‘Fargo’ Season 2: Ted Danson On Playing a ‘Cowboy Poet’

Ted Danson has played a wide range of roles in a TV career that spans “Cheers” to “CSI,” but he’s never been involved with a project quite like “Fargo.” FX’s Emmy-winning limited series returns for Season 2 on Oct. 12 and Danson joins an all-new cast as Sheriff Hank Larsson, the grandfather of season one’s fan favorite crime solver Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman).

Season two is a prequel, set in 1979, and Molly is just a little girl when her state trooper father Lou (Patrick Wilson) and Hank get wrapped up in an interstate crime war. Variety sat down with Danson at this summer’s Television Critics Assn. press tour, where he promised big twists and turns ahead, and praised showrunner Noah Hawley’s unpredictability as a storyteller.

How did get involved with “Fargo”? Did you watch the first season?
I did not watch the first season. I was told to by everybody — friends, family, my kids. I kept thinking, “I love the movie, why am I gonna do that?” Then right toward the end of shooting “CSI,” this came along as a possibility. I talked to Noah (Hawley) on the phone and then devoured the first season in about two days. It was like, “Dear lord, this is brilliant, this is on another level. Please let me be in it.”

How much did Noah tell you about character at the time?
Very little. I don’t know him that well so this is my perception of him, but it’s almost like he lets his words do the talking. He’s very cryptic, not withholding, but I think he called him a cowboy poet once.

And what can you say about the character now?
The facts are he’s a WWII vet. It takes place in 1979. His son-in-law is a state trooper. He’s a little bit saddened to see America has brought Vietnam home with them. I think you discover over this journey — he’s madly in love with his granddaughter, he lost his wife a little over a year ago — he’s not overwhelmed by the senselessness around him, the violence, but he’s saddened. So he tries to do something about it. But for me it’s just wonderful, he’s this guy who ends up standing up against the bad guys in this gunfight he can’t win. He’s an old-time quiet cowboy hero kind of guy.

Was it a big shift going from the final season of “CSI” to the second season of “Fargo”?
All actors are looking for the next play, the words. My new philosophy is walk into the room and find the most creative people and then ask very nicely if you can be part of whatever they’re doing. It really is about the writing. Along (“Fargo”) came and it was great. “CSI” is wonderful, but it’s not character-driven. There are definitely characters, and it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but it’s plot-driven. Your job is a different kind of job in a procedural. I found it, not difficult, but you could see smoke coming out of my ears trying to remember (the technical terms). It felt like a holiday in a way to go off and do “Fargo.” Minus the commute to Calgary.

Molly is just a young girl in this season but I think you can see flashes of the woman Allison Tolman played in your performance, as well as Patrick Wilson and Cristin Milioti as her parents. Did Noah talk to you about that?
Not really. I don’t want to toot his horn too loudly, Noah Hawley, but it is the kind of writing where it’s very thoughtful. If you follow the roadmap of the words — I don’t have to know any of what you’ve just said — I will be led there. Do the dialect, do the words, and you’re in for a great trip. He’s thought it out very carefully. The family that Molly comes from to create that character from last year is very real, you do see it, but we were led by the words.

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