Colin Hanks Discusses What Makes Fargo Brilliant, Acting Through Frostbite & Finding the Funny Side

fargo colin hanks

Photos Courtesy of FX

Sweet-faced Colin Hanks stars in his toughest role yet in Fargo, the original FX adaptation of the Academy Award-winning feature film. Rather than attempt a remake, writer Noah Hawley reinvents Fargo with an all-new crime story featuring a new case and new characters — all entrenched in the trademark humor, murder and “Minnesota nice” that made the film an enduring classic. Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo, a rootless, manipulative man who meets and forever changes the life of small town insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by BAFTA winner Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit).

In the 10-episode limited series, Colin Hanks - the son of proud dad Tom Hanks - plays Duluth Police Deputy Gus Grimly, a single dad who must choose between his own personal safety and his duty as a policeman when he comes face-to-face with a killer. Rounding out the colorful cast is Allison Tolman, Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Plat, Kate Walsh, Glenn Howerton, Adam Goldberg, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele and Joey King. Check out the first seven minutes of the show in the video below and then dig into our interview with Colin, where he chats about what makes Fargo so great, how he got into Gus Grimly, and the type of character he can't wait to play!

JustLuxe: Fargo is one of the best television shows (with the best writing and the best cast) that’s come around in a long time. How does it feel to work in that environment?

Colin Hanks: We were all so blown away by how well the show was written. Pretty much the first thing out of everybody's mouth was, “Hey, can you believe how lucky we are that we get to be involved with this?” And that's everybody, including Billy Bob [Thornton] and Martin [Freeman] and Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key. It’s a really rare thing to be able to be in something this good. And when the person you're acting with is good like Billy Bob or Martin or Bob Odenkirk or Allison Tolman, that makes your job a little easier as well. Instead of thinking “How do we make this good?” we get to figure out how to make this the best that it can possibly be. Look, when they say “Action” and you're working, that's the best part of the day. That’s the part that they don’t pay us for. They pay us to wait around. They pay us to go on location. The acting stuff we all love to do — it’s a treat, especially when you're surrounded by so many talented people. It's all fun, and it's been an absolute treat to watch it and see what everybody does.

fargo colin hanks

JL:  What research or preparation did you do for the part?

CH: Really, the only preparation that I did was just working with a dialect coach on the Minnesota accent. That was really it. Gus is not necessarily — well, he is not a good cop, really. He is sort of out of his depth, so there wasn’t really any police training that I had to do. In fact, I specifically did things poorly to make Gus look a little bit more out of his element.

JL:  What makes Gus an enjoyable character to play, regardless of some of his shortcomings — or was it frustrating for you?

CH: Well, at times it could be pretty frustrating. You try not to judge your characters too much, but there were definitely some moments where I was frustrated at Gus’ inability to do certain things. But Gus is frustrated as well, and so that was really something that I drew from.

The thing I enjoyed most about Gus was his awareness. Oftentimes you see these characters and they know that they're not good, but they're just instantly beat down. But this is something that slowly eats at Gus. He makes this decision to let Malvo go and although technically he does the right thing, it's not something he should have done. It leads to very bad things. I like the fact that he made this mistake and spends his time atoning for it and trying to fix it. He ‘fesses up, to a degree, and actively tries to right the wrong. That really appealed to me. Then, as the show progressed, I kept trying to come back to that regardless of my frustrations of Gus not being able to get his act together.

fargo colin hanks

JL: As you were able to delve into this character, was there anything that you were surprised to learn about yourself as an actor or person?

CH: It was a liberating experience. The rules of TV can be very constrictive, and this character, and this writing allowed for what I like to call “breaths.” It allowed for moments of sitting with a character to see them stew with their decision and see their wheels turning and really become involved in their journey. As an actor I found this one to be very exhilarating and liberating because there wasn’t this incessant cutting from one angle, so here's the coverage, here's the close-up, here's the two-shot and going back and forth and you sort of almost become dizzy from all of the fast editing. Here's a show that really lets it lie, really lets you live with these characters and experience the moments that these characters are having. I’ve always been a fan of scenes and stories in which you're able to be natural like on this show. Fargo is really more about observing these characters and what they do as opposed to just watching the story. There’s an ambiguity there that I really enjoy.

fargo colin hanks

JL: I really enjoy the scenes between Gus and his daughter Greta, played by Joey King. What’s the dynamic like between you on the set? 

CH: Joey King is a force to be reckoned with. Within the first day of filming, I turned to the producers and said, “Wow, she's really good, and she's young, and she's been doing this for a long time so in a lot of ways she's probably more professional than I am.” For me, this was a great experience. It’s the first time that I'm playing a father. I am a father in real life — I have two kids — so, it was nice to be able to act like I have an older child on set, as opposed to a three-year-old and a 10-month-old. I really enjoyed the beauty of that and the simplicity of that and look, that’s not too different from any parent/child relationship. You learn stuff from your kids every day.

fargo colin hanks

JL: How do you think being a father helped you get into Gus' mindset and understand his motives?

CH: It's all there in that first scene. The reason why he really lets Malvo go is because of his daughter: if something bad happens to Gus, what then happens to his daughter? Once you have kids, it makes you reevaluate things, and all of a sudden, you're important but only to a certain degree. So in that scene he decides to let Malvo go because he needs to be there for his daughter. Gus is all Greta has, and so, that right there tells you a lot about Gus and the way that he looks at things. Gus has two jobs: being a father and being a policeman doing menial tasks. I get that. It told me everything I needed to know about Gus and the way that he looks at things in comparison to the way Lester and Malvo look at things.

JL:  You have great comedic timing. Does that come natural to you?

CH: I like to think that it's a combination of both. I've always been a big fan of comedy and sketch comedy and I like to laugh, but you can't just be funny. You do have to work at it, know what your role is, and when you can insert humor or when it's best not to. In regards to Fargo, there was a balance to it. Obviously, it's not a slapstick comedy. There are realistic moments, but yet, there's also levity and humor. You just try to play the funny moments as real as you can and hope that people get the joke. So, it's a bit of a tight rope that you have to walk, but I'm a big comedy nerd so I'm always looking at a chance to be funny.

fargo colin hanks

JL:  What's the most rewarding part about being an actor and having the career you’ve had so far?

CH: I really enjoy the creation of it. I enjoy the doing of it. I enjoy being on set. I enjoy working. I enjoy collaborating with people and trying to make the thing come alive, make it hum. And when you get an opportunity such as Fargo where the writing is so good, the characters are so good — it's a challenge that you’ve been hoping for and waiting for. It's really fun when you get that opportunity to be able to do it. At no point did I feel like I had Gus nailed down. At no point did I feel like I knew exactly what I was doing. I was constantly trying to discover angles, discover facets of Gus and how to bring that across while keeping a little bit of Gus a mystery. That kind of stuff, that sort of naturalist performance, I really love doing. I really hope that I get the opportunity to do it again on the next gig, whatever that may be. Hopefully, that next gig will come soon.

JL: Maybe after doing Fargo, you can do another series in a warmer climate, like Miami.

CH: Yeah, right? Then it'll be too hot and too sunny and we'll go, “Can we shoot someplace else?”  The grass is always greener someplace else.

fargo colin hanks

JL: Did the cold working conditions in Calgary have any effect on your performance?

CH: It has an effect on every single aspect of life. The cold is a character within Fargo universe. You have to have that, and it is a joke, but it really does affect every facet of your life when you're living up there. I love Calgary. It's a great city. I enjoyed my time there quite a bit, but shooting and filming in that cold could be very difficult at times. When you're shooting at three in the morning and it's minus 35 degrees and you can’t feel your face, that’s hard. The conditions are difficult for everybody, not just the actors but for the camera crew who wrap the camera in an electric blanket and the teamsters who have got to get these big trucks in and out of snow fields. So, you just try and do the best you can and you make sure that you become really good friends with wardrobe and they give you all sorts of hand warmers and body warmers.

fargo colin hanks

JL:  What did you do for fun during your down time up there?

CH: I have my tried-and-true things that I do when I go on location. I always find it's good to have an excuse to get out of the hotel or apartment and go do something that is not just drinking. So I travel with a portable turntable, but I don’t bring any records with me. Instead I go out to all the record stores in town. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land, and then I label the LPs with the city that I buy the record in. The irony is that eventually I'm going to have so many records that then I [will] have to stay indoors and listen to them, because it's of course not necessarily a portable media.

But the biggest one is food. I’m always drilling everyone — “What restaurant are we having dinner in tonight?” Because I am not just going to just sit at home and make toast. I want to feel like a normal human being and go out and talk and make the best of it and have a good time. So, that to me was the big thing, and luckily, Calgary has a slew of fabulous restaurants so we were all good there. And I'm a big hockey buff, so I always like shooting in Canada because they love hockey there. I went to a few Flames games and there was always a hockey game on TV.

fargo colin hanks

JL: Did you ever talk to anybody about why they gave your character such a cartoonish name? Gus Grimly sounds like a ScoobyDoo villain.

CH: I think it's such a great name. I think it's like the cool guitarist in like a ‘60s surfer band — Gus Grimly & the Grimtones or something like that. I kind of dig that.

JL:  Do you think that in the grand scheme of things Gus is heroic?

CH: It's an interesting point. Obviously with Gus you definitely don’t think oh, well here's a hero. He doesn’t necessarily hold himself in a heroic stance. He doesn’t necessarily speak in heroic tones or anything like that, but oftentimes, your real heroes are not necessarily guys with six-pack abs and huge biceps that come and save the day. They're people that maybe don’t want to be heroes. Oftentimes, I find that the people that you really call heroes, are just doing their job. They're doing what they're supposed to do because they have a sense of duty. But for Gus, I feel like he doesn’t want to be doing what he's doing, but he does it out of a sense of responsibility. He's trying to set an example for his daughter and I think it's fair for you to say that that’s heroic. I don’t know if it's fair to me to say it, but I think Gus is a good guy trying to do the right thing, even if technically it’s wrong.

fargo colin hanks

JL: There's a lot of pressure riding on Gus to right his mistake in the eyes of the law.  I'm curious to know what your career equivalent is. What's the most pressure you’ve felt working in this business as an actor?

CH: More than anything else, you want to do good work. Hopefully, it's in line with the director’s vision, but the pressure is always there. Sometimes the pressure has gotten to me a little bit more, like on King Kong.  I had a few sleepless nights worrying that the entire world was going to see this, so I’d better be good. No one puts more pressure on me than I do myself.

fargo colin hanks

JL:  Lately, more actors are making the transition from film to television, rather than the other way around.  What appealed to you about making your first TV series?

CH: In this day and age, an acting job is an acting job. I don’t really see any difference between working in a movie or on TV. The way that I find that they're very different now is that the quality of television is so great, and now you have television series that are not necessarily entrenched in the old television rules.

For example, our show is very different. It's a 10-episode series. There's a beginning, a middle and an end, and so, in that way, it's almost like a 10-hour film. It takes its time to tell its story, but yet, it also doesn’t follow by the rules of [having] to introduce the eight main characters in the first 10 minutes. I'm a season regular and I don’t show up until about 40 or 50 minutes into the first episode. I find that now storytelling in television is a lot more freeing in that regard. I like the fact that now you can really spend time with these characters and get to know them and it's not paint-by-numbers acting. That’s kind of refreshing. But for me, it's all about the writing and the characters.

fargo colin hanks

JL: What would you say is your favorite project that you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love that you thought it deserved?

CH: That’s a tough question. Nowadays, everything seems to live forever. When I started out, a lot of things had a relatively short shelf life. You'd be on a television show, it would be on that night and then maybe you'd never see it again. Now, you can pretty much find everything. I'm always pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention that Orange County gets. I'm always very proud when people say they’ve seen The Great Buck Howard. But overall, I try not to think about that too much. I just try and focus on what the next thing is.

JL: You play a lot of nice-guy characters — even on Dexter when you were a homicidal character but very clean cut. Do you ever wish you'd get a role where you can grow a scruffy beard and get down and dirty?

CH: If you know of someone with that role, will you give them my name and my headshot? Yes, oh gosh, yes. I'm always looking for a chance to do something different. I don’t want to repeat myself at any time, doing the same guy over and over and over again. I want to be able to evolve and am constantly trying to find different characters, different angles. But yes, there is a part of me that desperately wants to not be this cute, endearing, heart-on-his-sleeve type character that just wants to be liked. That’s a part of me but not all of me.

fargo colin hanks

JL: There’s a lot of you on Twitter. Is social media something you enjoy or is it a necessary evil hat you’re expected to do?

CH: As someone that was once named one of TIME magazine's “140 People to Follow,” I clearly tweet and clearly am pretty into it. I was really against it all at first. I tend to be the grumpy old man quite a bit, but I initially got into it as sort of a means to publicize things I was doing that did not get the advertising that I was hoping it would. And it ended up being this really great, fun thing that I actually enjoy quite a bit. Obviously, it can be very helpful to publicize things that I'm into, to voice concerns that I have about issues, to talk about how crappy the weather is, or how delicious this pie was, or how beautiful that sunset was. I still wrestle a little bit with this concept of live tweeting a show, which I’ve been talked into doing a little of for Fargo. Me, personally, I like to watch the show.

Fargo airs Tuesday nights on FX at 10 p.m.

fargo colin hanks

Vicki Arkoff

Based in Los Angeles, Vicki Arkoff is Contributor for JustLuxe, reporting on travel, entertainment, lifestyle and autos. She also reports for Atlas Obscura, The Daily Meal, Day Spa Magazine, Prevue, Where Guestbook, and Where Magazine, and is Editor for Holiday Goddess, the online destination for chic women travelers from the editors of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Conde Nast Traveler, Lonely Plan...(Read More)

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