From the very first episode of FX's dark comedy Fargo, viewers could tell Allison Tolman was a star. Playing the dedicated deputy Molly Solverson, she managed to carve out a little piece of Fargo for her own. Tolman shattered the idea that Molly would be just another version of Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand in the film), breathing life into this new, original character.
Tolman brings a humanity, intelligence, and a certain amount of stubbornness to Molly, and based on her performance throughout the season, viewers might have no idea that this is actually Tolman's first major role.
We had the chance to chat with Tolman over the phone about getting into character, and what she was up to before earning a spot on the program.
Raised in Texas, Tolman moved to Dallas shortly after graduating from Baylor University where she majored in theater. It was in Dallas that Tolman recounts getting her footing in the entertainment industry, and the real world. She later migrated north to Chicago, and joined the famed Second City with dreams of maybe making it to Saturday Night Live, a move that plenty of Second City comedians have made over the years.
However, when Tolman was offered the part of Molly on Fargo, she wasn't making a living as a performer. Instead, she got the call while working at her day job as a post-production manager in a pinup photo studio.
"Noah Hawley made the call and told me that I had the role," she says. "And the way he tells it I said, 'Thank you' very politely, and then I had to get off the phone because I had to go back to work. So, I know inside I was definitely freaking out and losing my mind, but he said I was very calm and composed at the time." The next day, Tolman gave the photo studio her two weeks' notice, and set off for filming in Calgary, Alberta.
Before cameras started rolling, Tolman needed to work on one of the most important parts of any role on Fargo: her Minnesotan accent.
For her audition tape, Tolman describes her attempt at the accent as a mix of what she'd heard in the original Coen brothers' movie and videos on the internet. Later, she and the cast worked with a dialect coach to nail their unique takes on the North Woods intonation, and Tolman's accent became more subtle. "Molly is so understated," she says of her character. "It makes sense that her accent would be much more understated as well."
Tolman also felt some pressure based on the audience reactions to the accents in the '96 film. "I know that a lot of people from Minnesota felt like the accents in the film sometimes were too broad," she says. "So I'm hoping that they don't think that about the show."
As one of the town's deputies, Tolman's character has interacted with just about every lead on the show, but one of the most dynamic relationships she's had shines onscreen whenever she's taken a seat at Lou's Diner. Tolman's chemistry with her onscreen father, Lou (played by Keith Carradine), has always had a spark of realism, and she has nothing but praise for Carradine off camera. "Keith, in addition to being a really tremendous actor, is a really wonderful man," says Tolman.
The actress spoke fondly about the bond she formed with Carradine during the shoot in Calgary. "We had a very paternal relationship throughout filming," Tolman says. "So it was kind of interesting to go in and be able to play that onscreen as well."
Carradine helped Tolman feel at home on set as a performer. "I felt really safe whenever I played scenes with Keith," says Tolman. "I felt very taken care of and I knew that he was proud of the work that I was doing, and it was just very much like holding a scene with a father and daughter. "
The veteran actor, who has seen great success on shows like Deadwood and Dexter, also gave Tolman some invaluable advice about television. Tolman recounted Carradine's words of wisdom:
"You have to think of it like the life of a television show is like the life of a dog. And it's such a sweet thing to have a dog, but you know that at some point in time that dog's not going to be with you anymore. But that doesn't make that time any less sweet. You just have to enjoy it while you have it."
"Which is a really nice analogy," she says of his advice. "You know, I just have to think of Fargo, and any project that comes my way in the future, like that. That it's so sweet to work on, and so sweet to get to do that thing, but eventually it's going to end and you just have to enjoy the time that you have with it."
While Tolman is still adjusting to the idea of fame after Fargo, she's embracing the situation with open arms. After trying her hand at performing over the past decade, Tolman reveals: "I certainly had gotten past the point where fame and fortune was something that I was kind of dreaming about or anticipating, so I'm kind of having to recalibrate now that this is actually a part of my life. I had stopped thinking about that being a possibility."
Tune in to FX tonight for the eighth episode of Fargo, "The Heap."