From “Cheers” to “Becker” to “CSI,” Ted Danson is no stranger to television. Neither is he a stranger to film, thanks to roles in “3 Men and a Baby,” “Made in America” and “Saving Private Ryan.”With “Fargo,” he’s trying something new — a project that’s a blend between film and TV.
“You get a real chance to do character work; you don’t have to do a 45-minute solve-the-crime kind of thing. You get 10 hours — that’s better than a feature,” he tells Zap2it of filming the 10-episode Season 2 in FX’s anthology series.
In “Fargo,” Danson plays Hank Larsson, a sheriff in the local police department who’s father of Cristin Milioti’s Betsy Solverson and grandfather to Molly (Allison Tolman’s character in Season 1). In the Season 2 premiere, it becomes clear he has a complicated yet friendly relationship with Patrick Wilson’s Lou Solverson, a state trooper who’s married to Betsy.
Danson has plenty of praise for his costars, as well as “Fargo” creator Noah Hawley. In this interview, he teases what new twists are ahead for Season 2, what’s appealing about filming a standalone season and what a weird twist in the season’s premiere episode means for what’s ahead.
Zap2it: Does an anthology show like “Fargo” feel different from doing other TV projects?
Ted Danson: You’re always looking for great words, really well-written, with a writer that just has got to do this. Then you have a shot at being in something that is authentic. And then you have the format, which is a 10-hour movie. You get a real chance to do character work; you don’t have to do a 45-minute solve-the-crime kind of thing. You get 10 hours — that’s better than a feature. So you’re getting really interesting writers, like Noah Hawley, showing up, which draws everyone else. You get great directors, Kirsten Dunst wants to be in it, Jesse Plemons, Patrick Wilson, and you get people who will do four months because it’s like doing a feature. They haven’t all of the sudden signed up for a five-year television gig; they’ve signed up for four months. It’s beautifully written, so the talent pool is all of the sudden opened up because of the format.
I watched the first episode at a screening in a theater recently, and it’s incredibly cinematic.
We were just knocked out. I should be refraining, I should be cool about all of this, but we watched it last night too, a handful of actors, and we were just hooting and hollering because it was so cinematic.
The color, the ’70s lenses, the music was so muscular, the way it was shot. Then you see something in the first 10 minutes that you can’t quite believe you’re seeing, and by the end of the episode you’ve almost forgotten about it because there have been so many left hand turns that you are so entertained.
Did you watch the first season when it aired?
I didn’t. I thought, “Why watch it? I love the movie. What are they going to do?” and all my kids and everyone went, “No! Watch it! You’ve got to watch it.” We started talking about doing this, and I devoured the first season in about two days and was just knocked out over how good it was: The acting, the story was just brilliant.
Everyone from Allison Tolman to Billy Bob Thornton made a huge impact in Season 1, so it was an interesting change of pace when Noah decided to keep some of the same characters for Season 2 but set it decades earlier with a completely new cast.
It’s a prequel. 1979. First season was 2013. Allison, who played Molly, she’s my 4-year-old granddaughter in this second year. You get to understand where she came from. Patrick Wilson is playing the same character as Keith Carradine. That’s the similarity. The rest of it just feels like you are in the ’70s with muscular cars and muscular rock and roll. It’s like, whoa.
Is it difficult to remove yourself after one season when hypothetically your character’s story could continue on?
No. You know what, I feel like I got to be in this amazing 10-hour movie. I’m very grateful, and I’m OK to move on, but so proud of “Fargo” the second season. I really am. I’m like, “Wow. This is really good.”
You keep referring to this season as “muscular,” from the music to the cars. How would you characterize it beyond that?
It’s families. Before it was individuals who got sucked into this violence and the mayhem and all that. This is three families. You have Molly’s family, which I’m a part of. That family is your sincere, genuine, hard-working, earnest [family]. Mayhem is all around us. I’m a World War II vet, [Patrick Wilson] is a Vietnam vet. We’re the real deal. We’re the cowboys who stand up against the bad guys kind of thing, even though we know we’ll probably lose. They’re kind of cowboy, quiet hero type of people. Patrick’s so good in this part.
Then you have at the center of that the two just misfits who unwittingly start this explosion by their narcissism and their innocence and their befuddledness, [Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons’ characters]. You have a local crime family that Jean Smart is the head of that are just vicious, mean, vicious people. Then you have the new, more calculated Fargo corporate crime — the big city corporate crime — and then you have this turf warfare with our two innocents in the middle. The other three families, we’re trying to save the innocents, trying to save the town, trying to deal with the craziness that comes upon us.
The premiere opens up with a tie-in to the Battle of Sioux Falls that we heard about from Molly’s dad in Season 1. Can you tease how that is relevant to Season 2, since we know that’s a connection?
There is something that pays off, absolutely, from the first sitting-on-the-porch season where Keith Carradine is talking to Molly. That absolutely pays off. The Reagan movie pays off in other ways.
Did you get to shoot with “Fargo’s” version of Ronald Reagan, Bruce Campbell?
[laughs] No, I was supposed to. I was supposed to be on guard detail that day. I do a lot of ocean advocacy stuff when I’m not acting, and I had to go to Cornell and give a speech. They were very sweet and allowed me not to be there, but otherwise I could have seen the beginning of the new frontier.
There’s a very bizarre moment in the premiere. Without spoiling it, is that thread of weirdness something that will continue through Season 2?
That was also the time in the ’70s where that was going on all the time. Pilots were seeing what we’re talking about — it was really prevalent. [Hawley] really takes — like Reagan [laughs]. How amazing that you open up with a Reagan film being shot in black-and-white for the first three-and-a-half minutes, and you’re going, “What?” That takes balls, and he pulls it off. He takes the ’70s and really just makes use of everything that was really, truly there in the ’70s. It’s not an added on kind of, “Oh let’s throw this in too.” No, this was the ’70s, including what we’re talking about.
“Fargo” Season 2 premieres Monday, Oct. 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.