Noah Hawley has worked magic in the past–successfully adapting a Coen brothers movie into an anthology series, bringing the X-Men’s Legion to vibrant, trippy life–but last night might have been his greatest trick: splitting Ewan McGregor in two. Fargo‘s season 3 premiere introduced us to the Stussy brothers, slightly older Emmit, who turned a collection of vintage stamps into a vast fortune and all that comes with it (see: the 8-feet-tall stuffed bear), and balding, porn-stached Ray, who rode his father’s red corvette into a life as a parole officer, spending his days watching con men piss into plastic cups.
Neither character looks like Ewan McGregor, which is a miracle all its own, but it was only for Ray that the Scottish actor had to apply more than prosthetics and wigs. For a premiere scene that required the younger Stussy to step out of a bathtub, Hawley asked McGregor to pack on the pounds the old-fashioned way.
“Ray…was always scripted as being balding and heavyset,” Hawley said by phone, a few days before Fargo: Year 3 premiered on FX. “That was going to the biggest transformation for Ewan, who is sort of a notorious athlete with a full head of hair. I had a dinner with him maybe three months before production and told him to stop working out and to start eating ice cream with every meal. He said he’d been waiting 20 years for a director to tell him that.”
A trip to the Fargo set taught us that it’s no minor enterprise turning McGregor into either brother (and, occasionally, from one brother to the other): ninety minutes in the makeup chair, prosthetics to add weight under the chin that can only be used once and wigs that cost around $5,000 a pop. But for Hawley, he needed the gap between Ray and Emmit to surpass the physical. The showrunner is more interested in how a man would carry himself at the top of the mountain, compared to the man holding that mountain on his shoulders.
“I think it’s interesting to look at the confidence level that they have. Emmit has never lost at anything. He’s a winner, and therefore he approaches the world with the expectation that he’s going to win,” Hawley said. “Ray, on the other hand, was the sort of younger, fatter brother who lives in his brother’s shadow…he was the guy who peaked in high school, and he never got the career he wanted. He’s someone who has a lot of power over very powerless people, but isn’t very well-respected by the world.”
Hawley pointed to an early scene that sees Ray attend a party at Emmit’s mansion, clearly uncomfortable among the high-class crowd and during the “five minutes” he’s allotted to speak with his own brother. “You can see it,” Hawley said, “how nervous he is around his brother. How clear it is that the power dynamic favors Emmit.”
It’s that power dynamic, Hawley said, underneath the botched robberies, flipped b-words and death-by-air-conditioners, that most strongly permeates Fargo‘s third chapter.
“If you have two brothers,” the showrunner continued, “and one of them is rich and one of them is not, there’s an element of class that you’re discussing whether you want to or not. This idea that Emmit Stussy, as a multimillionaire with a giant mansion, would seem to have more value to society, and treated with more respect by society than his younger brother who hasn’t amounted to much. But I think it’s important to look at people’s actual value against how they’re viewed.”