'Fargo' Creator Noah Hawley on How to Avoid the Sophomore Slump

'Fargo's' star-studded cast binge watched the first season before their auditions.

A raft of awards (the Emmy for miniseries, a Peabody) and critical superlatives for the first season of FX's Fargo have certainly raised expectations for season two of the anthology series. But creator Noah Hawley is not worried. 

“There are things we can control and the things we can’t control. I can’t control how people react to the work I do,” said Hawley during a Q&A session at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

And he's probably accustomed to high expectations since the series was inspired by a beloved film. "We may never win another award again, I don’t know. I just want to make something that feels finished. And I couldn’t be prouder of this season."

Of course, hanging over any discussion of TV sophomore slumps is the current second season of HBO’s True Detective, which has taken rhetorical brickbats from critics, though HBO executives have staunchly defended the show and viewers are still tuning in. 

Like True Detective, the second season of Fargo is a completely new story, with a different cast. Ted Danson and Patrick Wilson star as the small town Minnesota sheriffs investigating a gruesome murder. This time, Fargo is set in the past, in 1979, on the cusp of the Reagan era. And Hawley noted that the period provides a rich historical tapestry. 

“People who weren’t just white men were going to get a seat at the table,” he said. And here Jean Smart plays a Lady Macbeth character who assumes control of the crime syndicate after her husband, the former leader, has a stroke.

“I thought that by making it more than just about flared pants and wide collars we could turn it into something that spoke to the American experience," added Hawley.

Interestingly, few among Fargo’s second season cast had actually seen the first season of Fargo before they read for their parts. Kirsten Dunst, whose mother’s family hails from Cambridge, Minn., binge watched it before auditioning. So did Danson. All of them were clearly impressed by the material.

Bokeem Woodbine, who plays a mysterious interloper, characterized his character as “a gift from the acting gods.”

“It’s easily my most favorite role to date,” he continued. “There’s a lot of complexity and different levels to him. He has his eyes on the prize all the time; he sleeps with one eye open. It’s just been a dream come true to be a part of the Fargo legacy. It’s been a wonderfully bizarre and surreal experience.”

Danson noted that Hawley’s script made his job essentially effortless. “If the words are great and you have dialogue that is purposeful, it takes you someplace,” said Danson. “The words were so good that you just follow the path that (Hawley) created. There’s an earnestness to it.”

About the only thing Danson did to get in character, he said, was grow a beard. “For so much of my career I’ve been so coifed with hair spray. I didn’t spend one second in the hair chair. It was liberating to be my 67-year-old self and try on Noah’s words.”