“Fargo’s” highly-anticipated fourth season was just one production caught in the crosshairs of the coronavirus pandemic that forced production shutdowns across the globe. With only nine of the 11 episodes produced, original plans for a spring launch (and 2020 Emmy eligibility) were scrapped quickly, but only a few months later cameras were back up for the final two episodes, John Landgraf, chairman of FX Network and FX Productions, said Wednesday.
Production on these final two episodes of the newest installment of Noah Hawley’s anthology series wrapped Sept. 8, with Landgraf praising Hawley for his attention to and care regarding the health and safety of his cast and crew during a virtual press conference for the network’s fall lineup.
Hawley, Landgraf revealed, sent a note to the cast and crew saying, “We’re all in this together,” meaning that it “not only matters what you do [in terms of] following the procedures when you’re at work but it matters what you do on the weekends” as well.
“Fargo” did something unprecedented for FX, which was shoot the final two episodes simultaneously, with two directors and two full A-units, Landgraf continued. Approximately 500 cast and crew members were working at the same time, he said, in order to wrap production as quickly as possible but also “maintain as much quarantine and isolation” as possible.
“It was definitely frustrating to stop when we stopped — because you feel like you’re on a roll,” said series star Chris Rock of the experience. “But honestly, the break allowed me … to recharge my battery, and I saw a couple of the episodes and was like, ‘OK let me work on my game.'”
Rock said the break “helped” him. “I don’t want the world to have COVID, but I think my last two [episodes] are my best.”
Executive producer Warren Littlefield added that the protocols for safety were a “40-page document” and they had International SOS as a consultant. “With every department of our crew and with our actors, we went through a training session of what it was going to be like,” he said. “We also knew we were kind of a tip of a spear.”
Although Littlefield noted that “Fargo” was one of few first productions resuming across the country, he added that he feels they “surprised a lot of people with our preparation” and that the cast always said they felt safe.
The longer time spent with the scripts has been good for the show, Hawley said, because “this show has a lot more moving pieces and a lot more nuance to it.” Had the show premiered in the spring as it was originally supposed to, it would have launched ahead of the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests. With themes of racial tension baked into the show, Rock admitted that although he found the scripts “pretty powerful” when he read them a year ago, “Are they more powerful now? Yeah,” he said, comparing it to how jokes he told years ago were said to be “so on.” That happens “when you’re in the right spot, and Noah’s in the right spot.”
“A long overdue conversation is taking place and this show would have been on point at any point when it was released because this conversation has been going on all through our history; it just so happens that the conversation is at the forefront right now,” Hawley explained. “And what I wanted to explore, thematically, [was] what it means to be an American, what it means to be on the outside of that experience and who gets to be on the inside of that experience — it’s never been more relevant.”
“Fargo’s” fourth season is the first new installment in three years, and this time it is set in 1950 Kansas City, when two criminal syndicates are jockeying to control an alternate economy and fighting for a piece of the American dream. The season kicks off with the heads of those syndicates (played by Rock and Jason Schwartzman) trading their youngest sons to each other, but tensions only continue to grow as the season goes on.
“The idea for a crime story where the bosses of both families trade sons as an insurance policy against betrayal was there in the genesis of the idea,” Hawley previously told Variety. “Later it became clear that this would give me a more intimate way to explore the idea of assimilation — not just of individuals into ‘society’ but of an outsider into a family. It would also tell us a lot about the men who took these children in — do they treat their enemy’s child fairly or with disdain? In the end, how the characters in this story treat children tells us everything about whether they are moral or immoral.”
While questions of morality are a thematic thread Hawley pulls through all seasons of “Fargo,” he admitted during the conference that “things become about connections to the larger universe [of the show], but that’s not the main goal; that’s secondary.”
“I would like to say that there is a master plan but there is no master plan,” Hawley continued, regarding the future of the show. “The brilliance of an anthology series and working with FX on an anthology series is every time I wrap a season I say that’s it. I don’t have another idea in my head and to FX’s credit…they never pressure me.”
Hawley mentioned having a novel he is still working on and noted that he doesn’t plan too far ahead for future seasons of the show because “each season feels like the definitive ‘Fargo’ as I go through it. It takes a while [to work out] because it’s not just one idea: It’s 100 ideas and a dozen characters.”
In addition to Rock and Schwartzman, “Fargo” stars E’myri Crutchfield, Jack Huston, Ben Whishaw, Glynn Turman and Jessie Buckley. The show is executive produced by Hawley, Littlefield, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, and comes from MGM Television and FX Prods.
“Fargo” Season 4 premieres Sept. 27 on FX.