Surmise: A Chat with Fargo’s David Thewlis

TV Features Fargo
Surmise: A Chat with Fargo’s David Thewlis

This week’s episode of Fargo is a doozy. Season One star Billy Bob Thorton returns with a surprise narration of the episode. And the nefarious V.M.Varga (David Thewlis) is the unexpected and uninvited dinner guest at Emmit’s (Ewan McGregor) house. Plus, viewers are treated to the very graphic image of Varga quickly regurgitating his food moments after he’s done eating.

Paste had the chance to chat with Thewlis this week about the FX series and what we can surmise about the rest of the season.

Paste: How did you get cast in the third season of Fargo?

David Thewlis: [Series creator] Noah [Hawley] personally got in touch with me and sent me three scripts. I then met with Noah in London. He was passing through London to launch his recent novel. I had lots of questions. Varga doesn’t appear that much in the first two episodes [Editor’s note: and not at all in the third episode] and he’s obviously an enigma and a very mysterious character. It was always sold to me as this is a character who is going to grow and grow and grow and be fundamental in the whole thing.

Paste: And you’ve never done series television before.

Thewlis: I’ve never done episodic TV before, mainly for reasons of being away from home too long. But knowing that this was a finite series, because each season is independent of the others, I knew I wouldn’t be signing myself away for years and years and years.

Paste: Were you a fan of the series?

Thewlis: I was a genuine fan. I mean, I didn’t get offered the part and then go and watch them. I had already watched them. I don’t watch that much TV, but I had seen all of Fargo and I was honored to be asked to be part of it. I really wanted to work with Ewan because Ewan and I had never worked together before.

Paste: How do you hit upon Varga’s unique mix of humor and terror?

Thewlis: I was very concerned to get that right. Because Fargo has such a tone to it. What is the villain in Fargo allowed to be without going too far in several directions? I went back and watched the first two seasons and thought [about] what made Fargo from my point of view. How did Noah Hawley take the movie and write two seasons that still represent the original movie but go into all kinds of different areas? Getting Varga right in terms of keeping him sinister, keeping him enigmatic, but allowing in a degree of humor that’s always there in Fargo. Especially in this week’s episode. Varga becomes a little more amusing in episode four. In the first episode, he’s out-and-out sinister. There’s no humor there at all. There’s nothing that shows that he is playful, that he enjoys any kind of mischievous element to himself. But that did start to develop in episode four and that was new to me. He’s almost flirting with Emmit’s wife and certainly being playful and certainly using his sense of humor to get what he wants. It can lift him out of sort of playing the dark stranger.

Paste: How do you describe him?

Thewlis: He’s always got the highest status in the room and he’s very aware of that and I think he relishes that. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows exactly what his goal is and he’s got no doubt that he’ll achieve his goal even when the odds are stacked against him. He isn’t threatened in any way. No one knows what he knows.

Paste: What’s the most challenging aspect of the role?

Thewlis: Noah’s writing is so very specific. Varga has quite complex rhythms. He’s very tangential. He speaks in riddles. It’s not always clear what he’s saying or what he’s trying to achieve by what he’s saying. Sometimes I had to study to get it right. To make sure Varga knew what he was saying, I just ultimately had to make sure I knew. Which would sometimes require an email or a phone call with Noah to make sure I got it right. The writing is so lyrical and poetic. I thoroughly enjoy learning the lines. I learned them earlier than I needed to. So I had them in my head.

Paste: We also learn in this week’s episode that Varga apparently has an eating disorder.

Thewlis: Someone else asked if it was a medical condition. I think the implication certainly is bulimia and that we’ve seen him binge eating before. It’s a chink in the armor of Varga. It’s the one thing he’s not in control of. Unless you see it as controlling his eating. I don’t think anyone wants to be bulimic by choice. It’s his weakness.

Paste: Will we see this again? How will it effect the remainder of the season?

Thewlis: Whether it will be his downfall, whether it will be something that can be used against him, we’ll have to see. But it’s placed in there to give everyone a little teaser [about] another facet to Varga.

Fargo airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .

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