Fargo Creator Reveals Extent of Coen Brothers Involvement

FARGO YR 1There’s no doubt about it – Channel 4’s Fargo is one of the crime drama hits of the year. Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman are exemplary in this tale of temptation, crime and redemption in the snowy wastelands of Minnesota and North Dakota. While the story is all new, the parallels and subtle (and not so subtle) nods to the big-screen original permeate this small-screen version. One thing I’ve always wondered while enjoying our dose of farce mixed with murder, is just how involved original creators the Coen brothers actually were in the creative process. The tone and humour and the look is completely spot on to the original, I’ve often wondered whether the Coens were sneakily running the show. Not so, says TV series creator Noah Hawley…

Let’s dive straight in, because what Hawley has to say in this interview in The Hollywood Reporter about how the show was conceived and eventually brought to the small screen is an interesting one…

In the summer of 2012, MGM and FX struck a deal to turn Fargo into a TV movie, but there was no writer attached. I got a call from FX saying, “We’re wondering if you think this can be done without [Frances McDormand‘s character] Marge?” By which they meant, “Can you write us a totally new Coen brothers movie set in that same region?”

I wrote the first script, and FX said they wanted to go straight to series. I had a four-person writers room, and we broke the remaining nine episodes. Then I turned a 115-page outline in to the network and then left to write all 10 scripts myself. Usually, in building a TV series, you only manage to get two or three scripts written before production starts. For this, I had eight, which allowed me to create a highly detailed world in which each element I set up paid off later. [HBO’s] True Detective proved that everything in your show is meaningful, whether you intend it to be or not. You have to be very careful about what you put in at every stage of the writing.

When I first talked with Joel and Ethan Coen, they asked what I had planned to do about the characters’ Minnesota accents. In the film they had become iconic and such a caricature in our culture that I felt we should really underplay them. They agreed. We wanted something that sounded regional without being so exaggerated. Aside from that, they never gave me any notes. They read the first script, liked it, suggested a few lines and jokes, but that was the sum total of their creative involvement.  They said: “Look, we don’t know television. It’s your show — just go make it.”

When we showed them the first episode, Ethan  said, “Yeah, good,” which I’ve since learned is a rave review.

It tickles me that the Coens initially were most concerned about the accents. And the fact they told Hawley: “We don’t know television.” And that’s even though television is, supposedly, the new film. Certainly, responses you wouldn’t perhaps expect from the Oscar-winning film makers. In fact, you wouldn’t expect anything less than the unexpected from the Coen brothers.

For all our Fargo coverage, go here.

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