On Tuesday, Nov. 21, FX’s anthology series Fargo returns for its fifth season, and one of its most fascinating new characters is Sherriff Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm), who, in his first appearance, bluntly explains how a woman is expected to serve her husband. He’s there to chastise a man for beating his wife, but his definition of the law and gender equality feels troubling and dated.
Above the Line had the chance to speak with Hamm about what he knew of the Coen Brothers and their 1996 film, and what appealed to him about joining the show for its fifth season. He referenced the brutal weather during filming as a helpful way to tap into the darkness of his character, and how his character is defined not just by his attitudes, but how strictly he lives by them.
Above the Line: What was your relationship with Fargo, the film and the series, before coming on to the show?
Jon Hamm: Like pretty much everybody in our community, I really enjoyed the film. It was an unexpected treat to see that come out, especially as a follow-up to Blood Simple and Raising Arizona for the Coens. Obviously, those guys really had a sense of the story they were trying to tell. Like a lot of people, when I saw that they were adapting it for television, I thought, “Well, what are they going to do with this? And who has the balls to really take this on?” But when I saw what Noah Hawley and company had done with the first season, I thought, “Oh, they’re really on to something,” and they’ve only continued to prove that true over the course of the previous four seasons, including the fifth.
I was thrilled to be asked to be a part of it, and I knew that I was in very capable hands from a storytelling standpoint. I knew that the story would be tangentially related to the universe that they’ve created, but also have that ineffable quality that every season of Fargo has, which is dark sensibilities combined with very funny, absurd moments as well as the violence and all the other things that come with telling a story that has to do with organized crime. It’s also done in a very artistic, cinematic, and intellectual way, so I was very pleased to be a part of it.
ATL: The role of Roy is certainly interesting and meaty, but it’s also very dark. Do you have to get into a certain headspace to play that kind of part?
Hamm: It’s not difficult to get into a dark headspace when you’re living in Calgary in the winter. It’s very dark up there, and it’s also very cold. It felt very of the landscape, so to speak. It’s right there on the page. Yeah, his actions are devious and specific, and yet resonant for our times. A person that thinks that he is the law rather than that he is a representative to enforce the law is, I think, sadly more and more common in our current climate.
ATL: His first big chauvinistic monologue also sets the tone for what kind of character he is.
Hamm: He is as he says. When people tell you who they are, believe them.
ATL: This feels like somewhat of a departure from your past roles, even though you’ve played some semi-villainous parts. Do you think that it’s in line with what you’ve done before, or is it something new?
Hamm: I think everything that I do is something new. I hope not to be the kind of person that just regurgitates any kind of acting or roles or things like that. I try to come at every part that I get with a sense of trying to discover it along with the audience, so I think it’s something exciting and new and dangerous and fun, and vastly entertaining.
ATL: Were there any challenges you found in the role?
Hamm: See what I was saying above about the freezing cold temperatures in Calgary. I believe we shot a couple evenings where it was minus seven Fahrenheit. I don’t know what that translates into Celsius, but it’s double digits below zero in Celsius. It was very, very cold, and there’s not a lot of light during the day. So it’s a challenge, but it’s fun, and it’s why I, for one, got into this business, to go to interesting places and portray interesting people. I was excited by the challenge.
ATL: You have some fantastic costars like Juno Temple and Joe Keery. What was it like working with them, and were you familiar with them from other projects?
Hamm: Oh, for sure. I’m very familiar with almost everybody who I worked with on this, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, of course, and Dave Foley. So many familiar faces on the show and familiar faces doing things that you’re probably not so familiar seeing them do. I think that’s what Noah and his team are really adept at, getting incredible performances out of very talented people, but in a way that maybe you’re not so familiar with. It’s great to be on that list.
ATL: How does it feel to be part of an anthology series, where you’re coming in for just this one chapter and not likely to come back?
Hamm: It’s kind of a dream. You get to tell a complete story over the course of a season, and you don’t have to worry about where it’s going or what your responsibility is moving forward. It’s completed by the time that it’s finished, and then the universe moves on, and the story moves to another aspect of it. I think it’s pretty great what they’ve done. They’ve exploded this sense of mystery about who are these criminal masterminds behind the scenes, and they’ve taken several different angles on it. I hope they continue to do so. I remain a fan.
ATL: Audiences have recently seen you in Season Three of The Morning Show. There are some similarities between your characters. Do you think that they would get along, even though they’re from such separate worlds?
Hamm: Oh, I don’t think there are any similarities between those characters other than being antagonistic. Doubtful. I don’t think that their Venn diagrams necessarily intersect too much.
The fifth installment of FX’s Fargo premieres with two episodes on Tuesday, November 21 at 10pm ET/PT on FX, streaming the next day on Hulu. New episodes air every Tuesday.