Exclusive Interview: Billy Bob Thornton on ‘Fargo’

The new FX series “Fargo” is not a remake of the acclaimed Coen brothers movie Fargo. It is another darkly comic crime story also set in the world of the snowy midwest.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo, a mysterious character who gets Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) into trouble with his deadly schemes. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Thornton quite well over the years for the movies he’s directed and starred in. I was even quoted on the DVD for his latest directorial effort, Jayne Mansfield’s Car. “Fargo” remains a bit of a mystery, so I was very intrigued to catch up with Thornton one on one for his latest dramatic foray. 

CraveOnline: You know the Coen brothers. Did you ever meet with them about the movie Fargo back then? 

Billy Bob Thornton: No, I didn’t. They’re very sure of themselves in terms of who they want to cast for what movie. I think they always know. You may think you’re right for something of theirs but they know better. For instance, when they did O Brother, Where Art Thou I thought maybe that would be a perfect one for me, but instead it was [George] Clooney, and then The Man Who Wasn’t There. I wouldn’t think I’d be the first choice for that. I was exactly who they wanted for that. So they have very interesting casting and know exactly what they want, but I was never up for Fargo?

Do you wish you had been, and this is finally your chance?

Well, I guess I don’t have many regrets in terms of the movies I’ve done over the years and the ones I haven’t done. I think maybe if I’d been in the movie Fargo I wouldn’t have had this chance because they wouldn’t be casting the same people. So actually being able to do this character for 10 hours, I think maybe in some ways I feel better about that. 

Was the hospital scene the first scene you shot?

It was. It sure was, with Martin Freeman. That was the first one and it was so easy to do with him. He and I seem to have some odd chemistry with each other.

So was that a good introduction of us to the character and you for doing the character?

I think so. I think that is a good introduction to him. I love that relationship between me and him because we’re complete opposites in the thing. It’s really, really terrific. 

Does it remain consistent like that where every time you show up he’s frazzled and doesn’t know what to make of you?

Right, it gets more and more frustrating and mysterious to him, as to what I’m up to and what I’m all about, no doubt.

Do you like really dark material?

Yeah, especially darkly humorous things. I’ve been attracted to that always. Even musically, when I was growing up, I loved the Mothers of Invention. I was always a big Frank Zappa fan. He had all those records come out called “Does Humor Belong In Music?” because some people were against that supposedly. I’ve always liked the marriage of drama and humor.

You got started on television a long time ago on “Hearts Afire” and guesting on “Evening Shade.” How long has it been and what was it like to come back to TV after you’ve had all this success in the movie world?

Well, these days it’s much different than it was when I was coming up. 

And those were comedies.

Exactly, and back then, TV was something you did when you were on the way up. Now TV is something that once you’re already an established film actor, TV is someplace that you want to go now because it’s affording you opportunities that aren’t necessarily afforded in movies these days, or not a lot of movies. Most movies that are big in the theater now are big event movies. So every now and then the rare film sneaks through and is a success, the type of movies that Miramax used to do and that kind of thing. But that spot has been filled with TV series now.

The TV series that are on now, the really good ones, are similar to the films of the ‘90s that I loved and was involved in several of. I think it’s a great spot to be and more and more actors, especially my peers, the guys who came up with me, we really have our eye on television now because it’s a great place for actors to do things for adults. We’re running out of that in movies.

Is it like the indie world when you made Sling Blade?

It’s very similar to it. It really is. 

I know you have a tradition on your movies where you’ll do one moment of Carl from Sling Blade. Did you do that on “Fargo?”

Not yet. I usually save it until the end so at some point in there, on the right day. You always want to pick a day when you’re not rushing and everybody’s in a really happy mood. You have to pick your moment and I always like to save it towards the end.


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