CALGARY - I've been on two Martin Freeman sets in the past year, so I'm prepared for his process.
I can't tell you the details of what Freeman's Lester Nygaard is actually doing in the scene being filmed on this beautiful March day in the hills just outside of Downtown Calgary. "Fargo" is simultaneously shooting the seventh and eighth episodes of its 10-episode season and things are getting a wee bit climactic on the FX limited series.
It's not spoiling much to say that Lester Nygaard is under pressure in this particular moment. Lester is under pressure for most of "Fargo," which draws inspiration, but very little plot, from the Coen Brothers' Oscar-winning film. From the beginning, Lester is a slightly-less-than-normal guy whose life is turned upside-down by a chance meeting with Billy Bob Thornton's appropriately malevolent Lorne Malvo. As befits what is now the "Fargo" franchise, this meeting leads to violence, murder, deceit, intrigue and frequent dark hilarity.
In the initial take of the scene, though, Freeman seems to be under no real pressure. It's a straight-forward and solid reading of a potentially emotional scene and, if you didn't know better, you'd think it was just fine. After a brief conversation with "Fargo" series creator Noah Hawley, Freeman settles in and although his scene partner delivers a performance that's nearly identical to the first take, Freeman's reading is now completely different. It's not just that the emotion has been dialed up, though. Emphasis has been put on a different assortment of words and without changing a breath of the dialogue, Freeman has shifted the heft of the scene. The camera and lighting set-ups change and, again, Freeman's co-star remains consistent -- And really good, don't get me wrong -- but Freeman again steps up the emotion and punches a different assortment of words, highlighting a different potential meaning.
As I learned on the set of a different Freeman production last summer -- I'm not sure if I can say what it was, but it certainly wasn't "Sherlock" -- this is what the "Office" veteran does. He starts off with the basics, but builds with each take and tries to give directors as many choices as possible, tries to give himself as many choices as possible. After watching many actors on many sets, I can assure you that this isn't the case with everybody. Freeman is notable both for how responsive he is to direction, but also for the variations he imposes on himself.
While "Fargo" is a deep ensemble, with Freeman and Thornton joined by veterans like Keith Carradine, Bob Odenkirk and Adam Goldberg, as well as newcomer Allison Tolman, this is a long day for Freeman and, as I don't want to over-explain, this scene is intense and growing moreso with each take.
As a result, though many of the "Fargo" stars are able to spare long stretches of time with a small pack of reporters visiting the set, Freeman's window is more limited. Between scenes, in the time technically set aside for lunch, he's able to carve out 30 minutes and there are five reporters. With a publicist closely monitoring a stopwatch, we each get five minutes with Freeman, who doesn't stay in character at all times, but does retain his slightly sing-song-y Minnesota accent.
It's like speed-dating I tell him as I sit down, wasting five of my seconds.
"Only without the bell," he agrees, taking another five seconds.
Pleasantries dispatched, in this brief Q&A, Freeman discusses the initial draw of "Fargo," which premieres on April 15, both in terms of script and its limited nature. He talks about finding empathy and sympathy for a character who is something of a sad-sack. And he describes the on-set dynamic with the intriguingly eclectic cast.
Check out the speed-dating Martin Freeman interview below and stay tuned over the next week for "Fargo" interviews with Thornton, Tolman, Carradine, Hawley and a slew of others...