'Fargo' taps sibling rivalry in Season 3 with a double dose of Ewan McGregor

Gary Levin

OK, then: It’s time for a third amusing, unpredictable, tragic and disturbing season of FX’s Emmy-winning Fargo (April 19, 10 ET/PT).

Noah Hawley has created a more emotional hybrid, blending the more intimate, smaller setting of the first saga, which starred Billy Bob Thornton as a malevolent disrupter, and (in later episodes) the epic scale of the second, which featured a bigger body count and a sprawling cast of characters as it went back to 1979. This time around, Ewan McGregor turns in a bravura performance as feuding siblings Emmit Stussy, the well-off “parking lot king of Minnesota,” and his slightly younger brother Ray, a down-on-his-luck parole officer in 2010 Minnesota.

Their beef? An inheritance from their long-dead father, who bequeathed Emmit a valuable postage stamp, but left Ray a beat-up red Corvette. Ray’s attempt to steal the stamp back sets the story in motion, creating the usual complications and unintended consequences.

“There’s definitely a sense of the haves and have-nots that are at the center of this,” Hawley says. And like the 1996 Coen brothers movie that inspired it, “at its core I always feel like Fargo is about what people will do for money. There’s a brother who feels like he got gypped, and he’s had a poorer life because of it, and a brother who feels he’s a self-made man, and became a millionaire, but he’s really not as self-made as he might think.”

While Emmit’s life is complicated by his ties to a shadowy figure (David Thewlis, with bad teeth) who’d loaned him money, Ray is the instigator. But both are being egged on in their long-simmering feud: Emmit, by his consigliere Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg), and Ray by his girlfriend, parolee and bridge partner Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango and Ewan McGregor as Ray Stussy in FX's 'Fargo.'

“They’ve both got this outside force pushing them into their problem, into their grievance with each other. But in actual fact, both of them very often defend the other brother to those people,” McGregor says.

The Scottish actor (Trainspotting, Beauty and the Beast), 46, disappears into both characters. He shaved his head before shooting began last January, so Emmit has dark curly hair, brown contact lenses and a healthy glow, while Ray is balding, pasty and heavier, with stringy hair but McGregor’s blue eyes. (He gained weight to play Ray but wore Spanx for Emmit).

Ewan McGregor plays two brothers in Season 3 of 'Fargo.'

Though he'd played two roles before, in 2005 sci-fi film The Island, his first full-time TV series role posed a challenge. “You’ve got double the work in terms of being on set, double the time in makeup, and two parts to learn. And television can be quite wordy.  I’d say for the first six, seven episodes, I was on set or home learning lines, nothing else, in Calgary,” a stand-in for Minnesota.

“It was incredible to me to watch him embody both of these characters so fluidly,” says Winstead, 32. “When I was around him as Emmit, it was really strange to me. It was like a totally different person I don’t know.  To me, Ewan is Ray.”

And though Hawley had tried to recruit her for earlier seasons, Winstead never expected to play someone like Nikki. “I really thought If I was going to be in Fargo I’d be playing a cop or a housewife, somebody who’s kind of 'Minnesota nice' in all those ways. So it was a surprise to read a character who’s really brash and sexy and bold, and somewhat conniving but with this heart of gold.”

Instead, the cop role went to Carrie Coon (who also returns April 16 in the final season of HBO’s The Leftovers), 36, who says the inevitable comparisons to Frances McDormand from the film or Allison Tolman from Season 1 terrified her. “But Noah is so savvy, he shifts the paradigm just enough that this role is specific,” and in a nearby, similarly named town, Coon’s Gloria Burgle figures into the main story through a case of mistaken identity.

Carrie Coon as Eden Valley, Minn., police chief Gloria Burgle in the third season of FX's 'Fargo.'

But the overarching theme has a coincidental relevance: “It was always my intention to deconstruct the sentence, ‘this is a true story,’ " Hawley says.  “The movie starts with it, and every hour of the show starts with it, and it’s not true, it’s a lie. We start every episode by lying to our audience,” echoing what the “post-truth” world that our president has encouraged.

“Taking apart that idea became more zeitgeist than I intended,” he says. “A big part of what I do is to try to tell a story that feels like real life.  The twists can’t be movie twists, they have to have randomness and coincidence and non-sequiturs, the things you found in the movie Fargo that made you think, ‘Oh, that must have happened that way, or else why would they have put that in the movie?’ "

Here’s one thing that’s no coincidence: Because Season 3 is set just four years after the first, Hawley has teased the possibility that a character could return, just as a younger version of Season 1’s Lou Solverson showed up early in Season 2. And while Hawley remained cryptic, McGregor spilled, a little: Midway through, “somebody’s there, in a pretty big way.”

Contributing: Brian Truitt

Ewan McGregor loves his new, creepy-looking 'Fargo' character Ray Stussy

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