How Fargo Star Allison Tolman Beat "600 Girls" for Her Breakout Role

The Fargo casting director called the star her "palate cleanser"

By Chris Harnick Jul 19, 2014 8:40 PMTags
Fargo, Allison Tolman Chris Large/FX

Chances are you've heard somebody rave about—or you yourself rave about—FX's Fargo miniseries. It's been nominated for numerous Emmys and did well in the ratings. It brought Billy Bob Thorton to TV and gave even more attention to Sherlock and Hobbit star Martin Freeman. It also gave us Allison Tolman.

Tolman has four acting credits to her name on IMDB: A bit part on Prison Break, Sordid Lives: The Series, a short titled A Thousand Cocktails Later and Fargo. She's arguably the breakout star of Fargo and is in a crowded Emmy category that also includes Emmy and Oscar royalty: Kathy Bates, Julia Roberts, Ellen Burstyn, Angela Bassett and Frances Conroy.

During a 2014 TCA Summer Press Tour panel, Fargo casting director Rachel Tenner revealed Tolman beat out hundreds of actresses for the gig and deemed her her "palate cleanser."

"We discussed it and decided we don't need to have somebody known in that role," Tenner told reporters. "It was a good opportunity to have someone unknown in that role…It was open to everybody, so whoever got it and did the best job was going to get it, period. But, Allison was from Chicago—I used to be a casting director from Chicago a long time ago, so I stay close with my contacts there…My friend who is an agent there put her on tape and from the very beginning, hers was completely different than everybody else's. I think—I had a little more time, than I think normally for TV that you get to cast, so I saw, I don't know, like 600 girls, maybe, let's say for that role. I saw a lot of girls. We saw in Canada, and London, all over the States. I used to call her my palate cleanser because I'd audition people all day, or I'd watch all these tapes and then I'd go back and rewatch her, just to kind of laugh and recenter myself."

Tenner said FX and MGM embraced the Coen brothers' style of casting and "were very open to anybody for these roles and they loved her."

"There were lots of steps, obviously. We saw everybody and had final testing in NY with somebody from London, New York, Chicago and LA, and we were happy that everybody was kind of ultimately in synch with that," Tenner said. "She's great. She just had a lot of qualities that were hard to all come together in one person: Funny, smart, had a good Midwestern feel, vulnerable, I loved her. I'm so glad, this is so amazing for her."