Fargo, the 1996 movie starring William H. Macy and Frances McDormand, was reportedly inspired by several incidents, including a 1987 newspaper story about a woman named Helle Crafts, who disappeared in 1986. Her husband told people she went to visit her mother in Denmark, but three years later, after a blood stain was found on a rug by a babysitter, it was discovered that the husband killed his wife, froze her body in a freezer, and then fed it through a wood-chipper.
Maybe you believed it initially, maybe not. But Fargo the TV show begins every episode with: "THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 2006. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred. Executive producer Noah Hawley explains, "I can't speak to the movie. But the show…It's all just made up. The whole cloth. I didn't go looking for true crime. It started from a character standpoint and everything grew organically out of that." Fargo movie producer Ethan Coen has admitted that the movie script "pretends to be true." The movie had the exact same "true story" message at the beginning, and only the year was changed.
"When you say it's a true story," Hawley explains, "it allows you to tell the story in a different way, because you're no longer on the hook to tell that hero's journey that we've all seen a thousand times before. You're allowed to say, ‘Well look, I know the story goes in a weird or crazy direction now, but that's just the way it happened.' And the audience then goes, ‘Well, this doesn't feel like I know what's going to happen now because it's not unfolding in a way that it usually does.' And I think that's exciting."
"When I went in to pitch FX originally, I said the thing about the movie Fargo is that it's only the first scene of the movie is set in Fargo," Hawley says. "But they call it Fargo. Because the word is so evocative. So for us, it has become sort of a metaphor. It's a state of mind. It's a type of true crime case that's not true. And with a certain eccentricity of detail. I like the image that there's a big book out there, that's leatherbound with illustrations that's called The History of True Crime in the Midwest. And the movie was chapter one. And the story we just did is chapter two. And we can do just another chapter. I like that there's some kind of through line or connection that's not necessarily linear or even really vital to the plot, but there is a connection in some way."
"They've talked about skipping around in time either backwards or forwards," Allison Tolman (Molly) reveals. "So we could be back or we could not be back." Colin Hanks (Gus) adds: "Obviously, the story would have to come first and I totally respect Noah to the utmost degree…and whether Gus is involved in that or not is out of my control. But regardless, if he calls saying, ‘Hey do you want to come back?' I'd be there in a heartbeat."
Tolman was completely unknown (not a single movie or TV credit) when she auditioned for Fargo's Molly—up against a whole gaggle of A-list actresses, who were all up for the part. She was cut. But when the finalists flew to New York for the last round of auditions, producer Warren Littlefield gave up his own flight and hotel room in order for her to get back in the running. Frances McDormand won an Oscar for playing the female lead in the Fargo film.
"Colin [Hanks] and I didn't read together," Tolman reveals. "We hadn't met before we got to the set. So, I think we got really lucky in that way, and I think the producers got really lucky in that way as well." As did viewers!
He got a better one in episode 8.
The Coen brothers picked Minnesota for the location of the movie because they grew up there. The TV show is shot in Calgary, Canada, and most of the extras are Canadians.
Calgary experienced some unseasonably warm weather during some of the shoot days and fake snow needed to be brought in. "We had giant fans and just boxes and boxes and boxes of this fake snow that they were kind of blowing around at us," Tolman tells us. One scene in particular was the big white-out shootout piece in which she couldn't see a foot in front of her face. "We had our own personal wind-chill on camera, which was not fun," Hanks adds.
"It's a real exterior," Hawley tells us of the show's ground-zero crime scene, the Nygards' house, which is located in Calgary. "But the interior, we built on a stage and it looks nothing like the actual interior of the house." So, how does the family feel about living in what is now known as the Fargo house? "I hope that that house will sell well for those residents although they've lived there a long time," Hawley says, then adds with a laugh: "I heard the American Horror Story house is on the market. I don't think I would buy that."