Ted Danson and Patrick Wilson Discuss the True Story of Fargo
This is a true story. The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 1979. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.
So begins the new season of Fargo. If that opening sounds familiar, that’s because a variation of it also appears at the start of each episode of the first season. And at the start of the 1996 Coen brothers’ film this series is based on.
This year, the second instalment of the award-winning show catapults us into a new intense world of dastardly crime plots contrasted with insufferable politeness. Though the spirit remains from earlier incarnations, there’s an all-new story and motley cast of characters inhabited by such stars as Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Nick Offerman, and more.
What could you possibly gain from doing a TV show? And then my kids said ‘Oh. No, no, no. You’re wrong. You have to watch it, it’s amazing’.
We meet with one piece of the ensemble, Danson, on the last week of filming on set in Calgary.
Danson is effusive. He’s charming. But he’s quick to admit his initial reaction upon hearing the Fargo film was going to be made into a series was less than complementary. “Why? Why do it? I love the movie. What could you possibly gain from doing a TV show? And then my kids said ‘Oh. No, no, no. You’re wrong. You have to watch it, it’s amazing’. And I kept hearing more and more from the people I respect,” he says.
“But I still didn’t watch it until I was offered this part and then I binge-watched it in two days and was astounded at how it did not compare to the movie at all … when you say that something is as good as a Coen brothers original, that’s astounding.”
Ted plays Hank Larsson, a disgruntled World War II veteran and a sheriff of Rock County. Hank is the father-in-law of Patrick Wilson’s character, Lou Solverson. Fargo fans will remember Lou as lead character Molly’s father from season one. Rewind almost 30 years and we meet a younger Lou, the state trooper and a Vietnam vet, investigating a case involving a crime syndicate.
Much of the action is anchored by 1970s America. It’s a decade, Wilson says, that was filled with strange goings on, delivering the perfect context for a Fargo scenario. “When I think of the ‘70s, when you put Reagan as the governor, the oil crisis, obsession with UFOs – the 70s were a very bizarre time and with that, and the fabric of these Vietnam vets coming back, I think that’s in a strange way what centres the story.”
Danson, who was in his early thirties at the end of that decade, notes that to him it was an era of noticeable unrest. “Well for me, growing up through that period, it did change … life did change. Probably from the Kennedy assassination on, but Vietnam really, really, really changed this country. Now the amount of savagery we live with on a daily basis is normal. It feels like back then that was the beginning of it.”
Now the amount of savagery we live with on a daily basis is normal. It feels like back then that was the beginning of it.
Danson and Wilson play father and son-in-law but they have a connection that goes beyond Fargo. They are both proud Carnegie Mellon alumni, and share a bond over the Pennsylvania university. It is that, combined with the fact that Wilson and Danson are, ahem, beyond their days of going out for late nights with the cast, which has seen a fast friendship form.
“It’s very funny because there are several people that are – and I’m not by any means old, nor am I saying that I’m old, nor am I saying that Ted’s old – but there are several people in their 20s and 30s that like to go out and have fun, whereas he and I, we’ve got wives and kids and things like that,” says Wilson. “I enjoy having a nice dinner and then I’d like to go to bed. He’s a big foodie too, so we went out to dinner a lot.”
Wilson’s name normally appears on the credits for the silver screen, not the small (you may recognise him from films such as Watchmen, or Insidious), but he is enjoying his stint on this distinguished series. “Everybody gets a moment in this thing. Every character has some character-defining moment. That is a hard thing to do because there’s a lot of mouths to feed on this show,” he says. “Sometimes you’ll get these little moments in tiny character-driven movies, you know, it’s hard to find those in studio movies anymore, where you feel ‘man I love this guy I’ve got every facet to play here’, and we’ve all had that.”
Danson, meanwhile, is of course no stranger to television. From his long, beloved and career-defining spell as Sam Malone on Cheers, to Becker, CSI, and Bored to Death, there has barely been a time since 1975 when he hasn’t been beamed into living rooms around the world.
Television, it is commonly written about, is going through another golden era with a vast quantity of critically-acclaimed shows creating as much buzz – or more, even – than many movies. So what does Danson think about big movie players joining the fellowship of TV actors? “It makes me laugh because I’ve been here for a while. This is my joke I tell Woody Harrelson, my good friend, who’s a big movie star now. I take his movies and I put it on a small DVD and I watch on a little black and white TV,” he laughs. “I’m sorry, that’s a joke – we all become TV actors eventually, that’s my joke.”
Danson’s entertaining nature comes out to play in Fargo thanks to the black comedy aspect of the show. Yes, there might be harrowing deaths with gore as a companion but there is a subtle comedic undertone present.
“There are some scenes at the beginning; Ted and I had some stuff where we looked pretty silly in our hats – like, wide-brimmed hats, and you’re like ‘wow, I’m going to do this. I’m going to wear this hat for the next four months’,” says Wilson. “I’ve had some funny parts but [it’s] different. If I come in the room people are usually nervous because I’m a cop.”
I find my character heart-wrenching sometimes and yet I’m part of something funny.
For Danson, the comedy is like another limb. “If I had to say goodbye to one, I could not say goodbye to the funny. Which is what’s so wonderful about this. I find my character heart-wrenching sometimes and yet I’m part of something funny.”
Something else he cannot say goodbye to is his old friend from Cheers. “I make a joke that everything I do is Sam Malone. This is Sam Malone goes to Minnesota.”
Season 2 of Fargo screens on SoHo Tuesdays 8.30pm from October 13th, and on NEON from Wednesday October 14th.