How do you adapt a classic, beloved film into a 10-hour TV series? Fargo answered that with surprising success and plenty of accolades in season 1. But how do you do that again?
For executive producer Noah Hawley, it meant wiping the slate clean with a new core cast, a new time period, and an all-around more ambitious story. Hawley, along with executive producer Warren Littlefield and a few of the Fargo season 2 cast members gathered for a PaleyFest panel in New York, moderated by New York Magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz.
The cast and producers discussed the practical hurdles of the season, and while many may assume the snow and frigid temperatures would be at the top of that list, they actually presented a completely different obstacle than in season 1.
Read on to learn about how the upcoming film The Revenant contributed to the production of season 2, Hawley’s relationship with the Coen brothers in adapting their film, and which cast member had never seen Cheers before meeting Ted Danson.
Iñárritu vs. Hawley: Snow Wars
The show’s cast and crew faced a challenge that would have seemed unfathomable after the record low temperatures and record high snowfall they endured in season 1: not enough snow.
“We shot into spring this year… we wrapped in May,” Hawley said. “We really didn’t have any snow, that was the problem.”
The snow came in the early days of the shoot but never again, and so they had to bring the snow in from the mountains — the mountains in which director Alejandro Iñárritu happened to be shooting his Birdman follow-up.
“We trucked [the snow] in from the mountains, but Iñárritu was up there shooting The Revenant, so we had these snow wars with him. It was too warm to make it, even.”
But the lack of snow in the later days of shooting helped to make the show look distinct in its second outing, “which I like,” Hawley explained.
Capturing a Time and Place
Fargo heads back to the ’70s in its second season, and imbuing that era in the show was of paramount importance to Hawley and the cast, as was ensuring the continued authenticity of the region. Of course, that means perfecting, and honoring, those accents.
“…We didn’t want to make fun of the accent,” Jeffrey Donovan, who plays Dodd Gerhardt, said. “We all have varying degrees of the accent based on where we’re from,” he explained, even denoting the Gerhardt family’s “gradation of accents.”
For others, their character’s look mattered just as much to the authenticity of the season. And though Cristin Milioti, who plays Betsy Solverson, never got the high-waisted ’70s jeans she requested from wardrobe, she succeeded in another request that came courtesy of a different Coen brothers film.
“I wanted to look as much like Javier Bardem from No Country for Old Men… and they did it,” she said.
But fear not, she doesn’t look to be asking other characters to call a coin toss just yet.
The Coen Brothers
A big question about the show lingers into its second season: just how much are Joel and Ethan Coen involved in the making of the show?
Prompted by an audience question, Hawley explained that their involvement isn’t much, but that’s by design and out of respect.
“Look I try to leave those guys alone, honestly,” Hawley said. “We want them making the movies they’re making,” he continued, noting that work on the brothers’ next film, Hail, Caesar!, overlapped with their production.
“They ask how it’s going, and we talk about some stuff, and I try not to overstay my welcome,” Hawley said of a recent visit to the brothers following the show’s Peabody win. “We send them everything, and I don’t know that they read things and watch things.
“They’ve been so generous with me, and it must be odd for them on some level that this movie they made 20, 25 years ago has this second life that they had nothing to do with and has a marketing budget that far exceeds what they had… It’s mostly just, I like to keep in touch with them, but I try not to bother them.”
And so if the show is very much a design of Hawley and his crew, he brings his own set of influences outside of the Coen brothers to the series. In particular, he named two other films as core to the philosophy of making season 2, The Getaway and Point Blank.
The $5,000 Rubber Chicken
Even if it was difficult to bring snow to the set, the cast had little trouble taking a few of their favorite wardrobe items after shooting concluded. Kirsten Dunst took a few coats, Bokeem Woodbine made sure to keep his belt buckle with an “M” for his character Mike Milligan, and Jean Smart took a bowl from her character Floyd Gerhardt’s kitchen.
But producer Warren Littlefield had another item in mind with which to decorate his office. Jesse Plemons’ Ed works at a butcher’s shop, where the producer explained a real butcher and real meats were brought in for the scenes.
However, some fake items were purchased, including fake rubber chickens, which Littlefield was horrified to discover cost $5,000 each. One of them now hangs in Littlefield’s office, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see it appear on a would-be Fargo season 3, just to offset a little bit of that extravagant cost.
Where everybody knows your name… except Cristin Milioti
“It’s a bigger story,” Hawley said of season 2, explaining that toward the end sometimes up to three units were shooting simultaneously to capture everything they needed. To give the audience an idea of what was required of the cast and crew, he compared the shooting schedule to another show filming at the same time. The upcoming miniseries Lewis & Clark was filming nearby and had more than 100 days to do six episodes. Hawley and the cast had to shoot 10 episodes in 85 days.
But that tight schedule, along with the whole process being removed from the stalwart filming locations of Los Angeles and New York, led to the cast becoming a tight-knit group.
“We’re all, life as we know it is put on hold and we’re all there in the middle of something,” Littlefield said, recalling a time when the crew was together at 1 a.m. “and Ted Danson talks about ‘Well, back when i did Cheers’… and Cristin [Milioti] looks at him and goes, ‘What’s that?’”
Yes, Milioti had never seen the classic sitcom, or could recall seeing Danson in “anything” before working with the man who would play her father on Fargo.
Fargo airs Mondays on FX. For more on the show, read EW’s recap of the season 2 premiere.