and it’s not going to be happy. She would have been iconic in the 70s, and still is in a sense. She’s a strong woman in a man’s world. She has always been surrounded by strong men; her father, the same as her father-in-law and husband, and her boys are very strong men. She’s not cowed by anything. Her husband probably was the leader of the family – she refers to him as “my lion”. She loves him, but at the same time they had an equal partnership.”

How much did you know in advance?

Smart: “I had no idea what was going to happen to Floyd or her family when we started. In the coming weeks, she has to make some difficult decisions and women in general– there are some things you won’t expect. They’re all moving in their own way towards their own outcomes.”

The show has aspects of Shakespearean works or a Greek tragedy. Was that intentional?

Smart: “It’s interesting, that’s how I describe it. I don’t know if Noah [Hawley] ever thought of it in those terms: if he has heard or read it, but he hasn’t objected. I do see it that way. There is something larger, even with the realistic way it’s shot and acted– there is something larger than life watching that empire being pulled down and innocent lives dragged down with it. It’s very much a tragedy.”

I read an interview with you earlier this season and you described your character as “misunderstood evil.”

Smart: “[Laughs] Yes.”

I think misunderstood is a great way of describing her, because she’s human, she’s a mother trying to protect her family and keep what her family has created. But what do you think makes evil likable per se? As audiences we are more drawn to the evil ones than the bad ones.

Smart: “No one is all good or bad. We like to see it. It’s cathartic to see the darker side, everything is guided by desire for something and the Gerhardts are driven, ambitious and started with nothing and they built it from there. Floyd is practical and pragmatic– business is business and family is family. But obviously there is going to be a conflict in the two, which is pointed out by Brad Garrett’s Joe Bulo when he says, ‘When one of my men steps wrong, I break his arm or take his tongue. What do you want me to do with your children?’ I couldn’t answer that. As a mother, she didn’t want to lose any more kids. There is conflict, but it’s the empire. She doesn’t want to go to war but she’s not afraid to die. It’s business.”

L-R: Smart as Floyd Gerhardt, Ted Danson as Hank Larsson. Photo courtesy of Chris Large/FX.

L-R: Smart as Floyd Gerhardt, Ted Danson as Hank Larsson. Photo courtesy of Chris Large/FX.

Floyd and her son Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) have such an interesting relationship. They’re at odds but they have that tender moment in the car. How did you and [Donovan] prepare for that moment?

Smart: “I did admire [Donovan] so much, especially in the scene in the car, which we were both anxious to work on because it was so powerful. [Donovan] told me one of the reasons he took the role was to do that one scene. After Floyd lost her eldest in the Korean War, Dodd was the next born and he would have been a special child to her. He was No. 2, but she lost one. He felt he gained more significance in the family. She knows he’s damaged in a way– who knows how much she’s privy to how he interacted with his father.

There’s the scene when Otto (Michael Hogan) took Dodd to the theatre when he was a little boy that explains why Dodd is the way he is to a certain extent. She’s in the kitchen basting a turkey while he’s in the barn torturing a guy. Floyd knows what’s going on, it’s business. He comes to the kitchen and makes an off colour remark and she barks at him. She loves him very much. If she wasn’t as strong a woman as she was she would be afraid of him. She’s not afraid of him even if she knows he’s capable of dark things. She is troubled by his relationship with his daughter. He’s a troubled young man but he’s her boy.”

Last year I was very curious to know Lou’s backstory and we got it this season. If they do in fact make a third season, are there any full stories you would like to know, whether it’s Floyd and Otto and how they built their empire or otherwise?

Smart: “It would be great to see Floyd and Otto work their way back, but I don’t know how far back they’ll go. But they are working on season three. I was hoping we’d do a flashback scene with Floyd.

It’s interesting that it’s a whole new storyline and era, those little moments of connection between the Solversons and the previous scenes are for the fans. It’s a nice touch. It doesn’t change the story or your enjoyment or involvement but it is a good example of Hawley’s talent.

I’m so envious of good writers and try to figure out how they do that, spin a tale with so many elements. My husband is so gripped by it. There is no A and B story– everything is the A story simultaneously and the brilliant idea of the split screen, which was done more in the late 70s and keeps you in touch with everybody.”

How was the dynamic of the 70s brought into the story of FARGO?

Smart: “[Hawley] has worked on the feminist sensibility of the late 70s and the racial issues and native Americans and African Americans, so it was subtle and just dropped in little tiny moments. [Hawley] makes a statement but doesn’t detract from the story. You can’t turn away from watching a trainwreck.”

All-new FARGO airs tonight on FX at 10 p.m. E/P.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.