PASADENA, Calif. – Billy Bob Thornton has seen some pretty wild and crazy things in his day, but wasn’t prepared for what he saw last November in Calgary.
The Oscar winner, in Alberta shooting the upcoming series based on the hit Coen brothers’ movie Fargo, was attending a CFL playoff game between Saskatchewan and Calgary.
“I gotta tell you something,” Thornton said Monday night at an event during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Those Roughrider fans are insane.”
He was expecting Canadian football fans “to be a little bit more reserved.” Instead, he was surrounded by folks “with no clothes on painted green and they had watermelons on their heads. They’re tailgating in sub-zero temperatures with no clothes on!”
The colder-than-usual winter has proven challenging for Arkansas native Thornton and other U.S.-born Fargo cast members. The 58-year-old actor stars along with Colin Hanks, Martin Freeman, Bob Odenkirk and Kate Walsh in the 10-episode, limited run drama, which is currently in production in Calgary.
“One night, it went down to 40 below and they wouldn’t allow us to work,” he says. “You figure if a Canadian says it’s too dangerous to go out there, it probably is too dangerous to go out.”
His career has taken him “all over Canada,” he says.
“I love Saskatoon, and I think Calgary seems more like the kind of people I grew up around more than any other place in Canada. I feel real comfortable there.”
One of three movies he has coming out this year, Cut Bank (co-starring Liam Hemsworth and John Malkovich), was shot in Edmonton. The other movies are The Judge, with Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall, and London Fields.
Thornton likes that the limited series means he’s through with Fargo after these 10 episodes and can easily return to features.
When executive producers Joel and Ethan Coen – who cast Thornton as the lead in their 2001 feature The Man Who Wasn’t There – approached him to be part of the TV version of Fargo, the actor jumped at the opportunity.
He praised series writer Noah Hawley for finding just the right voice for the series. “If you didn’t know the Coen brothers didn’t write it you would think that they did.”
Set in snowy North Dakota, the TV version of Fargo features different characters than the 1996 film. Freeman plays a down-on-his-luck insurance salesman whose life is changed when he meets Thornton’s character.
“When you see it, you’ll understand when I say there’s no real way I can describe my character,” says Thornton. The series “reveals things so slowly, so darkly humorous and in such a sinister way that there’s very little you could say. I put it to you this way – I’m the mysterious stranger from out of town.”