Take 5 with Fargo’s Billy Bob Thornton

Tonight’s marks the premiere of FX‘s highly anticipated series Fargo, and our latest edition of “Take 5” features Billy Bob Thornton chatting about his frighteningly fun character, Lorne Malvo.

On balancing both the humor and menace that Malvo possesses:

Actually, that’s kind of been my wheelhouse … intense characters, but who have a certain sympathetic streak and also a sense of humor. I don’t know what it is, but maybe it’s that Malvo senses weakness in people or stupidity or whatever. He’s got this sort of animal instinct and he just smells people out and I think a lot of times, especially these days and times when the world is going kind of crazy, I think we’re all frustrated and want to just shake people a little bit. And so maybe through Malvo you get a chance to slap somebody around a little bit.

But one way or the other, yeah, it is a fine balance. You’ve got to be menacing, but I look at Malvo’s sense of humor as his only recreation. I t’s like for Malvo to mess with people the way he does, which he doesn’t have to, he could just leave or just use them for whatever he’s using them for, but he still has to mess with them some. And I think for him, that’s his recreation. It’s his only social contact and so, screwing with people for Malvo is kind of like jet skiing for most people.

On Malvo’s being “conscienceless” and playing that aspect of the character:

Usually when you’re playing a character you think a lot about their back story and that kind of thing and in this instance I didn’t want to do that because I doubt Malvo thinks much about his past anyway, so even the character, the guy himself, probably wouldn’t think much about it.

It was so well written that I didn’t have to really do much in order to portray the character. I think what really attracted me to it was not as much that he didn’t have a conscience as he has this bizarre sense of humor where he likes to mess with people, where most criminals if they go in to rob, say, a clothing store or something they go get the money and they get out of there. But Malvo would look at their sweater and say, why are you wearing that sweater? I mean, you work in a clothing store. Look at all those nice sweaters over there. You look like a bag person. And so, it’s just a very odd thing. It’s sort of in keeping with the tone of the Coen Brothers to have a character like that.

I looked at Malvo as a guy who is a member of the animal kingdom. We don’t get mad at polar bears, they’re all white and fluffy and they do Coke commercials with them at Christmastime and stuff like that, and yet they’re one of the meanest, most ruthless predators on earth. And so, Malvo probably doesn’t think of himself that way. He just thinks of the moment and how do I get the job done?

On the dynamic between his character and Martin Freeman’s character, Lester Nygaard, and how Malvo is different from Nygaard:

Malvo smells weakness in people, he smells nervousness, weakness, fear, anything like that and has an abundance of confidence in himself. I don’t think he ever considers losing, whereas Lester is just a nervous ball of mess. And I do like when you see two characters at the opposite end of the spectrum together. They end up being kind of strange bedfellows and it was a really interesting dynamic.

We didn’t really have to work on it. It just naturally happened. Martin himself seems to be a very confident person, so I think he probably maybe had to downgrade his confidence a little bit. And me, by nature, I’m a very nervous, worrisome person, so I had to drop that a little. So, I think both of us had to definitely shed some of our real life stuff in order to play the characters.

On being able to explore and develop this character over 10 episodes rather than in a film:

It is a real blessing that you have 10 hours to develop a character and I think that’s one of the appeals to doing these. It felt like a blessing to me to be able to have that time and to watch this story unfold at its own pace and everything.

In terms of working on the character, Noah [Hawley] had drawn it so clearly. I think with all the characters that we really did just show up and do his bidding. I guess the one thing that I had to get used to is having a different director and each one has a different energy. So getting used to different directors was the most difficult part, just in terms of the way they deal with actors and everything. But I never said, yeah, I’m good, let’s move on to the next shot until I looked over at Noah and got a wink from him because this is his vision. I really put myself in his hands. I think we all did.

On what viewers can look forward to in the pilot, and in the series as a whole:

Each episode leaves you thinking [about] all these extreme characters. What in the world are these people going to do next?

It’s very mysterious and that’s what I like about it. It’s not like cliffhangers and thrillers and things like that. It is a mystery and I think people love mysteries. We always have. That’s why they never go away. And so, you have the combination of a crime show in sort of a white bread community with a mystery, and I think that people are going to want to know what happens to all these folks, both good and bad.

Catch Fargo on Tuesday nights on FX and FX Canada.

Photo Courtesy of FX

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