Year 3 of ‘FARGO’ keeps it chill

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Preston Barta // Editor

Discussing Season 3 with ‘FARGO’ creator Noah Hawley and star Ewan McGregor

When it comes to new seasons of a celebrated television show, bigger is usually seen as better. Annual network meetings seem likely to be filled with questions of how show runners should up the stakes and outdo concepts from the previous season.

However, when it comes to FX’s wildly popular series FARGO (a spiritual continuation of the groundwork laid by Joel and Ethan Coen in the 1996 film about crime happenings in the snowy Northern states), creator Noah Hawley (LEGION TV series) takes the modest route to success.

“The strange thing about an anthology series such as this is that each year is its own 10-hour movie,” Hawley said in a recent interview. “The only requirement of me is to make the best 10-hour movie we can out of this story.”

Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz, Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy. Courtesy of Chris Large/FX.

Set in 2010, the third installment of FARGO sees Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy, a real estate mogul and kingpin of a parking lot company who finds himself mixed up with the wrong people (chiefly David Thewlis as a scary capitalist named V.M. Varga). Emmit’s younger, less successful brother Ray (also played by McGregor) has a massive chip on his shoulder about how his life has panned out in comparison to his brother, and he blames Emmit entirely.

Season 3’s story feels like an understated Shakespearean drama, befitting a universe that has always embraced the playwright’s essence. Even in the Coen brothers’ film, the central character of Marge (Frances McDormand) comments on tragedy in a form that reflects the acclaimed wordsmith, most notably during the film’s final scene. Hawley’s series continues that tradition, not only through his rich dialogue but also his careful plotting.

“It’s a very old fable isn’t it? The story of two brothers fighting over their birthright, if you like,” McGregor said. “Emmit has a very rich life and he’s satisfied with his lot. For Ray it’s the opposite. He looks like he’s lived hard and is unhappy — well, that’s until he meets Nikki Swango [played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead].”

McGregor further explained how the beauty of playing Ray is how the character is the embodiment of somebody who’s in love, whereas Emmit is far less soulful. The older brother may have a family and all the ingredients necessary to be considered a loving person, but it is walled off in a ruthlessly compartmentalized fashion.

“Emmit is a business man. He has his work and his family is important to him, but it’s in a more structural way than a heartfelt one,” McGregor said.

Ewan McGregor as Ray Stussy. Courtesy of Chris Large/FX.

For McGregor to play two brothers of different ages was a tantalizing challenge. Typically, when an actor plays dual roles in a series or film, it’s to portray twins. Whether it’s Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins in 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK or Paul Dano as the Sunday brothers in 2007’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD, the complications involved are tough enough when the characters portrayed are the same age.

“That’s what fascinated me with the initial idea: the fact that I’d not be playing twins but siblings that are very different people,” McGregor exclaimed. “Even the business side of playing them both has been interesting, because of the great deal of makeup I had to put on and the weight I had to gain to make the characters feel different and unique. It was challenging but satisfying as an actor.”

The first two episodes were made available to press ahead of its season premiere, but it’s clear most of the story’s wealth comes from the layers of the characters, their relationships and the specificity of the world. Compared to the kinetic energy of the previous season, Hawley simplifies his narrative this round, but the intrigue still remains.

“If something is going to be simple or bland, it needs to be bland in an interesting way. That specificity is the fun of it,” Hawley said. “The play of the creative process is to take nothing for granted and you’ll make something more rewarding.”

The season three premiere of FARGO airs on Wednesday, April 19 at 9 p.m. CT.

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.