Catching Up With Fargo's Allison Tolman

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Viewers were panicking after last week’s episode of Fargo left Molly shot and lying motionless in the snow. But as fans learned last night, Molly survived and is still trying to prove that Lester (Martin Freeman) is responsible for the deaths of his wife and the Police Chief.

Paste had the chance to chat with Texas native Allison Tolman, who plays the ever-awesome Molly Solverson, to talk about landing the role, what’s next for Gus (Colin Hanks) and Molly and what her favorite scene is.

Paste : So Gus and Molly’s burgeoning romance took a turn when Gus shot Molly last week. How will what happened affect their relationship and affect Molly?
Allison Tolman: The budding relationship that we saw between Gus and Molly is derailed a little bit by recent developments. And then, in addition, it’s a major setback for her. She’s used to just go, go, go and being unable to do that is going to make things difficult for her, because, again, she’s really ambitious.

Paste : One of the most frustrating things has been how the new Chief of Police, Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk), ignored Molly for so long. And now Bill’s convinced that Lester’s brother is guilty. What will happen to their relationship going forward?
Tolman: There’s a really interesting evolution between the two of them, and you kind of get to watch them throughout the series begin to become colleagues and begin to respect each other for their different reasons, which is nice, because in the beginning he’s just such a buffoon. He’s just really so wrong about everything. When he first becomes chief, she still feels really strongly that he’s the chief and you get in line behind him and you do what he says, and those are the rules. She quickly learns that if she follows behind him that things are going to be done incorrectly, and more importantly that her friend and mentor’s murder is not going to be solved. She starts to think that maybe she should step around him. So, over the 10-episode arc, the relationship between the two of them goes to some really, really beautiful places and I’m excited for people to see it.

Paste: What’s your favorite scene that you filmed?
Tolman: [It’s with Colin] and it’s in episode eight [next week’s episode]. The really nice thing about it is that we had permission when we played it to not feel like we had to speak too quickly, that it was okay to have some silence in there, and it was okay for these two people to just exist in the same space for a little while. And that one was really special. It was really fun to play that because I talk a lot in the show, and I do a lot of police-speak, and I have to relay a lot of facts, so getting to just sit with my character … and have not as much to say was really nice as an actress to be able to play with that.

Paste :You were kind of unknown before this series. How did you get cast as Molly?
Tolman: My background is in theater and a little bit of sketch, and I was in Chicago when I booked the role, just kind of working at my day job and doing auditions here and there, but not really booking anything. I put myself on tape for Fargo, and then sort of walked out of the room and forgot about it and went about my daily life. And then a few weeks later they called me and asked me to come in and test in New York, and then five days after that they called and told me that I had the role. So, it’s kind of a quick unfolding and a really fast way for your life to change that much overnight.

Paste : Molly has become very popular with viewers. How do you describe Molly?
Tolman: I think one of the best things about Molly is that she’s just driven by this really strong sense of duty. I think that’s what drives her to do things. And it’s not personal ambition. She’s not snotty about how she’s smarter than everyone. She’s not trying to one-up anybody. She just sees what needs to be done and feels very strongly about it being accomplished. So, she falls into that role, not because she wants personal gain or personal glory, but because no one else will do it. And I think that’s one of the things that’s most endearing about her.

Paste : You’ve really perfected the Minnesota accent. How did that come about?
Tolman: I think that my accent that I toned down and did for my original audition was probably a combination of what I heard from the original film of Fargo, and then just what I knew from different internet clips. So, it was a little too broad, I think, a little bit too sketchy, like sketch comedy. Throughout the process we had a good dialect coach who kept us on track on set and helped me tone that down, and Molly is such an understated character that it makes sense that her accent would be much more understated as well. I know that a lot of people from Minnesota felt like the accents in the film sometimes were too broad, so I’m hoping that they don’t think that about the show.

When Fargo premiered, many compared your character to the one Frances McDormand played in the movie. Was that intimidating?
Tolman: I knew going in that these characters were really different and that the character of Molly was really strong in her own right. But it was definitely a concern of mine, and especially as a newcomer, you know, you don’t come out the gate as a singer and try to compare with Judy Garland. So, it was scary for me to come into this role I knew people associated with her. The comparisons were nerve-wracking, but I think that we’ve proven that these characters are different enough. That people can draw parallels between them, but they don’t have to be pitted against each other. I feel a little bit of that pressure has been taken off.

Paste : Your success has been an inspiration to many actors hoping for their big break. What does that feel like?
Tolman: It’s fascinating. It’s a strange position to be in, to have people looking at your life and saying that it’s an inspirational story. It’s a very strange place to find yourself [in] … I think that my advice to people who are starting out would be that there’s no shame in having the job that you have that pays the bills and then having the things that you do the rest of the time that make you happy. Not everybody goes whole hog and just acts and lives with seven roommates in a one bedroom apartment to kind of make ends meet. For me, it was always really important that I felt like I had some stability, so I always had day jobs. I never really acted full-time. But I kept at it, because it was what I loved, and I found ways to keep doing it regardless of what I was doing with my time.

Paste : Will there be a season two of Fargo? Do you know yet?
Tolman: I have not heard any word yet. I know that they’re discussing it, and discussing if they do have a second season, or a second installment in the anthology, which actors might make it through to another season, what time it will be placed in, etc., etc. So, even among the people that know what’s going on, there’s so many different theories and there’s so many different options that I’m just kind of sitting tight until they let me know exactly what’s actually happening.

Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.

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