An interview with Bob Odenkirk
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Tell us a little about your character, Deputy Bill Oswalt.
He is a Police Deputy who gains some status as a result of an incident in the first episode. He’s put in charge, but he is truly an innocent who holds tightly to his innocence and doesn’t want to let it go. He holds onto it so closely that he actually becomes an impediment to the investigation.
What was it about the role, and the series, that attracted you to the project?
I had just come off Breaking Bad and, though it did have comedy in it, it was an incredibly dark show. I liked that my character in Fargo is an innocent. He’s a frustrated character but he’s a sweet guy and very goodhearted, to a fault sometimes. I liked the dynamic of playing this character after playing the Saul Goodman character.
How familiar were you with the world of Fargo before starting work on the TV series? Had seeing the 1996 film meant that you found it easier to immerse yourself in the world of Fargo?
I loved the Fargo movie, but I had the same feelings that anybody who’s a fan of any film has when they hear there is going to be a TV adaptation, which is “I hope they don’t ruin my memory of the film”. But straight away I was thrilled at the feeling I got from reading the script and knowing that Noah Hawley had made the most of this opportunity. He’d taken the great and very likeable vibe of the film, and the fun dynamic of evil mixed with innocence, and has made this really great script out of it. I could see by the time I got to page 8 of the script that I was totally sold on this being a great series.
Your character gains seniority over his younger, and arguably smarter, colleague Deputy Molly Solverson – how does that tension and relationship play out over the series?
Well there’s a lot of tension because Molly has a sense of what’s really happening here in this world and Bill not only doesn’t have a sense of it, his brain can’t expand to conceive of what’s going on and he’s a roadblock for her so she’s incredibly frustrated with him. And he’s frustrated with her because she keeps pushing him to see things in a new way and he just doesn’t want to do it. Bill has an emotional need to not see this crime in its true light. So there’s a lot of tension between them. But Bill becomes a very sympathetic character and I think Molly really feels sorry for him because he just has the hardest time seeing the crime for what it is.
Another of the characters you’ve played (and will play again later this year) is Breaking Bad’s lawyer Saul Goodman who was known for skirting along the wrong side of the law. How different is it playing a police officer enforcing the law in Fargo?
The two characters are very different and that’s one of the reasons I took this job in Fargo. I wanted to do something that was 180 degrees different to what I’d done on Breaking Bad. They’re both guys who want power however. Saul Goodman is the opposite of an innocent – he’s cunning and on top of every situation and nimble of mind and tongue, while Bill Oswalt is diametrically opposite to that. When I play Bill he’s all emotion and is led by those emotions but Saul is led by his plotting.
There’s a distinctly dark edge to Fargo and it’s populated by quite ambiguous (and occasionally very unambiguous) characters. The same could also be said of Breaking Bad. Do dramas that explore the darker side of humanity particularly appeal to you?
I think the two series actually differ in this respect. In Fargo, it’s like an oil and water mixture: you’re either in the world of pure evil or you’re in the world of pure innocence. Those two worlds keep colliding, but in a very black and white kind of way and they don’t mingle to form a grey area. Breaking Bad, however, is basically all grey area. I think this is what makes Fargo a lot of fun to watch.
Your career in television actually started behind the camera as a writer (for Saturday Night Live). Which do you prefer, acting or writing?
I like to do both, but I’m enjoying acting more at the moment. I’ve always loved performing and one of the reasons I left SNL was that I needed to perform and I wouldn’t get to do that if I stayed there as a writer. Acting has been incredibly rewarding; doing Breaking Bad, the film Nebraska and a great little movie called The Spectacular Now.
Finally, has your time in Fargo instilled in you a sense of “Minnesota Nice” that you’ll take with you?
Ha! We could use a little “Minnesota nice” here in Los Angeles definitely!