Aw, geez, ‘Fargo’ is on TV with Billy Bob Thornton

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NEW YORK (AP) - After failed attempts and broken dreams, by golly, someone went and put “Fargo” on series TV.

The 10-episode season premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT on FX. And it mesmerizes. As a furtherance of the 1996 crime classic by Joel and Ethan Coen that starred Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi, the TV adaptation is a wonder.

Like that movie, the series is set in rural, snow-glazed Minnesota, but 20 years later (in 2006), and is stocked with new characters, deadly mischief and a bounty of stars including Allison Tolman as a bright-eyed deputy and Martin Freeman as a nebbishy insurance salesman (distant echoes of the roles played by McDormand and Macy in the film). Also on hand are Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt, Kate Walsh, Keith Carradine, Adam Goldberg, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and more.

At the core of its deliciously deranged narrative is Lorne Malvo, a sotto-voce psycho whose mysterious path brings him to the town of Bemidji, with many repercussions.

Lorne is played by Billy Bob Thornton, who radiates still menace while sporting what he calls “a haircut gone wrong.”

“This was not from a salon,” Thornton explains. “It was done by a friend. But looking in the mirror, I thought, ‘Wow - this dark character having bangs, which you associate with innocence, would be great.’ So we decided to go with it.”

The man bringing “Fargo” back to life after ill-fated tries by NBC and CBS in the late 1990s is Noah Hawley, who serves as the show runner, an executive producer and the writer of all 10 episodes.

Somehow Hawley internalized the rules and deadpan tone of the Coens (who are also onboard as executive producers), then ran with their sense of twisted realism to create his own thing.

“He captured the Coen Brothers’ spirit, got their vibe, and yet he didn’t imitate ‘em,” says Thornton. “I thought, if you’ve done that, you’ve done something great.”

And when he encountered Lorne Malvo in Hawley’s pilot script, “I don’t know why, but I just went, ‘Yeah. That fits: a hand in a glove.’

“I liked the idea of playing a guy who has no conscience,” Thornton goes on. “He has this weird sense of humor. He likes to mess with people. And as we went along I started thinking, he’s a loner, so messing with people is actually his social life, his recreation.”

This is a guy who, when threatened on his home turf by a thug twice his size, unconcernedly steps to his bathroom, drops his trousers and takes a seat. His foe, appalled, beats a hasty retreat.

“He doesn’t like weakness,” Thornton adds. “He has this weird curiosity about weak people. And he sees them as people he can use.”

Having drawn Freeman’s jammed-up pipsqueak into his lair, Lorne shares his code on being tough: “We used to be gorillas. All we have is what we can take and defend.”

Speaking with a reporter in New York last week, the 58-year-old Thornton is jauntily clad in pants with broad black-and-navy stripes, T-shirt, leather jacket, boots and knit fingerless gloves.

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