CALGARY — The presence of a wood chipper cannot be confirmed or denied.
But cast members of the new Fargo television series say there’s much that will feel familiar to fans of the 1996 Coen brothers’ film that inspired it.
“It’s definitely the same tone and the same vibe as the Coen brothers,” actor Billy Bob Thornton said on a recent shoot in Calgary.
Thornton plays a mysterious drifter named Lorne Malvo, who brings mayhem to the town of Bemidji, Minn. — but in a subtle and quiet way.
“He’s not a typical bad guy who runs around yelling at people and saying ‘get in the trunk now.’ It’s none of that,” said Thornton.
“One of the things that I enjoy about it is that somewhere down there in that alligator of a soul that he’s got, he enjoys manipulating people. He likes to mess with people a little bit.”
FX Networks tapped Noah Hawley to write Fargo for TV. It was taped in and around Calgary.
Hawley, the showrunner for Fargo, said he was essentially told: “We want to do the movie without anything from the movie in it.”
He says he was eager to take on the challenge.
“What made that movie that movie?” said Hawley, who is also a novelist and composer.
“The one thing you’ll never find in a Coen brothers’ movie is melodrama. There’s nothing sentimental or emotionally manipulative. There’s a dryness to it both on the comedic and the dramatic side. And those elements were very interesting to me.”
Ethan and Joel Coen were executive producers for the series but had a hands-off approach to it creatively, said Hawley.
The plot and the characters in the show are totally different from the film. It’s also set in the mid-aughts, not the mid-’80s as the movie was.
But it has much in common with the original work: the wide shots of bleak snow-covered prairie, the dark humour, the violence. And, of course, the distinctive accents.
Keith Carradine — who plays cop-turned-coffee-shop owner Lou Solverson — is a fan of the film but says he wasn’t keen to re-watch it in preparation for his role.
“It’s seared in my memory, so much of that movie. It’s been years since I sat and watched it, but it was more important to me to fit into what this is rather than what that was,” he said.
Allison Tolman, who plays Molly Solverson — Lou’s daughter — felt the same way.
“I didn’t want to psych myself out,” she said.
Like Frances McDormand, who won the best-actress Oscar for her memorable performance in the film, Tolman plays a small-town police officer.
“They’re both very strong female leads, but they’re not the same person,” said Tolman.
Tolman said she had to shrug off online furor from fans of the movie.
“A lot of the main complaint was, word for word, ‘if it doesn’t have Frances McDormand, I’m not going to watch it. It’s going to be terrible,”’ she says.
“Those comparisons are going to come and some of them are going to be nasty and that’s fine. But I think really true savvy Coen fans are going to watch it and they’re going to be able to differentiate it,” she said.
“I think people have been really worried about how to capture that tone without kind of copying the film, which we’re not doing at all.”
A month into shooting, Tolman finally took another look at the movie — and she says it “holds up.”
Colin Hanks, who plays cop and single father Gus Grimley, recalls seeing Fargo at the Tower Theatre in Sacramento, Calif., growing up.
“That was my introduction to the Coen brothers and I’ve been a big fan of theirs ever since. This is kind of a treat,” he said.
Hanks said he was a bit skeptical at first about adapting the film for TV but was sold on the idea once he’d read Hawley’s script.
“Easter eggs” — subtle allusions to Fargo and other Coen brothers’ films — are scattered throughout the show, Hanks said.
“The way I’d describe it is it’s just an expansion of the ‘Fargo’ universe. It’s all new characters and it’s all new stories, but it intersects with the film in ways that I think is really unique and fun.”
Fargo airs Tuesday on the new specialty channel FXX starting April 15.