How I'm Living Now: Noah Hawley, 'Fargo' Showrunner

Noah Hawley
VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

With the novel coronavirus keeping Hawley at home in Austin, he opens up about shutting down production on 'Fargo,' staying off Twitter and teaching his kids how to get back to the basics.

With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense for how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood's top writers, actors, directors, executives and more are living and working in these challenging times.

Noah Hawley, the creator of FX's Fargo adaptation, was filming the fourth season of the anthology series in Chicago when FX announced it would be shutting down production. With two episodes unfinished, the show was moved off its planned April 19 premiere date, and will no longer debut in time to qualify for the 2020 Emmy season. With a new date still up in the air, Hawley returned to his home in Austin, Texas, where he's been spending his days with his wife and two kids, still editing Fargo albeit at a much more leisurely pace, and spending his time watching Governor Andrew Cuomo for comfort and teaching his kids how to get back to the basics.

So, what does your day look like now?

On some level, my day hasn’t changed dramatically in that I’m a parent and we wake at the normal hour and we get everybody up and the coffee gets made and the breakfast gets made. So, we keep those routines. It’s good for the children that things seem normal to them. And then, if it’s during the week, I try to get the kids out and run them a bit in the yard to get some energy out, get a little exercise, and then I’ll get to work at the normal time, 9 or 10 a.m. I’m editing on Fargo and I’m writing a script and the business of Hollywood is still open enough that I’m doing studio or network calls. So on some level, it feels very much like a version of life when I’m not on location -- where I’m just home and writing. On the other hand, I’m stopping at certain points in the day to Clorox the groceries that arrive.
What’s been the easiest adjustment?

The easiest adjustment for me is that I get to be home with my family for a concentrated and open ended amount of time. Because I live in Austin, I am often traveling either to L.A. or to Chicago, where we were filming Fargo. So, there was a lot of coming and going, last year especially with making [the Natalie Portman-starring drama] Lucy In the Sky and then going from Lucy into Legion and then Legion into Fargo -- I’ve just been running around the whole time. So the easiest adjustment is probably the thing that people are balking about, which is I’m happily trapped here with my family in a meaningful way.

And the hardest?

We were three weeks from wrapping Fargo, so I have three quarters of a show that I can’t show people until I finish. And I don’t know when I can finish. So it’s frustrating on a lot of levels to be so close to the end and not know when you can finish it. But, obviously, in the scope of real world problems, it’s pretty minor.

What was the most challenging decision you’ve had to make since this whole thing started?

I was on location in Chicago the week that everything shut down and it was a very active situation in which I, as the showrunner on my show, on location when we had someone on an adjoining crew test positive had to navigate with the studio and the network what we were going to do and how long we were going to keep going and trying to manage the crew’s fears and expectations. That was the hardest point -- the visceral responsibility that I felt during a crisis situation for the health and well-being of the cast and crew that was relying on me.

And you're still working on Fargo remotely, even though the release date has been pushed?

Our post was also hit by a potential exposure, so our editors are at home now. A couple of them were able to get editing systems in their homes. But because our release date got pushed, we’re not rushing. I get a bit of breathing room where I can actually engage with it more creatively and less in a desperate panic to get it done in time.

What have you learned about yourself in this period?

We’re rarely tested in a meaningful way and I always like to think that as a showrunner and a leader, for lack of better words, that I can stand up for myself and the people I’m responsible for and still navigate and manage the needs of the corporations to which I am beholden. I had a really tough week in trying to satisfy a lot of masters and it was nice to learn that under an immense amount of pressure, I could stay calm and do what I knew was best for everybody.

What or who have become your go-to news source during this period?

I still look primarily at The New York Times and the Washington Post. I don’t watch a lot of CNNs or MSNBCs, and I haven’t really been on Twitter in four years. Every once in a while you’ll follow a link and you’ll see, "Oh yeah, everyone is still out there just yelling at each other." Our blood pressures are all high enough without subjecting ourselves to that level of punditry.
What are you watching, reading, playing or listening to as a reprieve?

I’m watching a lot of Andrew Cuomo these days as a native New Yorker but also as someone who, like all of us, is looking for empathetic, fact-based leadership. It’s very comforting.

How would you describe your corona era wardrobe?

I still think it’s important to keep up appearances. So, I’m wearing a shirt with a collar right now and we still get up and get everybody dressed for the day.

Are you dusting off any old hobbies or finding any new ones during this time?

I have always been a musician. And we have a sewing machine and we're teaching the kids all that old school stuff --  remember sewing, remember yard work? On some level, it’s nice to feel connected to the actual mechanics of your life. And you realize you can explain to your kids what the food chain is. We have a garden and we grow things. Food is not some abstract thing that comes to a supermarket and ends up in your house. I think we’re all realizing these days that the chain of command of our groceries, we have to know very carefully, right?
On that note, what have become your go-to comfort foods during the quarantine?

I’m probably eating more bread than I would otherwise. It does feel like you can’t begrudge yourself a glass of wine at the end of the day to steady your nerves before the darkness falls.

Have you found yourself or your family stockpiling anything?

Not in a crazy way. My house is not where you’ll find all the toilet paper. It was very important to my wife to have a lot of refried beans -- we’re in Texas. But it is amazing how happy I was to discover a bottle of Clorox in the back of the pantry. It’s like every cleaner I have in the house is some organic lilac based something and then you’re like, "Oh thank god there’s bleach."

In these times, what cause is most important to you?

I have a really good friend who is an emergency room doctor and a really good friend who’s a police detective and I’m in touch with them daily to make sure that they are okay and to figure out what I can do. And the fact that my doctor friend is literally accepting donations of any rubber gloves or masks that people might have is a sad statement on where we are. I think everyone’s focus has gotten a little more local, honestly, and I don’t think that's a bad thing.

And what’s atop your to-do list once this is all over?

To finish Fargo. I think there is a tone of voice to those stories that is very uplifting and fun for people. In this moment, people want something that is a story about basically decent people who are probably in over their heads that can make them feel better. And not to be able to deliver that to them when I have most of it is ... It feels like I have something to give but I can’t give it to people.