Martin Freeman prefers to be a bit of a drifter.
“It’s not like a life choice where I just want to live in a part forever,” the actor says of his preference for close-ended work. “That’s the joy of the job for me: In a little while, I’ll be playing somebody else with a different load of people.”
Between filming The Hobbit and Sherlock, Freeman had two stipulations for the next project he would take on: He didn’t want to do series television, and he didn’t want to travel far from his London home. Then he received the script for the FX drama Fargo, inspired by the 1996 Coen brothers film of the same name. It ticked both boxes. And yet he soon found himself filming for five months in Alberta, Canada, starring in an American TV show.
“When I was sent the script for Fargo, Joe, my American agent, said, ‘I know it’s TV, but this is 10 episodes — it’s finite,’” Freeman recalls. “The reason I’ve never gone for pilot season even as a younger actor, and wouldn’t entertain that sort of thing now, is the idea of signing a piece of paper that binds me for six or seven years. So [Fargo] was already interesting. I read the script and that was enough for me. A very good script that only lasts 10 episodes was like, ‘Great! That’s right up my street.’”
Further Fargo selling points include a cast rounded out by Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Kate Walsh, and Oliver Platt, just to scratch the surface of the show’s immense (and immensely talented) roster. The series, which features new characters and a new story, has the blessing of Joel and Ethan Coen, who serve as executive producers. And hallmarks of the film — from a beautifully stark landscape, to Minnesotan accents and “aw jeez” colloquialisms, to an impeccable taste for incredibly memorable and darkly funny ways to commit murder — are ever present.
In this Fargo, the setting is actually the small town of Bemidji, Minn., where we’re introduced to browbeaten insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Freeman). He’s having a very bad day, courtesy of his emasculating wife and a former high-school bully, before a chance encounter with hitman Lorne Malvo (Thornton) sets into motion a thoroughly unexpected chain of events. Fargo soon becomes a densely layered “true crime” tale that would intrigue the likes of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart.
Freeman reveled in playing Lester, a decent man whose journey toward self-discovery is somewhat similar to another TV antihero whom we first met as a mild-mannered guy: Walter White. “By the end of the first episode, you get to see [Lester] do something that you wouldn’t have banked on when you first meet him,” Freeman teases. “So I like surprise; I like being surprised as a watcher and I like doing things that you don’t expect of the character.”
But like all characters he’s played, Freeman is happy to leave Lester in his rearview. “As soon as a job finishes, I am done with it,” he admits. “When I’m really, really enjoying the job, I love the job, I want it to end because it’s supposed to. I think, after all, that’s what we all want to have: something in the bag. We all want to have the job done and go, ‘Look! Here’s the thing,’ and we show it to people.”
Which brings us to a potential Fargo season 2. If FX renews the series, writer/producer Noah Hawley has said each season would feature a new story and characters, á la the network’s American Horror Story. So would Freeman be game to revisit that world with a clean slate?
“That’s a real hypothetical for me,” he says. “I mean, I know that I’ve really loved doing it. I’ve enjoyed it, and I trust the writing.”
So the door’s open?
“I have no idea,” he laughs. “You can say that if you want, yeah.”
Fargo premieres April 15 at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Check back after the premiere for Freeman’s take on what goes down in episode 1.