Colin Hanks was really hoping his FX drama Fargo would receive an Emmy nomination. It ended up getting 18, including a nod for the 36-year-old, who was recognized for his performance as conflicted cop Gus Grimly in the best supporting actor in a miniseries category. That one was a bit of a surprise, he admits.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats! How did you find out about the nomination? Were you even awake?
COLIN HANKS: No, no, I was asleep. I had woken up around 5:20 and sort of said, “Oh, okay, no phone calls. Well, I’m gonna go back to sleep,” ’cause in my mind they would just announce all of [the nominations] at once at 5:15. [Laughs] So I was like, “Oh, didn’t happen. Too bad,” and sort of went back to sleep, totally content. And then around 30 minutes later or so the phone rang and I just went, “Well, no one would be calling around this time unless it did actually happen.” I answered the phone and all I heard was screaming. And it was good screams. So it’s been a very surprising but very good morning.
Who were the screams coming from?
My publicist and my manager. My team of all-stars.
Who was the first person you then told about the good news?
Well really, I mean at that time on the West Coast, there’s really no one to tell. Obviously my wife was with me; as soon as the phone rang she woke up. But actually the first person I talked to, I called Allison [Tolman]. ‘Cause she’s in Chicago and I knew that she would be awake by that point, just based on time difference alone. And I had a nice, funny conversation with her about how surreal this all is and how happy I am for her and how proud I am of her. This whole experience has been so great, and Allison is so awesome. I called her and wanted to tell her how much I love her and how happy I am. Then all the other news has trickled in, I talked with Noah [Hawley, creator] and he filled me in on just how many nominations the show got, which is fantastic and incredible. And I’m really glad that a lot of people on the show are being recognized for it, ’cause it was a lot of hard work up there in minus-35 degree temperatures in Calgary, Alberta.
How are you celebrating today in California?
I celebrated in the morning by playing Princesses and Castles with my two daughters. And now I’m just sort of sitting here going, “Aw jeez, this is a lot of texts and emails I better return.” But no, it’s all a good… look, this is all an awesome surprise. I really wasn’t expecting this for myself. I was hoping for it for the show, so this is all really pretty cool.
Did you feel you were working on a production that was Emmy-worthy while shooting?
No, no. I knew that we were working on something good. But you never know if people are gonna like what you’re doing. I think everybody had the same gut reaction when they first heard about a Fargo show, which is: Why? Why would you do that? You’re never gonna top that. We never tried to top it, we just tried to get as close to the bar as we could. You know the bar was set incredibly high. But once I read Noah’s script and it was so good, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. And as we were making it, I knew it was good, I really liked it, I thought it was fabulous, I thought everybody’s performances were great. But you never know if people are actually going to get it. And people gravitated to it in a way I was really… I don’t want to say surprised by, ’cause again I knew it was good, it was just surprising how many people were in agreement in how much they loved it. And the fact that the show got as many nominations as it did is a great indicator that yes, when you’re doing something good, you know, that rises above everything else.
Me personally, I’m shocked just because the nature of Gus and the kind of character he was… he’s not an emotive character, he’s a very inverted guy with a bunch of weight on his shoulders. So everything I was doing, everything Gus was doing, was really inward and subtle, and I didn’t necessarily think that that was going to be showy enough for something like this. But the fact that people were drawn to Gus and Gus’s relationship to Molly, obviously, that people really rooted for them, I’m very happy about it and this nomination is kind of just crazy. It’s a really nice feeling, ’cause it’s the kind of performance and the kind of acting and the kind of material that I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time. And so to not only have gotten the chance to do it, that’s a win, and then everything else is just icing on the cake.
Speaking of Gus, I don’t know that everyone viewed him as the kind of guy who could save the day. Did you ever view him as a hero?
No, not at all. I don’t see him as a hero at all. I think in the “Who’s gonna win, Gus or Malvo?” I think Malvo wins ’cause Malvo forces Gus to do something he does not want to do. And what Gus goes through there at the end is gonna haunt him for the rest of his life. And he’s happy—he finds the love of his life and things get better for him, for sure. And he’s able to rest knowing that that chapter of his life is done. But it still is gonna haunt him. So I never saw him as Gus being the hero at all. The fact that people were able to pick that up—and a lot of people were just like, “Oh, what a hero”—but the fact that some people were able to pick that up and say, “Aw, jeez—Gus had his moment, but God, it’s pretty bittersweet”—again, it’s reaffirmation that even the little subtle things sometimes get lost on television shows, but sometimes people are still able to pick those things up.
Why did he and Molly resonate so much with fans and Emmy voters?
Part of it I would imagine is just the sort of relationship that Allison and I have. Obviously we get along, so any scenes between us were always so effortless that you sort of, you’d hope that it would translate a little. But I think a huge part of it has to do with Noah and the way that he wrote it—he doesn’t have those scenes where they’re professing everything to each other. You just know that these two people kind of like each other and they’re stumbling around trying to get to that stage. And so to have people root for them in that way and want to see it, and then have the bold move of flashing forward a year, and then just seeing them together in the seemingly domestic bliss that they’re in, I think that had a greater impact than any scene you could have of Gus professing his love to her and then them kissing with music swelling. It was always much more about the notes that are not being played in those scenes, you know? So I think that’s really it. People have seen the schmaltzy stuff, but they haven’t seen the people who are trying to make that connection and rooting for those people to make that connection. I think that’s really what’s the key.
Were those kind of moments and that kind of writing part of the reason why this movie-to-TV adaptation worked so well while others fail?
It wasn’t trying to be the movie. I think the great decision was let’s make something that can exist in the same universe as the film but is not a carbon copy. We can borrow from the film—we can borrow tone, we can borrow [the] look, we borrowed stuff not just from Fargo but the whole canon of Coen brothers films. But at the same time, it’s like, look—we’re not gonna top it, we don’t want to just do the film, let’s do something different. And I think the fact that we did that and have different characters, different story, but it still had that same feel, it still had that same tint as Fargo, I think was good. And also, I think when you make subtle nods to the film—you know, people call them Easter eggs on DVDs and stuff like that —people pick up on that stuff. It makes them more excited about the show. And so when you have little things like that, that’s really great. Like a White Russian drink special in a bar, that’s cool, but then there’s also… it’s funny, ’cause it does sort of symbolize a flag, but the ice scraper, you know, we planted that as “here’s the true connection.” And it’s really the only connection that the show has to the film, that this lives in the same universe. And again, it goes back to that same gut reaction. Everybody said: Why? And the truth is, well, because it’s such a rich universe. And there’s so many different ways to tell other stories in that universe. But we told our own, which I think is the most important.