Emmys: 'Fargo's' Colin Hanks on 'Demoralizing' Cold Weather and Mastering an Accent (Q&A)

Colin Hanks 2014 H

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Colin Hanks landed his first-ever Emmy nomination for his performance in FX's hit miniseries Fargo — which the actor said was a total "shock." In the 10-part Emmy-contending crime anthology, Hanks, 36, plays Duluth, Minn., police deputy Gus Grimly, a single father struggling with balancing his job duties and protecting his young daughter (Joey King). Here, Hanks reflects on shooting in the near-arctic climes of Canada, bonding with his onscreen love interest (Allison Tolman) and the difficulties of nailing an "inward" character.

When you first heard about Fargo, what was your reaction? Many others were skeptical about trying to do anything related to the Coen brothers' great 1996 film.

My gut reaction was very similar to a lot of people's: "OK, why are they doing that?" But I talked to my agent, and he said, "Well, listen, before you say anything, it's a whole new story. Just read the script. It's really, really, really good." And as soon as I read it, all of my questions were put to rest. It was just so well written. And not only that, the concept of the way that they were going to tell the story, never mind what the story was, was fantastic, exciting and liberating. Gus does not even show up until 40 minutes into the first episode, yet he's an important cog in the wheel — you know, that sort of breaking of normal television rules. "You have to introduce your four or six or eight main characters in the first five pages"? Well, we didn't have to do any of that sort of stuff.

Talk about working with the series' creator and main writer Noah Hawley.

Noah's one of the smartest people I've ever met. I just put my trust into him because it was very evident, when you would read the scripts, that he knew what he was doing. They read like novels. I rarely second-guessed him on anything.

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Did you know the series' entire plot from the beginning, or was it still evolving?

I did not know it all. We'd shoot in blocks — we'd shoot two episodes concurrently, at the same time. During the first block, I had one glorious afternoon when I read episodes one through six, because that's what they had, and then I would get the other scripts as they were released. I had an experience on Dexter where I was playing a crazy person and I didn't know that one of the main characters who my character was interacting with was completely in his imagination. I didn't know that until two episodes before that season ended. So I've learned that I don't really need to know everything that's gonna transpire; all I need to know is, "What does this scene call for? What does this scene need?"

What was it like making the show in Calgary?

It was cold. There's no way around it. But that's a character in the universe, and we all knew what we were signing up for. It could be pretty tiring, pretty exhausting, pretty demoralizing, at times, like when you see that the crew has wrapped the camera in an electric blanket so that it can still function. But you find ways to get through it.

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How did you conquer Gus' accent?

There was a decision made early on that we were going to focus on specific words within a speech that would drive home the fact that it is Minnesota. So we had an accent coach there that we worked with every morning. And I also had a thing I'd listen to every now and again that had three different Minnesota dialects that I could practice with. My big icebreaker joke in the audition was that my accent was somewhere between Chicago and Canada, but if I got the job I'd whittle it down to Minnesota. [Laughs.] I feel like I followed through on that.

Gus' first scene in the series is his haunting encounter with the character played by Billy Bob Thornton. Can you talk about working with Billy Bob and on that scene?

I loved working with Billy Bob. This was actually my second time. He's a great guy, first and foremost, and he's such a good actor, so I was fortunate to have a few sizable scenes with him. And that first scene? If you're going to be in one scene in the pilot, that's the scene you want to be in. We actually shot it over two different nights about a week apart.

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The actor with whom you probably shared the most scenes is Allison Tolman, who most people had never seen before Fargo.


She was amazing. Before the first day that we worked together, I had actually known her for about a month, and I liked her right off the bat as a person. And once we got there on set, you couldn't tell that this was her first big gig. I'm so happy for her that this was her first experience.

Talk about Emmy nominations day, when the show and its entire principal cast were recognized.

It was a shock. I hoped that the show was going to get nominated for a couple of things, for sure, but I never would have thought it would be 18 nominations — and, to be honest, I really didn't think that I would be included, only because of the nature of Gus' character. He's a very inward character wrestling with a lot of stuff internally. He's not a very emotional character, so I wasn't sure if that was gonna resonate. But the fact that they picked up on that was incredible for me, and I was obviously very happy. But that the four of us got nominated is what's really special.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg