Emmys: 'Fargo' Composer on 'Lonesome' Score and Season 2 Ideas (Q&A)

Fargo TV Still - H 2014

Fargo TV Still - H 2014

Composer Jeff Russo's trip to Fargo earned him an Emmy nomination, one of 18 the FX show nabbed for its acclaimed first season. 

Russo, who is also known for his work with his rock band Tonic, says he spent months working on its score even before a single scene was shot.

Here, Russo talks about season two plans and the scene that caused him the most stress.

How did you land Fargo?

I've been working with Noah Hawley on his last two shows. We were having dinner one night, and he said "I might be doing this. What do you think?" I said "how do I sign up?" I immediately went home and wrote what became the theme.

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What did you and Noah talk about at that first dinner?

We talked about the movie – and not just Fargo, but a few of the other Coen Brothers movies. He had said he wanted something to sound very cold and lonesome and yet emotional. I was extremely inspired.

What was your process as the show as getting made?

Over the next four months, after that first meeting, Noah started writing scripts. He would send me scripts and I was writing that whole time. Before we started shooting, I had already sent Noah 12 to 14 pieces of music. He took that stuff and listened to it on his iPod as he drove around looking for locations and writing his next scripts. He had the music inform his feelings as well.

What was your most stressful moment to score?

When we were working on episode four, Noah called me and said "this may be the most important piece of music you write for the entire show." That was the scene in which Stavros (Oliver Platt) finds the money in the open field.  That is such an iconic moment for the series, because it definitively ties the world of the movie with the world of the show. I felt a little bit of weight on my back, but I used that and tried to get inspired and motivated by that. 

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And you didn't use the theme from the movie until the final scene. Why was that?

We wanted to illustrate the show and the movie end up in the same place emotionally, and it really does tie the two worlds together. But we also wanted to be in that world and create a new identity. The only way to do that was to write new, original music for the show.

Which character was the most fun to write for?

Writing for Billy Bob's (Thorton) character, Lorne Malvo, was so much fun because he had this duality to him. He had this swagger and a sinister vibe as well. I got to go back and forth between more bouncy and swagger-laden music that gave him a little bit of a lighter side. Yet there's this really, dark sinister side as well.

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What about the other characters?

Every character was so well-written and thought out that all the music that pertained to those characters was interesting to write — including the actual landscape. The way the show looks is also a character, and I had to give that a voice. I got to write these lush, big string passages that really push on the beauty and the stark contrast that it has with the evil side of the show. Every character has so much depth and so much girth that writing music for it was always a pleasure.

Have you talked to Noah about season two?

We have spoken about the music for season two, and I've already started to compile ideas for what I think the music should be. We're going to continue to have conversations about that.  I have no idea who is going to be in it, and I'm not sure of the exact storyline. I have somewhat of an idea from what Noah has told me, and I'm hoping to get ahold of a script soon so I can start writing music. It's very exciting, because it's such a great way to tell a story.

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch