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Martin Freeman Talks Fargo, the ‘Everyman’ Label & Our Taste For Darker TV

BY Jennifer Griffin

Published 10 years ago

Martin Freeman Talks Fargo, the 'Everyman' Label & Our Taste For Darker TV

Martin Freeman, star of The Office,  Sherlock and The Hobbit does not like the term ‘Everyman’.

“I think that reaction to my work a lot of time is Pavlovian,” the actor told ScreenSpy last week. “I mean, I’ve played a few of those,” he adds, “but I think people a lot of the time see that it’s me playing it, and that’s the connection they make. Do you know what I mean?  Because I’m not playing a Frenchman with a hump, whereas actually Tim from The Office ain’t the same as Sherlock, which ain’t the same Bilbo Baggins.

“Of course, you want to do different things, and you want to challenge people’s perceptions of you, and you want to challenge your own work, and your own perceptions of what it is you do, because it’s very easy sometimes to believe your own reviews and you go, oh, maybe I am an everyman.  And then I think, actually, no, that’s bullshit.  I know I’m not.”

The question may be somewhat of a moot point as fans of Freeman will shortly be able to see him tackling darker fare in a ten part TV adaptation of the Cohen brothers’ 1996 film Fargo, in which he is anything but a regular Joe. Freeman takes on the role of Lester Nygard, a good-natured and earnest insurance salesman who finds himself brow-beaten by the world around him, from his emasculating wife to his successful brother to his work colleagues. However Nygard’s chance encounter with drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) inspires him to embrace a darker side of himself.

Pictured: Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard -- CR. Matthias Clamer/FX

Pictured: Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard — CR. Matthias Clamer/FX

“It’s nice to give yourself and audience a reminder of just a different flavor.  I loved doing that with Lester,” says Freeman who cites an amazing script as the basis for his decision to come on board the project.

“The script itself is well written, the whole thing, the whole first episode, is what I based my decision on.  It was a lovely episode.  And with Lester I just got the feeling that this was going to be a role where you could give rein to a lot of stuff – to play a lot of stuff.

“Even within that first episode the range that he goes between is really interesting, so I knew that was only going to grow and expand in the next nine episodes, and so it proved to be.  In all the 10 episodes I get to play pretty much the whole gamut of human existence and human feeling, you know. He does the whole lot.

“And that’s exactly what you want to do as an actor.  And [writer] Noah Hawley treads that line very well between drama and comedy and the light and dark.  And I like playing that stuff.  So, yeah, it was all of that really.”

RELATED | Billy Bob Thornton On his Devilish New Turn in FX’s Fargo

It’s Lester’s chance encounter with Malvo which initially sets him on a dark, and sometimes darkly comedic path, and Freeman admits that despite not getting to share as much screen time as he would have liked with the actor, his initial scenes with Thornton were “just mesmeric.”

“Lorne Malvo, I suppose, is a constant presence in Lester’s life because of the change that Lester has undergone as a result of meeting him. ” says Freeman. “So everything that Lester does, every way that he develops as a character, for good and bad, you could say is kind of down to that initial meeting with Lorne Malvo.

“We don’t get as much screen time as I would like.  I think we both really, really loved sharing actual space together and doing work together and we don’t get to do as much of that as we would want, but there is more to come,” he divulges.

Pictured: (center) Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard . CR: Chris Large/FX

Pictured: (center) Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard . CR: Chris Large/FX

Will fans be surprised to hear Freeman rocking a pitch-perfect Minnesotan accent (which Thornton recently described to ScreenSpy as “pristine”)? Perhaps so. The series is set in the quiet town of Bemidji, Minnesota, which required that Freeman adopt the accent for the role.

“In an ideal world I would have spent a couple of weeks hanging out in bars or just speaking to people.  The ideal world doesn’t exist and I wasn’t able to do that.  But I worked very hard on the accent because, as I said, I didn’t want it to be like a comedy sketch.  I wasn’t playing an accent.  I was playing a character who happened to speak like that and to be from that place.”

Based on the Cohen brothers’ film version, and co-executive produced by them also, FX’s Fargo is unsurprisingly peppered with moments of dark comedy in addition to the drama. (Who can forget the leg in the wood chipper scene from the movie?)

“I guess comedy will somehow find its way in there just because that’s part of who I am and I think it’s part of who we are,” comments Freeman on Lester’s and the series’ moments of such humor.

Pictured: Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard . CR: Chris Large/FX

Pictured: Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard . CR: Chris Large/FX

“The Sopranos sometimes really makes me laugh and that’s not a comedy.  And sometimes I’m almost crying at the pathos of Laurel and Hardy, which is not a drama.  So, I believe in both of those things being there and I don’t think it’s a big deal by both things being there.  So, when Lester has moments of comedy as there are in the show, yes, I think, you know, without blowing my own trumpet, I think I can do it.  And I think I’m not bad at it, so, yeah, all of that. I think it doesn’t hurt.  I think it all helps stir the pot somehow.”

Do inherently flawed but likeable characters like Lester and Malvo, or Walter White, Tony Soprano and Don Draper for that matter, indicate that modern audiences are gravitating towards anti-heroes? Freeman suggests that our collective taste in TV might mean we are actually becoming smarter as an audience.

“We’re demanding more of our characters and of our dramas,” he says. “It might mean that we are less sure of ourselves, I suppose.  So we want to see that reflected in the people we follow on TV. This modern trend I think you can put a lot of that down to Tony Soprano, the sort of very, very flawed hero, anti-hero, confounding your expectations of what you think that character is going to be, capable of doing terrible things while also being very attractive and funny and likable.

“But, again, those things go back to Greek theater.  That in itself is not a new thing.  But you’re absolutely right, it’s becoming more common on American television.  And there is some extremely good American television where that happens more these days.

“Maybe it just means we’re getting a bit more sophisticated and demanding a bit more than kind of black and white characters, which I’m all for I must say.”

Fargo premieres Tuesday, April 15th at 10:00 p.m. on FX in the US, and Sunday April 20th at 9 pm on Channel 4 in the UK.

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