Martin Freeman Interview
Martin Freeman plays “Lester Nygaard” in FX’s new series “Fargo,” based on the movie of the same name by the Coen Brothers. We were invited to participate in a press interview with the actor. Below, an edited version of that conversation.
What attracted you to this part?
Just the fact that it’s well written. The script itself is well written, the whole thing, the whole first episode, which is what I based my decision on. It was a lovely episode. And with “Lester” I just got the feeling that this was going to be a role where you could give rein to a lot of stuff, to play a lot of stuff.
And even within that first episode the range that he goes between is really interesting and so I knew that was only going to grow and expand in the next nine episodes, and so it proved to be. In all the 10 episodes I get to play as “Lester” pretty much the whole gamut of human existence and human feeling, you know, he does the whole lot.
And that’s exactly what you want to do as an actor. And Noah [Hawley] treads that line very well between drama and comedy and the light and dark. And I like playing that stuff. So, yeah, it was all of that really.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you see your character’s relationship with Billy Bob Thornton’s character in the show and how it developed over the 10 episodes?
Again it was those initial scenes with Billy that really, really attracted me to doing the role because I thought they were just mesmeric. I really loved those little, it was like little plays doing it, little two-handed plays. It develops kind of, without kind of saying too much, it develops a lot off-screen. There are moments of on-screen development, but throughout the series it’s sporadic. Let’s say that, it’s sporadic.
But “Lorne Malvo,” I suppose, is a constant presence in “Lester’s” life because of the change that “Lester” has undergone as a result of meeting him. So, everything that “Lester” does, every way that he develops as a character, for good and bad, you could say is kind of down to that initial meeting with “Lorne Malvo.”
So, there is a development. We don’t get as much screen time as I would like. I think we both really, really loved sharing actual space together and doing work together and we don’t get to do as much of that as we would want, but there is more to come.
One of the interesting things that Billy Bob was saying about your characters in the show is that he had to expand his ego a little bit to play “Lorne,” and you had to bury your personality a little bit to play “Lester.” Can you talk about that a little bit?
To a certain extent. Yes, I’m a more confident person than “Lester” is and I’m not quite as upset as that. So, yeah, it’s just about tapping into those insecurities that you have, we all have, and just kind of magnifying them a little bit. And I find that stuff interesting to play.
I find it fun to play if you can do it for real because, obviously, it’s not shot documentary style or anything, but you want it to be real. You want it to really resonate even though it’s within a heightened world. Noah’s writing is extremely good and it’s slightly heightened as well, rather like the Coen Brothers.
So, yeah, basically to answer your question I think I did have to slightly rein my gigantic ego in for a while.
How did your understanding of “Lester” change over the course of filming the series? When we first meet him he’s one thing, but then a series of events happens even in the pilot that makes him become another thing.
Well, you have to go a lot on trust, really, because, again, I signed up just on the strength of the first episode. I kind of saw a rough character outline that Noah wrote, but it wasn’t specific and it wasn’t detailed. It was a general idea of where he wanted to go with it. He certainly knew a lot more than I did and he knew a lot more than he was telling me and he was quite careful with what he leaked out, do you know what I mean?
So, I wouldn’t really have any particular clues as to what was coming. So, we would all get kind of drip fed the scripts when he was ready to show them to us and when he had finished them. Like all writers, he didn’t want to show anything until he was absolutely happy with it. And so I would get each of the scripts and it was all pretty much a surprise.
The stuff that “Lester” would be doing, I mean unless Noah had kind of hinted at something, which was rare, it was all a surprise. So, I would read episode four and go, oh my God, that happens. And then I’d read episode five and think, wow, I didn’t see that coming.
So, it was all a surprise and so in that sense you have to just be ready to go with it and not make too many decisions, not pre-prepare, not prepare too much and just be open and just be ready to move in whichever direction this character is going to go in because you, as the actor, don’t dictate it, that’s for sure. It was all at Noah’s command as a writer.
And I kind of liked that, I liked that surprise. Because it’s when you’re not in charge and when you don’t really know what’s going to happen that you’re pushed. You allow yourself to be really, really pushed and challenged and stretched, which is all those things actors want to have.
So, yeah, your understanding kind of evolves the more you read because, obviously, by the end of episode 10 “Lester” was capable of things that you never would have suspected in episode one. So, you have to just be on the ball and be ready to move at a moment’s notice.
Did you do anything specific, any specific research about Minnesota or Minnesotans in preparation to play “Lester”?
Not specifically, no. Ideally, what I would have wanted to do was spend some time there pre-filming because what I wanted to do was not, definitely not do a caricature and definitely not do something that was just comic or a way of going, oh, aren’t these people funny kind of thing.
In an ideal world I would have spent a couple of weeks hanging out in bars or just speaking to people. The ideal world doesn’t exist and I wasn’t able to do that. But I worked very hard on the accent because, as I said, I didn’t want it to be like a comedy sketch. I wasn’t playing an accent. I was playing a character who happened to speak like that and to be from that place.
Not specific research. I listened to a lot of Minnesotans, put it that way. I listened to a lot of actual Minnesotans in an audio sense, I mean a visual sense. That’s why I didn’t really go back and watch the initial film with Fargo, love it as I do, because I wanted to, for my research of accent-wise, I wanted it to be actual Minnesotans and not actors playing Minnesotans. Any more than I would expect an actor who wants to play a Minnesotan should study me. They shouldn’t study me, they should study a Minnesotan.
That was the extent of my homework on that. So, rather than thinking what is it that makes Minnesotans different or specific or whatever, I think “Lester” is pretty universal. There are “Lesters” everywhere in every race and walk of life and country. There are people who are sort of downtrodden and people who are underconfident and all that, so that was more a case of tapping into that in myself really.
A lot of people are comparing your character to William H. Macy’s in the film. Did that put some pressure on you because he’s such an amazing actor, but also pressure to distinguish your character from his?
The reason I didn’t go back and watch Fargo was because I didn’t really want that in my head, either way. I didn’t want it my head to copy or to consciously differ from. Because as soon as you try and differ yourself from someone, you’re becoming too conscious of that performance anyway.
No, I didn’t feel pressure in that way. You’re quite right, he’s a brilliant actor and the world doesn’t need another actor doing a Bill Macy impression and I don’t need to be doing that and he doesn’t need it and all of that. So, I purely treated it as my performance of a different character, albeit with some comparison. There are some parallels, but I was too busy concentrating on what I was doing with “Lester” really. At the risk of protesting too much, I know I’m not playing that.
It’s not a case of literally playing that part and how am I going to make it different from Macy’s performance. I didn’t rewatch the film because I didn’t really want that comparison in my head, although I understand it.
In the first couple episodes, you make “Lester” seem very small, like he kind of physically shrank. Can you talk a little about that, making the character appear that way on screen?
I’d love to. It would make me sound impressive if I could talk about it. It’s not, particularly, a conscious thing. I know the way I want him to feel and I know the way I feel when I’m playing him. Like a couple of people said that to me, it’s like, how do you physically shrink? And I wasn’t aware of doing that.
I was aware of, you always give someone a walk, you always develop a walk and a gait and then just a way that you carry yourself. So, I was aware of that. You know, his shoulders were slightly rounded, and he doesn’t move his arms and swagger around much when he walks. He’s very, very contained and he doesn’t kind of, unconsciously, he sort of doesn’t want to be noticed by the world.
But beyond that, I just knew the way that I felt. I knew the way I felt when I sort of embodied him and when I was speaking those lines and reacting to people. You know, I’m a big believer in my job just being reacting, do you know what I mean? And the way that the world treats Lester, it gives you a big clue of how to play him.
So, I wasn’t kind of compartmentalizing and now I’m going to this and now I’m going to do that. It felt like just a holistic thing of as soon as you are Lester, you just kind of react in that way. It takes you over, really, rather than you making impositions on it. So, yes, I wish I could speak better about that, but I can’t.
What was it like shooting in Calgary? I hear it was a little bit cold.
Martin Yes, it is. It’s a little bit cold for quite a long time. Very beautiful and I love the cold until it started to get warm and then get cold again and then that was annoying. As soon as you think spring is coming and then there is a blizzard, that’s the only time it vaguely annoyed me. All the time it was winter and it was allowed to be winter I thought, yeah, this is cool, this is a Calgary winter.
It’s white and beautiful and nice and cold. But as soon as it lures you into thinking oh, great, I’ll put a lighter jacket on now and then you find yourself as Scott of the Antarctic, then that was when it got old.
Your character, “Lester,” taps into a dark side. What was it like for you to get to explore that, especially as the series goes on?
That was great. That was a big attraction of doing it, that was one of the major attractions of playing this role. I like, as much as I can, to play everything and by that I just mean I think within one line of dialogue you can play three different things, within one non-speaking reaction shot you can play three different things.
And I’ve always liked to sort of do that, not to just play the one thing. I like to play, try and reflect the complexities of how we are in real life, which is we’re always thinking at least two things at the same time. So, certainly the overt dark side of “Lester” was something very attractive to me. People certainly don’t associate me with being a sort of murderous killer.
Could you speak to working with Billy Bob and, if you’ve had a chance to actually work with Colin [Hanks] in the episodes that you did?
Well, I didn’t work with Colin, unfortunately. I really like him as a man, I’m very fond of him. And I’ve gotten to know him a little bit and he’s a straight up lovely bloke. Yeah, I just really like him. And I did immediately. I think he’s ever so good in the program as well. I like his work a lot.
I did work with Billy, not as much as I would have wanted because the first thing I shot with him was the scene in the emergency room. And it was just a pleasure, it was just a pleasure from the get-go. From the moment, we had a line run and then rehearsed it. You see for the scene there’s not a lot of blocking, there’s not a lot of choreography to do, but just sitting there doing it with a fantastic actor and who I’ve long admired was an absolute joy.
And he’s a real, real pleasure as a man as well. I like spending the limited amount of time I’ve spent with him. And I think I’m right in saying both of us kind of wanted to do more of it together because it just instantly clicked. It was very, very easy. We had a good chemistry together I think. It certainly felt that way anyway.
So, yeah, I’m a big fan of his. I’m a bigger fan of his than I was before, having met him. I think he’s great.
You’ve done a lot of film and you’ve done a lot of television. As an actor, do you have a preference? Is there a big difference creatively? What are your feelings about it?
I don’t really see a big difference ostensibly between film and TV, given that my job is basically the same. My job is to work with the camera and focus your performance for a camera. Now, whether that’s on a film or TV I think, especially these days, is kind of immaterial.
Because as the best television gets more and more what we would call filmic and a lot of the best writing I think has been pretty much acknowledged for 10 years has been on television, I think there’s much less of a differentiation now than there was maybe 20, 30 years ago. And so I don’t have a preference.
I mean, it sounds trite to say, but my only preference is good work. I mean I always want to do good work. I strive to do scripts that I believe in and scripts that I think are either funny or moving or tragic or all of them. So, no, for me there’s not really much of a difference.
If you want to be doing the job then you want to be doing it and you’ve got to give the best you can. And within that, then it’s just a question of budgets and sometimes there’s posher food on some things than others, posher trailers, but the actual work in front of the camera, no. I don’t really see much of a difference and I don’t really have a preference. It’s just I want to be saying good words and playing good actions.
What do you think it is about Fargo that sets it apart from other prestige dramas that are on television right now?
I don’t know. I haven’t been seeing all of them. And I think there is some really, really good TV on. I don’t know, I think there’s room for all of us. I’ll probably be fired for not giving you a quote now that says this is the best thing ever made. I don’t know.
I think if people like well-written, well-directed, hopefully, well-acted drama, then they will like Fargo. I don’t really know what it makes it unique. There aren’t many things set in Minnesota. Maybe it’s that. There are not many things that use a classic modern movie as a jumping off point and maybe it’s that.
I guess people who loved the film Fargo may love us or they may hate us. I think it’ll split people one way or the other. But I do hope and I sort of believe that if people come to it with an open mind, within 10 minutes you’re no longer thinking about the 1996 film. I think you are, sort of my experience of how people have reacted, they’re pretty engrossed in the world that we’ve created.
So, I don’t know what makes it unique, but I do know what makes it good and that starts, as all good things do, with a script and it’s beautifully shot. And, if I say so myself, not including myself, but it’s fantastically cast. I think the cast across the board is phenomenal. So, yeah, I don’t know whether that’s unique, but I do know it’s good.
What did you enjoy most about having this be a limited series of 10 episodes?
Well, I think my general outlook on life is that things should be finite and things are finite. You know, we all die. Everything ends. And so for me the idea of things going on and on and on, I don’t always find very attractive. But, you know, if it’s a show that I love and it keeps going on and it retains its quality then I’m delighted to be a viewer of it.
But I’ve never done things that have gone on and on. Again, like you say, Sherlock is a finite job. We spend a limited time of the year doing that. It’s not even every year. The Office was 14 episodes totally by design because precisely of what I’m talking about, the attitude of retaining quality and leaving people wanting more rather than leaving people wanting less.
This 10 episodes was kind of a clincher for me. When my agent sent it to me it was with the understanding that she said, you know, you don’t go out for American TV because you don’t want to sign on for something for six or seven years, but this is 10 episodes. See what you think.
So, that was a big attraction. And then I read it, of course, and thought, well, man, this is going to take up four or five months of my life rather than seven years and I’m in. I like moving on, I like going on to the next thing. I like having something else to look forward to as well. And I do have a low boiling pressure. I just want to do other things. I want to do other stuff. I think that’s basically why it is and I want to leave something, hopefully, leave something behind that people go, oh, that was great, as opposed to, oh, why did they carry on with this? It was good for the first three seasons and then it all went wrong.
I’m well aware that some things don’t go wrong after three seasons. Some of my favorite things are fantastic for a long time. But, yeah, for me personally, I like the hit and run approach. I love doing this for a bit and then doing something else for a bit and then doing something else for a bit. That’s the way I’m hardwired I think.
Would you talk about some of your favorite scenes or moments from the series?
Yes, I will, trying not to give too much away. One of my favorite bits of playing this role, I would have to give a little bit away, that comes later on in the series where “Lester” kind of undergoes; part of his transformation means that there was something about that that was a lot of fun to play, becoming different aspects of “Lester.”
I liked that very much. I like playing different aspects of people that surprise the audience and surprise you when you’re playing. And this role afforded that greatly. I love working with Billy Bob, to be quite frank. I love it, I love it. And the limited scenes I had with him were joyful.
I mean it’s more kind of memories of the people I’m working with. I love working with Allison [Tolman] and Bob Odenkirk. They were just a joy, yeah, I love it, people that you’re already a fan of is nice in the case of Bob, and people you don’t know, but become a fan of in the case of Allison, I’m just so pleased for her. I’m really made up for her. She’s so good in this series and it’s going to completely bamboozle everybody in why they have never heard of her before.
That’s been a real pleasure to watch that sort of flowering and her growth in the series. I’ve loved that.
You talked a little bit about American television and being a little hesitant because it was a six to seven year commitment. Were there any other differences in working, because I believe this is your first American television series.
Martin It is.
Were there any differences in the pacing or how things were approached that were different than what you’re used to? What was the biggest culture shock of coming to Calgary versus the U.K.?
Well, one of the surprising things was the pace. I wasn’t used to working that fast. It’s very, very fast. When I found out how long it takes to make an episode of Breaking Bad I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it because I thought, it only takes that long? For something of such quality it must take longer than that. And we were working at a very fast pace as well.
I wasn’t used to that, so you have to kind of adjust to that, which was a really good discipline thing for me because you’re aware that if you’ve got something to bring, you’d better bring it now because don’t bring it in two hours because we won’t be doing that scene in two hours maybe. So, that was great for me.
I loved the breakneck kind of speed of that, but it’s a challenge to work at that speed and work well at that speed. And as far as Calgary versus the U.K., it’s the coldest I’ve ever been in my life and it’s the whitest I’ve ever seen. In Britain we might have snow for, or in my part of Britain, you might have snow for maybe a week or just under a week in a year in which then it turns to slush and black ice very quickly.
There never was no snow on the ground in Calgary from late October to April. So, yeah, I’ve never known that. So, the culture shock was being prepared to be cold all the time that you were out. So, even on a mild day for Calgary in London would be considered a properly cold day. Anything in the minuses, in England we’d be going, oh, that’s a chilly one today whereas I still saw local cowgirl hipsters in espadrilles and no socks, minus 10 sort of thing. So, that was the main culture shock with that.
I really enjoyed watching your performance.
Thank you very much. I really did take it, I don’t mean seriously like War and Peace, but I didn’t want to make a gag of it and I didn’t want to kind of laugh at it and I wanted to get it right. I wanted to kind of honor it in a way and not do a sketch version. Because since the film, which, again, the film was superb, but that kind of entered sort of American people’s and worldwide people’s idea of what that accent is. And it’s very easy to just get into oh, yah. It’s very easy to do that. And there is truth in that.
Most Minnesotans will admit that stereotypes get to be stereotypes for a reason. There is a kernel of truth in there. But that’s not the entire thing and it’s not enough just to go, oh yah, every two minutes. So, if I got away with it, I’m more than happy.
Was there anything about “Lester” that you added to this character that wasn’t originally scripted for you? Billy talked a little bit about a haircut. And you look like a little bit thinner in the frame, but other than that was there anything about this role that you added?
I suppose, yeah, because I think there always is and I don’t even know what is specific, what I could answer to that. But my job I feel is to take a good script and somehow make it better. And that’s every department’s job. It’s the camera department and the design department, you know, to make this script, which is hopefully very good, to make it even better.
And so an actor’s job is to put flesh on the bones of the character because even though it’s fantastically written you don’t just see the script up on screen. You know, that would be quite boring if you just read the script. You have to flesh it out and just the physicality, the placement of the voice, yeah, I mean all of that stuff can only be done by an actor.
So, yes, the answer is I hope I would have brought a lot to it, but specifics, I don’t really know. But I mean everything that you see on screen, some of that’s Noah and some of it’s me.
One of the things about Fargo is it’s very macabre, but it also has moments of dark comedy, do you think it was important that you had a background with comedic roles, that you brought that to “Lester” in those moments that are kind of awkward, but funny?
Some of it, yeah. Yes, probably. It certainly doesn’t hurt and even when I’m not doing sort of comedic roles I guess comedy will somehow find its way in there just because that’s part of who I am and I think it’s part of who we are. I don’t think there is; of all my favorite things in the world, that involve acting anyway, there is both of those things.
The Sopranos sometimes really makes me laugh and that’s not a comedy. And sometimes I’m almost crying at the pathos of Laurel and Hardy, which is not a drama. So, I believe in both of those things being there and I don’t think it’s a big deal by both things being there. So, when “Lester” has moments of comedy as there are in the show, yes, I think, you know, without blowing my own trumpet, I think I can do it. And I think I’m not bad at it, so, yeah, all of that I think it doesn’t hurt. I think it all helps stir the pot somehow, yeah.
Do you think “Lester” would have remained timid if he hadn’t met Billy Bob Thornton’s character? Or do you think that the descent into the dark side was kind of an inevitable shift for you character?
I don’t know. I mean, if it had shifted it just would have taken a lot longer. I think meeting “Lorne Malvo” was a hell of a catalyst for him. But he might have ended up picking people off with a gun from the rooftops eventually in 20 years, but the fact that he hammered his wife to death within days, I don’t think that would have happened. No, I don’t think it would have happened.
All of that would have been repressed and kept to his own nervous system, which is what has made him the way he is for his life thus far, the “Lester” that we first meet, who is almost incapable of showing his true feelings or venting his frustration or his anger. So, I don’t know, it’s a good question. I think if it would have happened it would have taken a lot longer so, yeah, you have to blame Billy Bob for all that shit.
A question about Noah’s scripts. Billy Bob was talking yesterday about how he didn’t find that he needed to change anything in the scripts because they were so good. Did you feel the same way?
I did, really, yeah, I did. There’s the usual things; I would always amend what I think needs amending in the moment really, but I never really got a script and thought, no, this is going to have to change or my notes for Noah’s scripts, when he would send me the script, my note was always basically I loved it. That was kind of it, really, and I can’t wait to read the next one.
His writing is really good. It’s really spare and quite beautiful, quite poetic in places. So, no, I agree with Billy. There wasn’t exactly a lot to do. There was no need to improve it, that’s for sure. It wasn’t something you could be really loose with. But sometimes things just don’t fit in your mouth right and any writer worth their salt will listen to an actor if they’re saying, listen, can I just move that around. I think that’s part of a writer’s gig and writers, again, writers who are reasonably successful have learned to not be too precious about every syllable.
But having said that, his syllables are pretty good and, yeah, they need very little embellishment from an actor.
What it was for you that sort of really set the series apart, aside from just the story itself, but what really set the series apart and made you confident in working on it sort of separate from the film?
Martin I guess at the outset I don’t know, there’s a big trust thing. I think you just have to take a leap of faith as so many things are in life and so many jobs are a leap of faith because you’re not seeing the finished result. You can’t come in at the end and go, I knew The Godfather was going to X, Y and Z. On the way to making The Godfather, of course, it could have been many other things. It’s all a big leap of faith.
I knew I did not want to be in a rehash of the film. The film is perfectly happy without someone making either a good or bad cover version of it, you know. I didn’t want to be in a cover version, certainly didn’t want to be doing a cover version of anyone else’s performance. All I knew at the time was I really loved the first script.
And I guess I liked Noah’s tone. I had a brief conversation with him and I’d have to check our e-mails, but he probably said something to put my mind at rest in an e-mail at some point and I can’t even remember what that would specifically be. But I know from the outset I would have been pretty vocal about not wanting just to be part of a Fargo tribute band, you know.
Of your latest roles for the past few years, you’ve done Fargo, Sherlock and even to a minor extent in The Hobbit, you had to create a lot of fresh and new stuff out of something that’s already existed and because Fargo is clearly something that is inspired by, but different characters and Sherlock is modern. Would you care to comment on that and is that something that sort of attracts you to those types of roles?
Martin I have to say no, it’s not. And, yes, I have done a lot of adaptations of sort of stuff that is already literature, you know, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is a series of beloved books on television and radio and with Sherlock and The Hobbit and now this, it’s not a plan I can assure you.
I never kind of wake up and think, what next can I be part of, an adaptation of? It’s just purely, and I hope it doesn’t get boring to hear it because I kind of almost bore myself saying it, it’s just the writing. If something is well written, I’m interested. And if something is not to my taste, then I’m not.
Yeah, it’s just an accident really the fact that I seem to have been cast in a few of those things that you’re talking about. But that’s not a plan. It’s not a particular attraction. It could be based on everything or nothing. I love doing completely new stuff. I love doing completely new theater, for instance, he said as he’s about to play Richard III.
I’ve spent a long time doing brand new plays and that’s something that I dearly love. So, it is just really what floats my boat at the time and it always comes down to the script and your initial interest is always in that.
In addition to Fargo and now Richard III, what else can we see you coming up in the next 18 months? And can you talk a wee bit about each one of them?
Martin I only know that far ahead. I only know Richard III is going to take me up to the end of September and that’s all I know.
And why Shakespeare?
Why not? It’s a pretty good script. He was good with words and, yeah, I’ve never done Shakespeare professionally. I’ve, obviously, spent a long time at drama school and theater doing it and studying it and liking it. But I’ve never done this play in any capacity and I’ve never done Shakespeare since I’ve left drama school, which I find amazing actually. I can’t believe that, but it’s true.
So, yeah, when it was offered to me, Jamie Lloyd, the director is a very good young director in England, thought of me for it and I thought, well, I almost want to reward him just for thinking of me. Again, it’s a slightly obvious choice I think, casting-wise, and I’m always up for, as I said earlier, confounding other people’s and my own perceptions of what it is that I do. So, I enjoy that very much.
What’s the best advice you could give to a young actor or actress starting out in this business?
I don’t think you could advise that. I think the mistake is playing the result and not the game. I don’t think you can think too far ahead in terms of a glowing, glittering career or anything. I think you just have to be in it for the reasons of loving it because you’re going to have to be prepared to never pay the rent and possibly not work for a year, which by anyone’s standards is hard going on the wallet and on the psyche.
So, if you don’t love it, you’d better not do it. That’s the only thing I could really advise. Read, be interested, be interesting, take an interest in history, politics, people, yourself and learn your lines.
After playing “Lester” is there anything that you have learned about yourself as an actor having played a kind of character you’ve never really played before, a darker character?
I don’t know yet. I think a lot of the time you play parts or the things that you learn, you don’t quite know what they are until years later maybe. They sort of filter back into your work years later. I remember at drama school people saying this is not necessarily going to make sense to you now, but in five years the pin might drop or whatever.
And that was true. And I’m not quite sure what I’ll take away from this “Lester” year. At the moment, because I only finished a week ago, all I know is that I really enjoyed it. I loved the job and I have hopes that people will like it. But I don’t know. It all kind of feeds in in a pretty under the radar way because things aren’t planned in that way or specific in that way about, well, I’ll do this and then I’ll learn that.
I’m just going to have to kind of let it live with me for a bit. And I’ve been living with it for about five months and so I’ll decompress now for a bit and then I’ll probably get some perspective on it in a year and go, oh, I thought I was good in that and I wasn’t very good in that bit and I like that bit and I didn’t like that. So, it will me inform me in some way, in ways I that I don’t quite know yet, if you know what I mean.
You’ve done a wide range of things from film to TV and now American TV. What gets you excited about acting and what is it that you look for that keeps on challenging yourself?
Sometimes it’s hard to say. It’s like being in love or loving people. If you really sort of say, but what do I love about that person? Sometimes you’ve actually got to sit down and think, hang on, do I love them or is this habit or whatever, you know? So, you’ve got to kind of think for a minute about whether you do still love something.
And I do that with acting. I do kind of think, sometimes it’s really hard and sometimes there’s no doubt, you have mornings where you think, wow, this is boring or I’m cold and wet again and it’s quite miserable. And you do definitely have those days, however good your job is. And, believe me, I’ve got a good job.
You do have moments where you do question it. But essentially I do love it. Nothing else gives me the feeling that I get when I’m working on something good, working on something that makes me happy and, most importantly, with other actors who make me happy. For me, it’s when I’m working with other people that it brings out the best in me and that’s what really engages me.
The life itself, the job side of it, I’m attracted to because of the turnover. Because, well, again, if you are lucky, and I’m very lucky, if you’re lucky enough to work on a lot of different things you go from job to job and meeting a whole lot of new people. You work with different author’s voices, many of whom are very clever people and very interesting people.
So, you get to kind of invest in a like a different universe every three or six months. And that’s a lovely job. It’s a lovely way to earn your living. So, it’s that really. And also what else am I going to do? There isn’t a job where people pay you to go shopping for shoes; there isn’t a job where people pay you just to sit around playing records, so until there are those things acting will do just fine for me.
One of the things that I really like about “Lester” is how complex he is. He’s a little rough around the edges and I feel like he’s one of those characters that we’ve kind of been gravitating towards lately, if you look at “Walter White” in Breaking Bad or “Don Draper” in Mad Men. What do you think that says about us as an audience that over the past five or six years that we’ve been kind of starting to gravitate towards these rough around the edge kind of characters?
Maybe it means that we are, well, it might mean we’re getting smarter. We’re demanding more of our characters and of our dramas. It might mean that we are less sure of ourselves, I suppose. So we want to see that reflected in the people we follow on TV.
For me, I mean I don’t know where it started, but this modern trend I think you can put a lot of that down to “Tony Soprano,” the sort of very, very flawed hero, anti-hero, confounding your expectations of what you think that character is going to be, capable of doing terrible things while also being very attractive and funny and likable.
But, again, those things go back to Greek theater. That in itself is not a new thing. But you’re absolutely right, it’s becoming more common on American television. And there is some extremely good American television where that happens more these days.
Maybe it just means we’re getting a bit more sophisticated and demanding a bit more than kind of black and white characters, which I’m all for I must say.
How much fun did you have playing this role?
How much fun? I had a lot of fun. I loved this job, I loved all of it I have to say. It was tough and it was hard work, like anything is hard work if you want to be good at something, if you want to do it well it’s all hard work. But very, very enjoyable as a result of working hard.
It’s all play. My job is to play things. My job isn’t to fight things or war things, it’s to play things, which is a pretty cool job. And “Lester” was a lovely person to play, I mean, not always lovely, but a lovely challenge to play and the cast and crew and the city of Calgary, it was just a real pleasure. I don’t relish the thought of going away from home for months.
I never relish that, so in order for me to say I really, really loved this job that’s quite something because it kept me away from home for a long time, but I wouldn’t have been without it. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I had a lot of fun, laughed a lot with some very, very funny people and got to do one of the best scripts I’ve done. So, yeah, I’m happy.