Kirsten Dunst has only dabbled in TV in the past. There was a recurring role on “ER” here, a TV movie like “The Devil’s Arithmetic” there; but nothing on the scope of committing to a starring role in a 10-episode limited series like FX’s “Fargo.”
So what drew the star of movies ranging from “Spider-Man” to “Melancholia” to the small screen? The vision of showrunner Noah Hawley, whose Emmy-winning first season proved that the idea of using the Coen brothers’ celebrated 1996 movie “Fargo” as inspiration for an anthology drama wasn’t as crazy as it sounded.
The new season is a prequel to the first and set in 1979. Dunst plays Peggy Blomquist, a small town hairdresser in the Midwest with Hollywood dreams, opposite an all-new cast including Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Jean Smart and Jesse Plemons. Variety spoke with Dunst about what drew her to the series, the differences between film and television and the unique relationship she shares with Plemons, who plays Peggy’s devoted husband, Ed.
How did you get involved with “Fargo”? Were you already a fan?
When I heard about the role, I watched the first season, which I hadn’t watched before. I was so impressed by the way it looked, the writing; it was such high-quality television. Then I read the first two episodes and I thought, “Wow, Peggy is gonna be a special role. Whatever trajectory she’s going on is going to be fun for me to play.” Then I met Noah (Hawley) and expressed how much I wanted to play the role. On the way home, he gave me the job. That was a pretty quick response on his end.
Did they come after you for the part or did you seek it out?
My agency is involved with the show and they called me. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do television, but since it was a miniseries I was all for it. I don’t think I’m ready to be committed to a series, especially if it did OK and went for four years and I couldn’t do whatever I want. That’s a little scary to me. I would do it in a few years maybe, I don’t know. I’m into the idea, but it also freaks me out a little bit.
It also must have helped to see all the acclaim “Fargo” got for season one.
I did feel like, even though I had nothing to do with the first season, I was so pumped when I was watching the Golden Globes and “Fargo” won (for best miniseries or movie). I was so surprised, not because it isn’t a great show, but just because “True Detective” was so the thing people talked about that year. It felt so cool to be going onto something they were so pumped on. It made (the creative team) all work harder instead of rest on their laurels.
When you met with Noah did he tell you about Peggy’s overall journey for the season?
No, not really. We talked a lot about Minnesota. My family has a farm that’s under the Homestead Act. It’s been in our family since the Swedes came over and settled. My mom’s cousin still lives there. I have roots in Minnesota. My boyfriend’s from Minnesota too, so I’ve been up there a bunch. It’s part of my history too, which I think made him respond to me for the role. I did do “Drop Dead Gorgeous” awhile ago, so I was familiar with the accent even though we were so much campier with that then, we wanted this to be more real.
So you didn’t know where the character would go?
After I got the role and I started working on the first two episodes, just so I could know my trajectory, I did talk to Noah and he kind of gave me the lay of the land as to where Peggy would end up. But they were just mapping it all out. We would get episodes — I guess while we were shooting one, we would get maybe two weeks in advance. There wasn’t much rewriting.
Were you able to keep in touch with Noah when he wasn’t on set?
Any time I needed him, I would call him. Any time, he was there for us. But it was a situation where he needed to be in L.A. writing or editing and all that. Jesse Plemons and I formed a really nice bond on the show. We’re still friends after the fact, and we became fast friends not only because we’re in pretty much every scene together but we were each other’s gauge. We’d run scenes the night before and everything. We had each other’s back.
What do you think of Peggy and Ed’s relationship? Is it a good marriage?
There was a scene that got taken out — Jesse and I and my previous fiance, who died in Vietnam, were at the butcher shop (where Ed works) and my fiance asked him, “If anything happens to me, take care of her.” That’s kind of the basis of what happens to them. It is a love story, they do love each other, but he does do things for her to a fault. There are certain episodes where they’re such a fun team, kind of like the very not cool Bonnie and Clyde. They have their moments where they’re having fun doing this together. They’re on a mission and I think she inspires him to think that they can get out of it together.
Other than not knowing the whole story, was there anything about the experience that surprised you?
In the first two weeks I shot pieces from three different episodes. I had three different directors in one day. That, I was very weirded out by. I had my journey, I had my bible of what I needed to do mapped out for myself, I have that. But then you bring new people in and they’re suggesting things, and it’s like, “No, I don’t think she would do it like that.” But the directors trusted me, they had to, because I’ve been playing her. Noah, to me, was our main director and he’s not around all the time. That’s usually how I pick my projects too; director-based. It was just different.
Another thing that will be new about being on TV is that you’ll have people asking you what happens on upcoming episodes. Have you thought about that yet?
I have not experienced this before so who knows, but it’s nice to be on something that takes awhile to roll out. My family will watch and everything; it’ll be more fun for all of them too. Movies are so short, this they can enjoy for awhile. It’s cool. I’m very proud of what I’ve done on the show. The actors I got to work with were stellar. I have a feeling all of our good vibes paid off. Hopefully.
“Fargo” airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on FX.