FARGO – Martin Freeman talks about his Character in FX’s new Show

I had the chance to interview Martin Freeman for Fargo, a new anthology crime dark comedy-drama series on loosely based on the 1996 film of the same name. The series is scheduled to premiere on April 15, 2014, in the United States and is about a drifter named Lorne Malvo, played by Billy Bob Thorton. Malvo arrives in small-town Minnesota and influences the population with his malice and violence, including put-upon insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by Martin Freeman.

Freeman shared some cool details about the show and his character. Keep reading for the full interview.

Have you learned anything about yourself by playing a darker character like “Lester”?

I don’t know yet. I think a lot of the time you play parts or the things that you learn, you don’t quite know what they are until years later maybe. They sort of filter back into your work years later. I remember at drama school people saying this is not necessarily going to make sense to you now, but in five years the pin might drop or whatever.

And that was true. And I’m not quite sure what I’ll take away from this “Lester” year. At the moment, because I only finished a week ago, all I know is that I really enjoyed it. I loved the job and I have hopes that people will like it. But I don’t know. It all kind of feeds in in a pretty under the radar way because things aren’t planned in that way or specific in that way about, well, I’ll do this and then I’ll learn that.

I’m just going to have to kind of let it live with me for a bit. And I’ve been living with it for about five months and so I’ll decompress now for a bit and then I’ll probably get some perspective on it in a year and go, oh, I thought I was good in that and I wasn’t very good in that bit and I like that bit and I didn’t like that. So, it will inform me in some way, in ways I that I don’t quite know yet, if you know what I mean.


What attracted you to the role?

Well, just the fact that it’s well written. The script itself is well written, the whole thing, the whole first episode, which is what I based my decision on. 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, to play a lot of stuff.

And 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, you know, he does the whole lot.

And that’s exactly what you want to do as an actor. And Noah [Hawley] treads that line very well between drama and comedy and the light and dark. And I like playing that stuff. So, yeah, it was all of that really.

How did you have to alter your personality to play “Lester”? 

I’m a more confident person than “Lester” is and I’m not quite as upset as that. So, yeah, it’s just about tapping into those insecurities that you have, we all have, and just kind of magnifying them a little bit. And I find that stuff interesting to play.

I find it fun to play if you can do it for real because, obviously, it’s not shot documentary style or anything, but you want it to be real. You want it to really resonate even though it’s within a heightened world. Noah’s writing is extremely good and it’s slightly heightened as well, rather like the Coen Brothers.

So, yeah, basically to answer your question I think I did have to slightly rein my gigantic ego in for a while.


How did your understanding of the character change from when you first started playing him to where he ends up?

Well, you have to go a lot on trust, really, because, again, I signed up just on the strength of the first episode. I kind of saw a rough character outline that Noah wrote, but it wasn’t specific and it wasn’t detailed. It was a general idea of where he wanted to go with it. He certainly knew a lot more than I did and he knew a lot more than he was telling me and he was quite careful with what he leaked out, do you know what I mean?

So, I wouldn’t really have any particular clues as to what was coming. So, we would all get kind of drip fed the scripts when he was ready to show them to us and when he had finished them. Like all writers, he didn’t want to show anything until he was absolutely happy with it. And so I would get each of the scripts and it was all pretty much a surprise.

The stuff that “Lester” would be doing, I mean unless Noah had kind of hinted at something, which was rare, it was all a surprise. So, I would read episode four and go, oh my God, that happens. And then I’d read episode five and think, wow, I didn’t see that coming.

So, it was all a surprise and so in that sense you have to just be ready to go with it and not make too many decisions, not pre-prepare, not prepare too much and just be open and just be ready to move in whichever direction this character is going to go in because you, as the actor, don’t dictate it, that’s for sure. It was all at Noah’s command as a writer.

And I kind of liked that, I liked that surprise. Because it’s when you’re not in charge and when you don’t really know what’s going to happen that you’re pushed. You allow yourself to be really, really pushed and challenged and stretched, which is all those things actors want to have.

So, yeah, your understanding kind of evolves the more you read because, obviously, by the end of episode 10 “Lester” was capable of things that you never would have suspected in episode one. So, you have to just be on the ball and be ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Tune in for Fargo on premiere on April 15, 2014.

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The Author

Graham Day

Graham Day

I am a geek first and foremost. I love animation, film and comics. I live in Dublin, Ireland and love it. I have met so many amazing people over the years, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Mark Millar and Scott Snyder to name but a few. I love to sketch, write and talk about geek news. I went to college for five years, three years animation and two years communication and media. All opinions are my own so I hope they're witty and original, I'm fairly certain they're not.