TV Interview: Glenn Howerton On Going From ‘It’s Always Sunny’ to ‘Fargo’

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Fargo” | 53 min. | TV-MA | Creator: Noah Hawley | Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Martin Freeman, Joey King, Bob Odenkirk, Oliver PlattGlenn Howerton and Keith Carradine

Fresh Fiction recently had the opportunity to speak with “Fargo” star Glenn Howerton, who plays an ambitious personal trainer named Don Chumph. We talked to him about diving into the dimwitted but sweet Don, working in the Coen brothers’ world, and what the “Sunny” gang would do if they were in a “Fargo” situation.

Don Chumph in “Fargo” is really great. And tomorrow night’s episode… quite a lot happens. Can you talk about what originally attracted you to the character and why you took the part?

Glenn Howerton: “I knew that the Coen brothers were involved. I’ve been a big fan of FX dramas for a while, and obviously, I’ve been a part of the family for many, many years, and the president of FX, John Landgraf called me and he’d been speaking about— he knows that my background is not really in comedy and a lot of my background is actually in more dramatic stuff, which is weird. So, he threw it out there, ‘would you ever want to be on one of our dramas?’ I said ‘absolutely!’

So, this came along and even though it’s kind of a comedic role, he felt like it was something that I hadn’t really done ‘comedically’ before, and it was part of a drama, and he explained the concept to me, who the character was, what the tone of the show was. I’m a big fan of the movie, ‘Fargo,’ and I basically without ever even seeing a script, I said yes just because of all the people that were involved.”

I would say Don is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. How difficult is that to play? How easy is it for you to get into that type of thing?

Howerton: “Well, some of the tools are not meant to be sharp. So, I’ll start with that [Laughs]. You have a lot of blunt instruments in the tool shed. But it’s a good question. It’s kind of a difficult question to answer only because I know I’m one of those guys that I have to just kind of feel it. Otherwise, it becomes a very intellectual exercise if I start thinking about it too much. I think it’s more, for me, getting into a very open-minded mindset where, for me, I felt like this was the kind of guy who is very easily influenced, especially by someone with such a presence as Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thorton) has.

Obviously, there’s the threat of violence behind it all, but I think this guy is not so much afraid of any kind of violence against him as he is just sort of getting caught. I don’t know. It’s just sort of getting a feeling of being innocent again. It is a very different character than the character I play certainly on Sunny who thinks he knows everything. I think this guy thinks he doesn’t really know as much as he needs to know, but I don’t know. I don’t know quite how to answer that. I guess it’s just bringing a real openness to the role, more listening than demanding or saying.”

Noah Hawley, the writer, has talked a lot about how he’s put little references to other Coen brothers’ films, not just Fargo. So, I was wondering if you could maybe see a little bit of Brad Pitt’s character from “Burn After Reading” in your character. Did you notice this, or was this something that was ever brought to your attention, or do you even believe that?

Howerton: “I assumed the same thing you did when I read the script that it was a pretty clear homage to that character. I don’t remember ever actually having that conversation with Noah, but I know that he definitely wanted to distinguish it enough from that character, which I think is something that happens naturally when you cast two different actors. He and I are always going to have a different take on things. So, I think the homage was clearly there, but I certainly tried to stay away from anything that Brad did in the movie, especially because I actually did re-watch a lot of Coen brothers’ movies including ‘Burn After Reading,’ and I was like, ‘my God, Brad Pitt’s performance in that is so brilliant, I don’t even want to— I don’t even think I could match it even if I wanted to.'”

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I love the dynamic between Don and Malvo. Can you tell me what it was like working so closely with Billy Bob Thornton?

Howerton: “Yes. Billy is great. I’m always a little bit concerned anytime I get into a scene with somebody who I have as much respect for as an actor as I do with Billy just because they say never meet your idols, and so, I’m like I don’t want to meet this guy and have him be a son of a b*tch or something, but he could not be a nicer, easier to work with person. He is just terrific. 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.

So, it was a lot of fun. 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. It was a lot of fun. I’m not accustomed usually to playing sort of, 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.”

I’m curious how you think Dennis and the “Sunny” gang would have handled this situation that Don found himself in. Do you think that Dennis would have been manipulated by Malvo to the point where he would have executed his plan?

Howerton: “Most of the guest star roles we have on Sunny are sort of so mowed over by our extremely energetic, forceful characters. In season seven, we actually did have a similar situation of being trapped in a closet and the trapped in a closet situation. So, I think rather than—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, I don’t know. I think he’s just a much more docile, trusting character, Don, whereas Dennis is much more cynical and untrusting.”

Before we depart here, I am curious as to what your thoughts are about them remaking “Lethal Weapon?”

Howerton: “My God, I didn’t hear that. So they’re talking about remaking ‘Lethal Weapon?'”

Yes, with Chris Hemsworth, supposedly.

Howerton: “Wow. Well, I think in true ‘Sunny’ fashion, I think there would be some characters who would be excited about it, and I think there would be some characters who’d be adamantly against it, and then, the characters would probably battle it out in some way, but personally, me, sure. Why not? I thought the ‘RoboCop’ remake was good, I’ll say that.”

“Fargo” airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. only on FX

Feature Photo: Glenn Howerton is Don Chumph in “Fargo.” Photo courtesy of FX.
Center Photo: Glenn Howerton acting across Billy Bob Thorton in “Fargo.” Photo courtesy of FX.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.