Fargo's Jean Smart and Bokeem Woodbine break down their characters, plus season three details


On Monday night, the highly anticipated finale of Fargo's second season hit the airwaves and left audiences hungry for more of that hotdish, so to speak. Luckily, the award-nominated show has been renewed yet again for a third installment. So what's the next season got in store for us? 

After the series finale (and after our recap was published), Noah Hawley hopped on a conference call and told reporters that the show won’t be returning next year. Instead, fans will have to wait until 2017 to see Fargo’s third season. He revealed the newest season takes place in 2010, four years after season one’s storyline with Molly Solverson, Lester Nygaard, and Lorne Malvo.

Don’t expect to follow the same Solverson-Grimly clan, and don’t look for clues about next season in the 1979 plotline though. “We didn’t tee up the story of season three within the body of season two,” Hawley says.

He did give some hints about what we might see unfold in the future though: “I like the idea that we’re now living in a very selfie-oriented culture — people photograph what they’re eating and put it up for other people to see — it feels like a social dynamic that is very antithetical to the Lutheran pragmatism of the region. So much of our crime stories are based around the difficulty people have expressing themselves and communicating.”

City Pages chatted with a couple of Fargo’s stars before the finale to see what went into making one of this year's best television shows of the year.

This season's breakout star, Bokeem Woodbine, brought Kansas City's smooth-talking, quippy hitman Mike Milligan to life on Fargo. Woodbine's unique delivery and his character's cool-headedness in the face of certain danger weren't necessarily without their challenges. 


Take, for example, the tense standoff between Mike Milligan, the Kitchen brothers, and Hank in episode two. Hank pulls the trio over after getting a call about suspicious behavior from Lou, and there's a stunningly suspenseful No Country for Old Men-style standoff. It's all words, no guns, and totally absorbing.

“That scene was nerve-racking,” Woodbine says. “I hope Mr. Danson doesn’t mind me saying this — I’m sure he wouldn’t —but he was kind of nervous, too. He told me so!”

Woodbine says that particular scene challenged him because Mike Milligan needed to keep his cool in a touchy situation.

“It’s getting toward the end of the day for Mike Milligan and the Kitchen brothers and they don’t really want to be stopped by the sheriff,” he says. “They get pulled over at a bad time, so I think one of the challenges for Mike was to try to keep his temper. I don’t think that he was scared for even a second. I think it was more like, ‘Let’s get out of here without having to kill this guy.’”

While Woodbine spent a lot of time preparing for that battle of wills and words, he didn’t realize how much that early scene would resonate with viewers, even after the season had just started. “I didn’t know it was going to be so tense,” he admits. “When I saw it I was like, ‘Wow, that’s what we shot?’ But we were so in the moment, but I didn’t think about how it would come out.”

What's interesting is that while the audience sees Hank's fear seep through after he turns his back to Mike and the Kitchen brothers, we don't really see Mike's vulnerable side when he's with other people. He's always performing or putting on airs for those around him. 

“Mike is a natural showman,” Woodbine explains. “At the same time, as an actor, you gotta temper certain things with reality."

But finding that authenticity wasn't so easy, according to Woodbine. “This show is so heavily steeped in reality, but it has so many bizarre, surrealistic moments — so how do you do that? That was a constant challenge. How do we deal with this bizarre, off-the-wall material in this crazy world, and yet do it justice by being realistic and honest?”

Ultimately, it comes down to the show's phenomenal writing. “All the material has a certain Fargo-esque flavor to it," Woodbine explains. "How do we respect the audience, respect ourselves, respect the craft, and still bring it to life and make it exciting? For me, there was no formula, it was just one scene at a time.”

The writing was also what drew one of the show's strongest characters into the world of Fargo: Jean Smart's tough Gerhardt matriarch, Floyd. 

“When I first read the first script, it gave me so much of the character, it was very clear what I wanted to do with it,” Smart says. “And then we had these terrific directors, so I felt very confident about what I wanted to do with her.”

Smart raves about Hawley's vision: “It’s writing you just don’t get very often, and actors are always hungry for those kinds of words." 

Floyd stood her ground against a host of hard-headed mobsters — all men — and emerged as a formidable opponent for whoever stood in the way of her family and her business, gender be damned. 

“You don’t see a lot of female characters like that,” Smart says. “She’s sort of a throwback to another era that — at the same time — is very strong. She wouldn’t refer to herself as liberated, but I suppose that would be a word to describe her. That is something that in 1979 was on people’s minds.”

And what about Floyd’s badass pipe habit? Turns out that was Hawley’s imagining. “Of course, Noah emailed me late one night — I think I’d had a glass of wine or so — and asked me what I would think of Floyd smoking a pipe, and I went, ‘Sure! Sure! Why not?’ The next morning, I thought, ‘What the heck? Why would I say yes?’ I don’t know what made him think of that. I didn’t ask him, but it was kind of a perfect, personal, unexpected thing about her.”

What audiences did expect were Midwestern accents, and Smart delivered. Smart credits Calgary-based dialect coach David LeReaney with helping the cast achieve their accents, but she had already been acquainted with that kind of Scandinavian sing-songy speech since she was a kid. “I grew up in a community in Seattle, Washington, that was all Scandinavian,” she says. “So I grew up hearing a lot of my friends parents and grandparents with very, very heavy Scandinavian accents, which is part of the flavor of that accent. It was not an unfamiliar sound to my ear.”


But the Gerhardts didn’t quite have the same level of “Ya, you betcha!” as say, someone from Luverne. “Of course, they wanted to keep it fairly subtle,” Smart says of the show’s infamous accents. “I think especially the Gerhardts, since we have a slightly different accent. It’s a little more German, maybe.”

“I think that it’s funny because that accent — the Fargo and Minnesota accent — has been described as the friendliest accent around,” she says. “I think probably in its stronger form, it would not sit as well with Floyd and the rest of the Gerhardts.”

Smart fades into a heavy Minnesotan accent and laughs: “I think it’s a little too chummy, ya know?”