Chris Rock on Fargo season 4: 'This is the best part I'll ever have'
When the FX anthology crime drama’s Emmy-winning showrunner Noah Hawley first reached out to the legendary stand-up comedian, Rock assumed he was calling about something else. “I thought he wanted me to host his kid’s Sweet 16, or the auction for his wife’s charity or something,” Rock says. "When I got there he mentioned Fargo and told me about the character and I’m like, 'I’m in.' He didn’t have a script yet. I just kind of agreed."
But in the new season (premiering April 19), Rock vanishes into the role of crime lord Loy Cannon as he leads an ensemble cast (including Jason Schwartzman, Ben Whishaw, and Timothy Olyphant) in a sprawling tale of rival mob families in 1950s Kansas City.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are obvious reasons to do this part, but were the reasons not to do it?
CHRIS ROCK: The only reason not to do it was personal. I was going to be away from my family. It's a long commitment. I’ve been filming this since September in Chicago and I’m not done. And it’s freakin’ cold. They film a lot of it outside. But one of the great things about acting in the cold is that the cold does some of the acting for you, so you don't have to fake it. The gray hair also helps me get into character, helps me not be Chris Rock, comedian guy. It takes a second for people to realize it’s me, which is good.
So what kind of guy is Loy Cannon?
He’s a businessman, he’s a deacon at his church, he’s a loving father and husband, he owns a bank, and he’s also a criminal — he fixes fights and runs numbers and prostitution. He’s always on edge. It’s Tony Soprano-esque.
Was there anything about playing a gangster that checked a wish-fulfillment box for you?
I’ve shot guns before, and had a fight or two before. The cool bit about this character for me is he’s so well rounded. It’s not just about his job, it’s also about his home life, and it’s what it’s like to be black in the 1950s and to be very ambitious — which must suck, right? I used to do a joke about Barack Obama being the first black president. Being the first black anything sucks. No one really enjoys it until they’re, like, the 37th black president. Jackie Robinson had no fun, but Reggie Jackson had the time of his life.
Were you concerned your stand-up stardom would make it tougher for viewers to accept you as a 1950s gangster?
The two have never been a problem. I was a comedian when I was Pookie in New Jack City. Nobody ever said, “I couldn’t stop laughing when you were smoking that crack and while you were dying.” So, yeah, it’s not been a problem yet.
What was most challenging about the role?
Noah does all these great monologues. And if you watch Fargo the camera is always moving. So you have a two-page monologue and the camera is moving like that, everything’s got to be perfect. There’s a ton of dialogue and it’s so well written and it’s all important. The smallest scene has tremendous meaning. There’s no place to take a scene off. Everything requires a lot of thought ahead of time. There’s nothing like, “Just give me the pages, I’ll say it now.”
One gets the impression that Noah has thoughts in here about immigration and America’s treatment of minority groups. Did those themes resonate with you?
That’s more of a Noah thing. I just got to play the guy I got and I play him at that moment. I got to play him like a person. Most people aren’t thinking about their place in history — I mean, maybe Martin Luther King was. But my character has just got to deal with today. It’s not like it’s ‘Tuesday in the 1950s” for him, it’s just Tuesday.
You’re used to writing your own material. Was there ever a line or a scene where you pushed back and suggested something else?
Occasionally. Whenever I would interject, it wasn’t as a writer, I’d be talking as a guy who’s lived this and kind of knows Loy Cannon. In the 1950s, my dad was 17 and my granddad was 30. So I know these guys a little bit. Occasionally I would pull Noah to the side and go, “What about this?” or “I have literally sat with these guys and they never say this.” As the senior black person on the set, along with [costar] Glynn Turman, there is a responsibility you have if you disagree with something. Nine times out of 10 the person you say it to appreciates it.
What else makes this season unique?
It’s the biggest Fargo. The scale is tremendous. Fargo normally tells little stories that get out of hand. They’re about ordinary people, something happens, and then we get to see how evil ordinary people can be. This is quite different. We start off gangsters, so we’re beginning with bad people, and then it escalates.
What’s next for you?
I’m not really sure. This is the best part I’ve ever done and, honestly, probably the best part I’ll ever have. That’s how it works. Morgan Freeman is in The Shawshank Redemption. He’s amazing. He’s made a kazillion dollars since then. He never got a part that good again. When you get these great parts you have to make the most of them. Naive people will tell you, ‘There’s always tomorrow and you’ll always get another chance.” The smart people will tell you, ‘You probably get three chances at anything in life, and you’ll probably be busy for the first two chances. When you get that third one you better be f---ing ready.”