Fargo‘s Ewan McGregor Chats Playing Very Different Bros

Hurray—Fargo is back on FX! We chatted with star Ewan McGregor about taking on the dual role of two very different brothers in season three of Noah Hawley’s TV masterpiece

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Ewan McGregor Fargo Interview: Ray Poses With His Beloved, Ill-Fated Corvette

Fargo is one of the best shows on TV right now, dontcha know? Noah Hawley’s masterpiece enters year three with a new time period—2010—and a fresh cast, including Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 10 Cloverfield Lane), Carrie Coon (The Leftovers, Gone Girl) and David Thewlis (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). This season, the story revolves around a pair of brothers (both played by McGregor): parking lot king Emmit Stussy, and his hapless skulleted parole officer sibling Ray Stussy, and what happens when Ray falls for the super-sexy bridge fanatic Nikki Swango and their revenge plot on Emmit goes awry. (Surprise, surprise.)

FLARE headed to the Fargo set in Calgary to chat with the cast about what we can expect from the new season. First up: Ewan McGregor!

What excited you about playing these dual lead roles?

I didn’t choose to do it because I was the focal point, because I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Fargo is an ensemble piece. Characters come in and out and become more important than they were at the beginning, so it evolves, although the heart of the story is this grievance between these two brothers that happens in their youth when their father passes away, and one brother hoodwinks the other. There’s a stamp collection and a Corvette and the father leaves the Corvette to Emmit, who’s older, and the stamp collection to Ray, who’s only 15 at the time so he couldn’t drive the car anyway. Then Emmit persuades his brother into doing a swap, because Ray’s only 15 and hasn’t had a girlfriend or lost his virginity or anything like that, and he’s like, “If you get this car, you’re guaranteed.” So it starts becoming Ray’s idea, like “Give me the car, give me the car.” So they swap, and of course Emmit has an amazingly successful life and poor old Ray, not so much. Everyone’s characters bob and weave between episodes. I took it was because it’s an amazing challenge. The accent’s really difficult. You have to make them feel like two different people. Vocally, there’s a slight difference between them and physically they’re very different. I wear a fat suit for Ray and I wear Spanx for Emmit.

How do you transition between playing Emmit and Ray?

There’s a handful of scenes when they’re in the same scene. It’s usually better to play Ray first because it takes longer to make me into Ray—about two hours—and then it’s quicker coming off. Generally speaking, we try and do Ray first and then they’ll find a few scenes to shoot while I’m getting changed over into Emmit. But it’s fine, and it gives me a bit of time to get my brain into the other character, which is quite nice. I sit there in the makeup chair and I’ve got a little 90 minutes to start thinking about the other side. In this case, they’ve cast two different actors [for me to play against] they have an actor for Ray and an actor for Emmit because they’re different body shapes. So, for example, if I’m playing Ray first, Ray’s double will be watching and then when we come to doing me as Emmit, he tries to copy my rhythm of the lines and so we keep the rhythm of the scene the same.

Ewan McGregor Fargo Interview: Emmit Holds Court Outside His Palatial Mansion

Fargo the film and the series’ previous seasons all featured characters who have a big ol’ chip on their shoulder and feel like they’re entitled to more in life: Jerry Lundegaard, Lester Nygaard, Ray Stussy. Did that underdog vibe attract you to the role?

There was no one specific thing I could put my finger on. I watched both the previous seasons preceding this one and I thought they were amazing and they were really well-written and having met Noah Hawley, I realized there was incredible talent behind it. I was thinking about doing this other TV thing, which was a longer commitment—five years or what they usually are—and I was thinking about it, and then I bumped into, through a friend of mine, skiing, one of the producers at FX and I was talking to him about it and what he thought of the idea, and, while I was sort of um-ing and aw-ing he went, “Well, have you seen Fargo?” and I said I hadn’t. I certainly never wanted to see it because I love the film and I thought that sounds like a really terrible idea, to base a TV series on a film that we all love. But he said, “Look, you should watch it because we’re looking for someone to play these two brothers and they’re not twins.” I thought that sounds interesting and then I went home and binge-watched the whole two seasons—backwards, by accident. I loved it. I met with Noah and read the script but I think I probably in anyway.

When you were watching the first two seasons, is there anything that really stood out to you, like, oh this is Fargo. This is a show I really connect with?

I mean, Noah’s writing is so Fargo: it’s not just the accent, it’s the rhythm of the speech, it’s the black humour, the violence. I don’t know exactly what it is but whatever it is he does, he does understand what makes something Fargo-y. And when you say the lines right, it feels right. It feels like Fargo should.

Ewan McGregor Fargo Interview: Ray Is Up To No Good In Episode 1

What was it like working in our lovely northern climate for this long?

Well, it’s great. When it’s [sunny] like this, we’re all like, ah, f-ck, what’re we going to do? And all the Calgarians I meet, they’re like, “oh, I’m sorry for the [bad] weather.” I’m like, “No, this is what we’re here for!” So when it gets warm, we’re all a little disappointed. When it really gets down to the minus 20s, I’m like, ah, this is the real deal, this is what it’s meant to feel like. 

When you’re playing two different roles like this, do you find yourself getting attached to one more than the other?

Everyone loves Ray more on set. There’s a real feeling that, “oh, Ray’s here!” when I come on as Ray, which is nice, because he’s fantastic. Emmit is less sympathetic but there’s something really interesting for me to play in that so I enjoy both equally. Ray has got heart and soul. There’s a lovely line where Mary says, “you’ve got the soul of a poet.” He has got the soul that Emmit doesn’t. Emmit is much more of a businessman and has spent his life focused on dollar signs and making sure that they make more money. But he’s also a family man and he loves his wife and his daughter and that’s interesting because you don’t necessarily expect that of him. You learn that his family life is everything to him, even though you might not assume that is the case because he’s a dollar man. It’s been quite interesting with the whole Trump thing because I feel sometimes there’s moments that I’m channeling a bit of Trump here and there. With Emmit, his thin skin and the way he can react when the shit goes down? That’s why he’s got Sy [played by Michael Sthulbarg], his right-hand man. You get the impression he’s his Bannon. He’s better at dealing with stuff.

Ewan McGregor Fargo Interview: Ray Skulks Around Emmit's Mansion

How does falling in love with Nikki change Ray?

He’s got a hard life. He works as a parole officer, so he watches men pissing in cups all day long. He has to make sure his cons do their drug tests and he gets piss on his boots. He’s not a very successful man. That’s why, when he falls in love with Nikki, his life just explodes. She encourages him to claim back what he feels his own, from his father’s will.  She’s definitely encouraging him, in the same way Sy encourages Emmit. So there’s these two brothers who are being cajoled along by their sidekicks. They’ve both got a Lady Macbeth.

I’m surprised she’s into it. The look seems like the least flattering you’ve ever had the chance to play.

I put on a lot of weight. I’m wearing a fat suit here; I’m wearing this padding now because I’m not as fat as I was when we started. When we started in the first episode, there’s a scene where we see naked Ray getting out of a bathtub, and so I had to justify this padding with my own stomach. So, for the first episode, I ate, from October to January when we started, anything I wanted. I put on quite a bit of weight and I put on a belly, which I’ve lost now. Not all of it, but some of it. So that made me feel different, the weight of him. And I wear cowboy boots, which I’m not used to wearing. So I walk about in cowboy boots and there’s something between the weight and the cowboy boots, the way they make you feel, which helps with him. He’s more lazy and slouchy and unhealthy and Emmit is dressed in a nicer way and wears Spanx, which keeps me all tight in and makes me more upright.

Is Emmit himself wearing the Spanx?

The Spanx started off as a way to compress my Ray stomach and then I just kept it because it feels like Emmit now. I’m doing their next campaign now, Spanx [laughs].

Find out what’s going down Fargo way by tuning in Wednesday nights on FX!

Ewan McGregor Fargo Interview: Emmit Kicks It In His Fancy Home Office

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