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Martin Freeman: “Fargo” May Not Be What You’re Expecting

Fargo - Martin Freeman

If you think you know what to expect from the new FX series “Fargo,” think again. Not only does it create a whole new story and cast of characters set in the famous Minnesota town, but it breaks the conventions of what you’re used to seeing on a TV series, according to Martin Freeman, who plays Lester Nygaard on the series. Which is one of the reasons the star of “The Hobbit” and “Sherlock” wanted to get on board with the 10 episode limited-run series, despite a few concerns prior to committing to the project.

“I knew I did not want to be in a rehash of the film,” Freeman said in a media conference call. “The film is perfectly happy without someone making either a good or bad cover version of it, you know. I didn’t want to be in a cover version; certainly didn’t want to be doing a cover version of anyone else’s performance. All I knew at the time was I really loved the first script.

“And I guess I liked [writer Noah Hawley's] tone. I had a brief conversation with him and I’d have to check our emails, but he probably said something to put my mind at rest in an email at some point and I can’t even remember what that would specifically be. But I know from the outset I would have been pretty vocal about not wanting just to be part of a ‘Fargo’ tribute band, you know … Hopefully, you get into these characters and these stories as opposed to the ones from the 90s.”

Freeman also talked about how much he enjoys playing such a complex character. Lester starts the series as one of those meek guys everyone walks all over, but suffice it to say he undergoes a rather dramatic transformation, no pun intended.

“That was a big attraction of doing it, that was one of the major attractions of playing this role,” Freeman said. “I like, as much as I can, to play everything and by that I just mean I think within one line of dialogue you can play three different things … And I’ve always liked to sort of do that, not to just play the one thing. I like to play, try and reflect the complexities of how we are in real life, which is we’re always thinking at least two things at the same time. So, certainly the overt dark side of “Lester” was something very attractive to me.”

The English actor also commented on the increasing number of these rich characters popping up in TV shows such as “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” and what it might mean about the current TV audience.

“Maybe it means that we are, well, it might mean we’re getting smarter. We’re demanding more of our characters and of our dramas. It might mean that we are less sure of ourselves, I suppose. So we want to see that reflected in the people we follow on TV.

“For me, I mean I don’t know where it started, but this modern trend I think you can put a lot of that down to Tony Soprano, the sort of very, very flawed hero, antihero, confounding your expectations of what you think that character is going to be, capable of doing terrible things while also being very attractive and funny and likable.

“But, again, those things go back to Greek theater. That in itself is not a new thing. But you’re absolutely right, it’s becoming more common on American television. And there is some extremely good American television where that happens more these days. Maybe it just means we’re getting a bit more sophisticated and demanding a bit more than kind of black and white characters, which I’m all for I must say.”

Freeman also loved working with all his costars, citing Billy Bob Thornton, in particular, with whom he gets to share an extended scene in the premiere, and whose character sets off the chain of events the series is based upon. And he was glad he signed on, despite a certain reluctance to get into American television — he only considered the series because of its limited run.

“I had a lot of fun. I loved this job, I loved all of it I have to say. It was tough and it was hard work, like anything is hard work if you want to be good at something, if you want to do it well it’s all hard work. But very, very enjoyable as a result of working hard.

“It’s all play. My job is to play things. My job isn’t to fight things or war things, it’s to play things, which is a pretty cool job. And Lester was a lovely person to play, I mean, not always lovely, but a lovely challenge to play and the cast and crew and the city of Calgary, it was just a real pleasure. I don’t relish the thought of going away from home for months.

“I never relish that, so in order for me to say I really, really loved this job that’s quite something because it kept me away from home for a long time, but I wouldn’t have been without it. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I had a lot of fun, laughed a lot with some very, very funny people and got to do one of the best scripts I’ve done. So, yeah, I’m happy.”

Catch Martin Freeman in “Fargo,” airing Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Find the cable provider in your area below and give us a call to make sure your cable package includes FX at the best price.

Photo by Matthias Clamer/FX

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Diana writes about travel and pop culture, and loves the dark underbelly of TV: horror, outlaws and true crime. A few hot guys thrown in the mix doesn't hurt either.

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