In the new season of Fargo, Jack Huston - known for his role in 1920s drama Boardwalk Empire - has taken another trip back in time. This time, he's playing a policeman mixed up with the mob in Kansas City, 1950.
Here he talks about why Fargo has long been his favourite TV show, of pushing his boundaries as an actor to play Odis Weff, and the epic wild ride of "the most ‘Fargo’ Fargo of all".
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your character?
Jack: I play a guy called Odis Weff. Odis is a cop in the Kansas City Police Department. He is suffering and has suffered for most of his life from a rather debilitating case of OCD, which was made worse from his time at war. This installment takes place just post World War II. He was a bomb sweeper. You realise that there's a bit of a history with Odis and what he's gone through his entire life. He's someone who's sort of caught between a rock and a hard place. He's trying to do what's right. He's trying to survive. He's trying to do things right. So, sort of self-preservation, which can lead one down some very dark avenues. But once you start knocking down the dominoes, the other ones begin to fall too. So Odis is playing a dangerous game, a game that's making his life and his elements worse.
Q: Though you're not part of one of the families, you are 'mixed up' with one of the families. What can you tell us about that?
Jack: Interesting. I'm under the thumb of one of the families. Odis sort of works for, well, is maybe being paid off by Josto Fadda, and that's been going on for a while. I think Odis initially took the money because it felt like he was protected and could get some sort of tip off. Odis must have thought it was less risk and thought it would help, but at the same time, he lost his power as a policeman. Because now he’s working for somebody else. There's a lot of risk involved in this. I think what initially Odis thought, he was looking the other way, like it would make life easier. Instead the arrangement ended up making his life much more complicated. As the show progresses, Odis gets into rather hot water with Loy Cannon and his group, so he starts playing both sides. At the same time, Odis has Deafy Wickware (Timothy Olyphant) who comes in as the marshal and has an eagle eye – he is watching everything. It almost feels like the world is closing in on Odis and for a man in his situation, he doesn't necessarily react well to high intensity. You start seeing him as if he's being sort of boiled alive.
Q: What was your biggest challenge with playing Odis?
Jack: Thank God we have someone like Noah [Hawley]. Noah directed the first couple of episodes and is obviously the brain behind everything and it was just phenomenal to work with him. With a talent like that, I know that we're working within this beautiful openness of what Fargo is and what's come before. The great thing about Fargo is always the great characters. Noah gave us as actors leeway to say: "How far can I go?" And it was Noah who was great at pushing further, like saying: "Reach further, go further." I wasn’t just delivering the lines, I had to mutter to myself and do everything in fives with my fingers. Odis has his own clock, a tick. He can't walk out of a room without displaying some of his ticks. I was discovering Odis on my first day of filming and basically every day henceforth because new things kept on coming to me. Initially, I felt a little lost because I was taking so much on playing a character with such severe OCD. I wasn’t just saying my lines. I was trying to dig incredibly deep and it was heartbreaking to watch my character go through so many physical and mental challenges, but I was guided by the best possible writers, directors, everybody behind and in front of the camera. You're acting opposite some of the best actors and it’s the marriage of all these great actors coming together that leads to an amazing installment of the series.
Q: What appealed to you about Fargo and had you watched the seasons before coming on to the show? Did you watch them afterwards?
Jack: I've seen all of them. I'm not lying when I say it was my favourite show on TV. I adored it, and every season I've known somebody or have had conversations with somebody and, deep down, I always had a hope that I might get to be involved in one of these seasons. And it was a most welcomed conversation when Noah caught up and said: "Do we want to have a sit down and a chat?" And when we did, he mentioned the character Odis, and very lightly touched upon who he was. I just said, “I'm in. Are you kidding?” There are certain people that you... just the idea of working with them, you know you're going to be taken care of and Noah is one of those people. In a sense, you want to be as open as possible, because this is where you really get to test your chops as an actor. You really get to go in there and dive deep into the character. It's nice going in blind sometimes and just reading as everyone else did, because it's a constant surprise. It's such a treat. I've never had more fun developing and like, learning about, a character and coming to terms with that. I think it was just wonderful.
Q: So, you've talked a lot about Noah and wanting to work with him. Can you tell us a little bit about how you worked with Noah and how he directed you on set? He's known to give very minimal notes; was that a good working style, for you?
Jack: Yeah, Noah can be rather disconcerting because he's very quiet. He's very astute. He's always watching. If he does say something there's a real reason for it. They already shot the first episode and I came in on episode two. I was actually working on something else and they very kindly allowed me to come in a bit later. During the first real big scene, it was lovely having Noah's guidance because I didn't know how far I could go. And it's funny. As an actor, I think one was very aware of going too much. The lovely thing about this is that Noah creates a unique world and the world calls for the Coen-esque version of some of these people as a beautiful inspiration. Noah was very good at making me feel confident and comfortable so that I could push into the role. I could have always pulled it back, but ‘let's see how far we can go’, though, actually is such a great note. So you can always pull it back, but how far can you go? Noah said “go for it” and I did. And I'll tell you what came out of that…I got so involved in the character. I felt as involved in a character as I was when I played Richard Harrow in Boardwalk. I got so deep into Odis that a twitch in my face began to appear and I couldn't stop it. So my face started twitching. And that was a complete sight, to the point where I was going home at Christmas once and my face was still twitching when I was just in the taxi. I thought I might have this facial twist for the rest of my life.
The role was very taxing, physically. I was feeling everything from inside. And it's like, as Odis you're trying to prevent yourself from having a nervous breakdown the whole time. You're trying to hide. ...…. Odis is in a constant battle with himself and it is exhausting. It made me just feel so forlorn, so sad and so sympathetic to people who are afflicted quite so severely with something like OCD or things that they can't prevent.
Q: Noah is obviously very collaborative. How about the others in the cast? What were they like to work with?
Jack: I can't talk enough. I hadn't worked with anyone on this cast before and I was lucky enough to work with everybody, but very sadly not Jessie [Buckley]. Jessie was the only person I didn't, but I have moments with everyone else.
One of the best things about watching previous seasons is the cast that they've put together. I think that's normally one of the most appealing things is when someone thinks outside the box. And I remember when I was reading the scripts and then I found out who was playing who, I was like, ‘they are brilliant and I don't know what they're going to bring to this role’. That was so cool and very exciting because I knew they were going to do something surprising. I worked the most with Timothy Olyphant, who's just a sweetheart, like through and through, and there's no one quite like him and he commands such respect and just so brilliant. Everyone across the board, they made you laugh and made you cry. It was fantastic.
Q: So, you had to shoot this in two parts because we had COVID come in. What was the mood on set before and then going back? Was everybody excited to get back? Were they nervous?
Jack: We were very excited to get back because we were in the middle of shooting when we left. The first wave of people who were going back I am sure were a little nervous. One thing that had happened, which was sort of amazing, is Noah had sent us, I think it was the first eight or seven episodes. So, we all had something to look at and it reignited the fires. Because the episodes were so great and shot so beautifully. It was very helpful.
When we were on set, everyone was very careful. It was a very proactive work atmosphere. Everybody wasn't there to mess around. Everyone was out to get it done. And, to be honest, the last day of shooting was very sad because I was going to really miss the cast and crew.
Q: What do you think is the message of Fargo?
Jack: I think Fargo has so many hidden messages and it is sort of a bit like an onion, you peel back a layer and you discover something else. But I think a lot of it is about people trying to find their place in a world, when they are under a magnifying glass. I think this season in particular is an incredibly poignant season, a very relevant season in the world we live in today. We explore how history has already, in a sense, repeated itself. And I think a lot of it has to do with money, money corrupts. It’s about family, loyalty.
The wonderful thing about Fargo is that the writers got everybody together in a very important moment in the world right now with equality and the Black Lives Matter movement front and center. The season is very timely with what we are seeing in and out of the press and with the elections coming up.
I think it’s amazing how Noah and the writers were able to tap into something so relevant with this fourth installment. And they are going to be talking about a lot of things in this season that feel like what we're talking about right now. So, that alone... It's an incredible, credible time for this.
Q: What do you hope the audience will take away from Fargo this season?
Jack: It's a ride, it's a wild ride. This is like every season put together. It's incredibly ambitious. It's large in scale. It's epic. This is the most ‘Fargo’ Fargo of all, in certain areas. You go on a journey with somebody and you're introduced to something else, you go on that journey. And by the end of the show, you just can't quite understand how they've managed to weave so much into 11 episodes. It is mind bending. It's a fun, wild, bloody ride with a lot of real issues at the same time that will be addressed.
Fargo airs weekly at 9:30pm Thursdays on SBS. New episodes will be available on SBS On Demand each week on the same day as broadcast. Seasons 1–3 are now streaming at SBS On Demand.