In ‘Fargo,’ Chris Rock plays a ver­sion of his grand­fa­ther

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY+ LIFE - Gary Levin

He plays a mob boss in 1950 as Sea­son 4 looks at the Amer­i­can im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Fargo” is head­ing out of the snow. h FX’s ac­claimed lim­ited se­ries re­turns for a fourth sea­son Sun­day (9 EDT/PDT; Mon­days on Hulu), its first since 2017. The lat­est chap­ter in the an­thol­ogy se­ries shifts the ac­tion back in time (to 1950) and to points be­low its North­ern Plains roots (Kansas City, Mis­souri) for a timely look at the role of im­mi­grants and war­ring crime bosses. Chris Rock stars as Loy Can­non, a mob boss bat­tling the Ital­ians – led by Josto Fadda (Ja­son Schwartz­man) – who, over three decades (as seen in an ex­tended pro­logue), mus­cled out the Ir­ish and Jews. To main­tain peace, the groups trade young chil­dren, and their ri­vals raise them.

The new sea­son lacks a sen­sa­tional mur­der in the open­ing scenes but fea­tures a nar­ra­tor, Ethel­rida Smutny (E’myri Crutch­field), the bira­cial daugh­ter of funeral home op­er­a­tors, who acts as the “moral cen­ter” of the sea­son, says cre­ator Noah Haw­ley.

The se­ries, based on Joel and Ethan Coen’s Os­car-win­ning 1996 film, shifted pro­duc­tion to Chicago from Cal­gary, Canada, but was side­lined by the coronaviru­s pan­demic, and only shot its fi­nal episodes last month. Rock, 55, and Haw­ley, 53, sat down with USA TODAY to talk about the new sea­son, how Rock ef­fec­tively came to play a ver­sion of his re­al­life mur­der­ous grand­fa­ther, and the iden­tity of this sea­son’s hero.

Ques­tion: What did you want to ex­plore go­ing into the new sea­son?

Noah Haw­ley: “Fargo” is al­ways a story about Amer­ica, on some level, and I like the idea of go­ing back in time to look at a very sem­i­nal pe­riod in Amer­i­can his­tory. I had this idea about crim­i­nal th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions, two fam­i­lies, where th­ese they two trade their youngest sons in or­der to keep the peace as an in­surance pol­icy. And I thought that was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing dy­namic. It cre­ated a lot of con­flict, but it also was a way to look at as­sim­i­la­tion and im­mi­gra­tion and this col­li­sion that took

Q: Since the Ir­ish fam­ily is named Mil­li­gan, was the seed of it planted with Bo­keem Wood­bine’s Mike Mil­li­gan in Sea­son 2, or was that just a ref­er­ence point?

Haw­ley: It was a ref­er­ence point. Bo­keem had one of the great per­for­mances in the last 10 years. And I just started to think ‘ Where did that guy come from?’ So some of the story is a re­ac­tion to that. Ben Whishaw plays an Ir­ish guy who was first traded to the He­brews and then traded to the Ital­ians, so you have this Ir­ish-Jewish-Ital­ian guy who’s rais­ing this African Amer­i­can kid. So it feels like that’s Amer­ica at it’s best.

Q: And Chris, you’ve been a long­time fan of the show?

Chris Rock: I was a long, long, long­time fan of the show. It was just the best show on tele­vi­sion. “Game of Thrones,” “At­lanta,” “Fargo.” ... “Fargo” is the hard­est one be­cause it starts over; it’s a new show ev­ery freakin’ year.

Q: So how did this come about?

Rock: He wanted a meet­ing, and, hon­estly, I didn’t even think he was call­ing me for “Fargo.” Half of my calls, peo­ple of­fer me act­ing roles, but the other half are like, ‘ Hey, can you do my kid’s bar mitz­vah,’ you know? But my agent had to make me go to the meet­ing.

Haw­ley: I came up with the story; there wasn’t a script, I was mak­ing (2019 film) “Lucy in the Sky,” and Chris came to the set, and I just pitched him. When I thought of this guy, I thought of Chris.

Rock: I think the day I went in – show­busi­ness prob­lems – I wasn’t nom­i­nated for an Emmy that day (for a Net­flix stand-up spe­cial), and then he of­fers me and I’m like ‘ Oh I’d much rather have this than an Emmy nom.’

Q: You’ve done dra­matic roles be­fore, but not a lot of them, so how was that ex­pe­ri­ence for you?

Rock: I mean, I like com­edy that’s rooted any­way. I love Steve Martin, but I’ve never been the wild and crazy, wacky guy. I kinda like to have a real bot­tom to any com­edy I do, any­way. The char­ac­ter works for me be­cause I’m ba­si­cally play­ing my grand­fa­ther. I was born in South Carolina, my par­ents were born in South Carolina, my grand­par­ents. So this guy is kinda the same age as my grand­fa­ther. My grand­fa­ther wasn’t a mob boss, but he was a preacher, he was a public fig­ure. My fa­ther had nine broth­ers, five sis­ters. Prob­a­bly 70% (of them were) in jail, so I’ve been around that stuff a lot. I sent my mother a pic­ture of my char­ac­ter with the hair and ev­ery­thing and she’s ready to cry. She said: ‘ You look like your grand­fa­ther.’

Q: Noah, you al­ways come up with the best char­ac­ter names. Josto Fadda, Ja­son’s char­ac­ter, is ob­vi­ously sub­ject to dis­crim­i­na­tion him­self but is racist. What’s this sea­son try­ing to say about im­mi­gra­tion, and how rel­e­vant is it to what’s go­ing on today?

Haw­ley: There’s a mo­ment in the script where our nar­ra­tor, 16-year-old Ethel­rida, says ‘If Amer­ica is a na­tion of im­mi­grants, how does one be­come Amer­i­can?’ I think it’s just im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that my grand­mother es­caped from Rus­sia with her fam­ily when she was 5. They had 10 kids run­ning through the woods and made it to the boat with nine of them. They came over, moved into Brook­lyn, and my grand­mother slept on two kitchen chairs pulled to­gether. Two weeks af­ter they got there, one of the ... kids was shot by a neigh­bor. You know, this was the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, and some­how they fig­ured out a way to put a roof over their head and money in their pock­ets.

And the next gen­er­a­tion was bet­ter off, and the next gen­er­a­tion was bet­ter off af­ter that, and we shouldn’t for­get that that’s what our coun­try is. What was ex­cit­ing to me about this idea of th­ese fam­i­lies that trade sons is how do you as­sim­i­late into that fam­ily? It’s not just some ab­stract thing; it’s a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause (Can­non’s) fam­ily ac­cepts this kid into their mitts, he eats with them at the ta­ble, but in (Fadda’s) fam­ily, this kid’s up in the at­tic; it’s very dif­fer­ent.

Q: How deeply does the Ethel­rida sto­ry­line in­ter­sect with the mob­sters’?

Haw­ley: She’s the moral cen­ter of the show. Ev­ery­one else is kind of a crim­i­nal. And if you look at the moral spec­trum of “Fargo,” the movie, where you’ve got Marge and she’s all good on the one end and Peter Stor­mare on the other who’s evil and Bill Macy in the mid­dle, like ‘Which way is he gonna go?’ Ethel­rida is def­i­nitely the moral cen­ter. We in­vest in Loy, ob­vi­ously, ... but as Chris said, he’s a crim­i­nal and he did agree to give up his son. There’s still part of him that’s cal­cu­lat­ing in a way that isn’t moral all the time. Part of it is for the au­di­ence to have that dis­cov­ery of ‘I’m root­ing for this guy, but maybe I shouldn’t be root­ing for this guy.’

Rock: My grand­fa­ther’s a preacher, but he also killed a man. My real grand­fa­ther. Preach­ers aren’t the most faith­ful of hus­bands. Peo­ple that aren’t faith­ful, peo­ple that cheat, get re­ally jeal­ous. He thought my grand­mother was sleep­ing with a guy next door and he threat­ened the guy – “if you take one more step in my yard, I’ll blow you away” – and the guy took one more step. I was a kid, so I’m gonna say this was in the early ’70s. I don’t know ex­actly what hap­pened, but I think it was man­slaugh­ter. (He served time.)

Q: Do you have an idea for a fifth sea­son?

Haw­ley: I don’t. I didn’t have an idea for a fourth sea­son that was three years later. What’s nice about FX is that if I say this is it, it’s it. If I call in a cou­ple years and go ‘Well, we could do this,’ they’ll be ex­cited to get that call. Rock: Noah’s the Larry David of FX. Haw­ley: There’s more and more pro­gram­ming ev­ery day. If I don’t have the delu­sion that this can be the best thing on TV, I don’t want to make it.

Q: So you’re not plan­ning any­thing, but you haven’t closed the door?

Haw­ley: Yeah, of course. I love mak­ing them. There’s noth­ing else that I write or make that feels like this, where you’re ex­plor­ing drama and com­edy and phi­los­o­phy and crime. It’s so rich in so many ways. Some­times there’s a UFO, some­times there’s a magic bowl­ing al­ley. There’s noth­ing else I can get away with where I can ground it but do all of that, so I love it.

Q: What do you most like about do­ing the show?

Rock: Do­ing this show is hard, man. A lot of in­tri­cate di­a­logue. It’s 11 episodes, so it’s like shoot­ing three movies at one time. It’s a real job. This is the hard­est show-business job I’ve had.

Sal­va­tore Es­pos­ito, left, plays Gae­tano Fadda and Ja­son Schwartz­man is his brother, Josto, as the fourth sea­son of the se­ries uses the story of ri­val mobs to ex­am­ine race and im­mi­gra­tion.

PHO­TOS BY EL­IZ­A­BETH MOR­RIS/FX

In play­ing mob boss Loy Can­non in FX’s “Fargo,” Chris Rock says he was chan­nel­ing his grand­fa­ther.

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