Fargo villain Lorne Malvo was one of the most intimidating, fascinating characters of the 2013-14 television season. Fittingly, actor Billy Bob Thornton has received a best actor in a miniseries Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the cold-hearted hit man. He’s honored—but now that the season is over, the veteran actor says he’s also unemployed. We’re guessing that won’t last long.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations! How did you find out about the nomination?
BILLY BOB THORNTON: Well, I was asleep, so when I woke up I had a message from my publicist that said that I got a nomination. And I was thrilled, humbled by it. It’s a really exciting time, you know. During awards season, it’s like the holidays with a family. It’s like your entertainment family kind of all gets together, you know what I mean? [Laughs] And you kind of see some old acquaintances you haven’t seen in a while. It’s a real exciting time. It’s like Christmas for actors.
Did you reach out to your fellow castmate nominees this morning?
I have to a couple of them, but [my publicists] kind of put me on the phone quickly. But I have communicated with Allison, and Martin’s in England so I’m gonna… I guess it’s probably a good time, I’ll get Martin here in a little bit, and Colin. I think Colin’s like I am—he’s not real big on mornings. [Laughs]
Did you have a feeling you were working on an Emmy-caliber production while you were shooting?
Well, I hate to qualify anything as an Emmy-quality thing or worthy or whatever because there are so many great shows. There are so many shows that could be nominated. And in the category I’m in, there could be another 50 actors because there are so many great actors on TV right now. It’s a wonderful time for TV, and I’m just humbled by being picked out by my peers. But when you’re making something, when you’re working, you don’t really think about it much, you know? Because you’re concentrating so much on doing the work at the time that I think it would probably be counterproductive to be thinking about what it could be. You have to kind of do the job first. So I think you don’t think about that kind of thing until it’s over and people start talking about it. You kind of get an idea the way people are reacting to it.
Did you feel that there was something special on set with the cast, in the writing? Did it feel different in any way, or was it just another job?
Oh, it certainly was not just another job. I was very, very overwhelmed and appreciative that they offered it to me to start with. I had worked with the Coen brothers before and knew their vibe and I was used to it. You don’t always fit in with everything that you’re offered. I try to pick the things that I feel like I’m right for, you know? And this fit like a glove, so I was very thrilled about it. And I had the great opportunity to work with a whole bunch of great actors and directors and producers, so it was all kind of set up to be good because they way the put it together. And FX and MGM couldn’t have been any greater. They’re just such a supportive bunch of people. So we did feel like we were involved in something special, just in terms of the quality and the work and the people that they had involved.
Malvo was such a terrifying, intriguing character. The way you portrayed him, did he just jump out of the script that way? How did you go about creating him?
Well, you know, it was so well-written. And that’s the important thing—if something’s well-written, you don’t really have to sort of tackle it, you know? You just try to do what’s there without screwing it up. [Laughs] It was a fascinating character to play; I was so lucky to get that part, I’ll tell ya.
Why do you think this show worked when so few movie-to-TV adaptations fare well?
I don’t keep up a lot with things, so I guess I wasn’t aware of other movie projects that went to TV. I guess in the beginning, it was kind of a daunting task. [Fargo] is such a classic movie that you worried maybe you won’t live up to it. But when we read the scripts we could tell that they were such high quality that we felt we at least had a chance. And we all took it very seriously. If you’re handed gold, you don’t want to turn it into copper. [Laughs] So we were all probably a little bit nervous about it. But it worked out very well and we’re just all so proud. And I’m proud for not only the people who were nominated from our show, but for all the people who worked so hard this year. I mean, television is so good right now, it’s in a renaissance period. And I’m so proud to be a tiny part of it.
Have you heard anything about a second season? I personally would love to see Malvo pre-Bemidji incident.
[Laughs] I don’t know. As far as I know they only signed me up to do the 10 episodes, so I don’t really know. I haven’t been told anything. But I do need a job, I don’t have one. So if you hear of anything, I’m open now. [Laughs]