CALGARY – None of the characters in the Coen brothers’ 1996 classic Fargo will make an appearance in the new TV series of the same name — with one exception.
“One of the central characters of this thing is the harsh winter,” said Keith Carradine, who plays cop-turned-coffee shop owner Lou Solverson.
“You don’t think of Fargo being a summertime place. It’s synonymous with brutal cold.”
The show was filmed in and around Calgary throughout the winter, when temperatures frequently dropped below -30 C. And yet the shooting went ahead, save for one dangerously cold day.
Carradine said the cold was a challenge and an inspiration.
“As an actor, you walk out the door and you feel that blast. It infuses what you do,” he said.
Allison Tolman plays Molly, Lou’s daughter and the smartest member of her town’s police force.
Having lived in Chigaco, Tolman said she’s no stranger to winter. But Calgary was something else.
“I’ve never been as cold as I was back in December, when we were shooting out by a frozen lake,” she said.
“You kind of leave your body.”
Executive producer Warren Littlefield said Fargo required a “frozen tundra” to stand in for Bemidji, Minn., where much of the story is set
He recalls scouting out locations last July in a rickety RV called “the Diplomat.” While driving east of Calgary, a sudden hail storm turned the brilliant green-yellow canola fields grey-white.
Littlefield, a former NBC executive, was convinced they’d found the right spot.
“I said, ‘Well, this is July. If you can accomplish this in July, imagine what it will be like in January.'”
Littlefield recalled a “spectacular day” shooting on a frozen lake northwest of Calgary, when it was -30 C with the wind chill.
“I think it was the most exciting day that I ever had in my life on a set shooting. The visuals of that world were sensational and we got everything accomplished and as we returned back to Calgary that night, we were just feeling triumphant,” he said.
“And yes, we killed a few people up there that day, but that was all in the script.”
But there was another day in December when it simply wasn’t safe for the cast and crew to be outside.
Littlefield’s first clue came when a stiff wind swept across the prairie, obliterating an orange traffic cone.
“I’ll never forget this visual,” he said.
“It literally shattered. It was so cold that the orange traffic cone just turned into confetti strips.”
When the warming bus wouldn’t start and the pipes in the portable washroom froze, Littlefield knew the shoot would have to be called off.
“I just said ‘this is not a safe environment,’ and it’s the only day that we haven’t been able to shoot,” he said.
“We finished up, broke for the holidays and came back and shot that sequence in January.”
At that point, temperatures were above freezing, “and it looked just as good,” Littlefield said.
While much of the desired look of Fargo was taken care of by Mother Nature, it needed to be bolstered in some scenes by fake snow.
On a shoot just outside downtown Calgary on a balmy March day, flakes with the consistency of shredded rice cakes were seen blowing around the set.
While the phoney snow looks good, actors said it’s a bother to work in.
“A pain in the ass,” deadpanned Martin Freeman, who plays Lester Nygaard, an unhappily married insurance salesman.
“It stays on your feet. It gets stuck in your shoes. But it’s a necessary pain in the ass. But it is marginally more comfortable than real snow,” he said.
Tolman said she’s not a fan either.
“It looks great, but it’s either so sticky that you can’t lift your feet up or instantaneously so slick that you can’t walk anywhere. It’s just deadly stuff and it’s super light and it doesn’t melt like real snow.”
She recalls “inhaling flake after flake” in one scene that involved her running and breathing heavily.
“It’s pretty disgusting stuff, but it looks good.”