‘So, does it hold up?’: Fargo’s stars and co-creator on its 25th anniversary

At a Tribeca film festival event, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi and Joel Coen discussed the Oscar-winning small-town hit

It’s not just that snow blankets every scene of the Coen brothers’ early triumph Fargo; coldness has seeped into each scene’s DNA, informing their look and worldview. From the existential indignity of having to chip a rock-hard ice layer off your car’s windshield to the sartorial improvisations inspired by sub-zero temperatures, few capture that freezing essence with such totality of commitment.

And yet the film felt right at home in the warm summer breeze on Friday night, screened on Manhattan’s Pier 76 for a Tribeca film festival event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “homespun murder mystery”, as the famed needlepoint poster describes it.

The post-screening Q&A endeavored to cover the many, many things to love about Fargo, the first Coen brothers picture to earn unilateral masterpiece status. Press-averse director Joel Coen, his wife Frances McDormand, the movie’s star, and scene-stealer Steve Buscemi (introduced as “abused, from his face down to his last remaining foot!”) came together to shed new light on a critical and commercial hit pored over from college dorm rooms to the arthouse.

McDormand nodded to the slight absurdity of revisiting and reappraising something that never really waned in popularity early on, walking onstage and calling out to the audience, “So, does it hold up?” to a hearty round of laughs.

The assembled talent doesn’t share the devout cinephile’s annual-rewatch policy, however, made somewhat uncomfortable by the trip down memory lane. “You want to make something you’ve never seen before, and then when it’s finished, you realize you never really get to see it yourself,” Coen explained, with characteristic philosophical depth. He confessed to have “a hard time watching [his movies] without just seeing the flaws,” while McDormand had commemorative events such as these dead to rights as “depressing, but can be fun”.

She elaborated further: “It isn’t fair that we have to see ourselves so young sometimes.”

‘FARGO’ FILM STILLS - 1996No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features (415402f) Frances McDormand ‘FARGO’ FILM STILLS - 1996

Even so, the mood was anything but melancholic as the easy, candid discussion continued between three people with the comfortable rapport of old friends because they actually are. Coen recalled how production on Fargo was slow to get in gear, sitting in a desk while the brothers redirected attentions to their screwball homage The Hudsucker Proxy. “I remember you telling me about this during Barton Fink, and then you did another movie!” Buscemi said. “But OK, I’ll wait!” Riffing on the running joke that his character is “just kinda funny-lookin’”, the actor continued: “[Joel] said, ‘Your character is going to be a very good-looking guy.’ I don’t know what happened after that.”

The laughs were more plentiful than one might expect from a talk with the laconic Coen, the reputedly difficult interview subject open and generous. With a mild chuckle, he recalled their shooting season having an unusually small snowfall, to the point where they had to “go farther and farther north, chasing the snow”.

The star of the show may have been the character of Marge herself, an outlier in every way. Matronly but firm, hyper-competent at work and dutiful to her husband, the small-town cop immortalized McDormand and brought the actor her first Oscar. “I really wanted her to be good at her job,” McDormand said with pride. The audience learned that her pregnant-policing uniform didn’t really exist and had to be designed from scratch, though female officers started to request the modified garments once the film came out. Margie’s every singsong “yah” was scripted, in a sort of “music” composed right on the page. The most surprising revelation of all: that Marge’s sojourn into Minneapolis wasn’t always motivated by a meetup with human disaster Mike Yanagita.

“Is it outing you to ask you to tell them the scene I read first?” McDormand asked of Coen. “Her friend invited her to a right-to-life protest!” Marge as sign-waving conservative – what a different film that would be.

25th Anniversary “Fargo” Reunion - 2021 Tribeca FestivalNEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 18: Joel Coen, Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi speak at the 25th Anniversary “Fargo” reunion during the 2021 Tribeca Festival at Pier 76 on June 18, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

Buscemi relished the chance to portray the squirrelly, volatile crook Carl Showalter, a figure that came together only once the actor got dressed. “When [costume designer Mary Zophres] put me in those clothes and I looked in the mirror, I suddenly understood who this guy is,” he recalled. “It’s the polyester sweaters.”

He also relayed a surreal anecdote wherein he and co-star Peter Stormare got pulled over driving, shortly after a scene in which that very situation ended with their characters murdering the policeman. “I looked at Peter and he looked at me. Like, is this a trap?” They managed to talk their way out of a ticket. The group shared some other tidbits of rural life during the shoot, informing everyone that the town where the crew rented the infamous wood chipper annually drags it through the streets for their Fourth of July parade.

McDormand looked back on the towering, creepy Paul Bunyan statue constructed for the film: “We realized people were bringing their kids out before bed to look at the statue. That’s how little there is to do in North Dakota.” Coen jumped in to add, “We thought seriously about starting a new religion.”

Of course, they did, perhaps without realizing it. For the legions of fans who express dissent with “I may not agree 100% with your police work there, Lou,” the film is a religion, a spirit of devout fandom evident as Coen, McDormand and Buscemi were mobbed like rock stars upon stepping off the stage. After 25 years, the adulation for this film has only grown stronger while the niggling criticisms have died down. To paraphrase sad, single Mike Yanagita – if you’re a film a quarter-century old, yah, you could do a lot worse.

Contributor

Charles Bramesco

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Fargo review – Coen brothers’ snowbound noir is still a work of gleaming brilliance
The Coens’ rereleased thriller about a pregnant police chief investigating a bungled kidnapping is a noir without cynicism; a macabre black comedy with purity at its core

Peter Bradshaw

10, Jun, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Frances McDormand’s 10 best performances – ranked!
Shortly to be seen on our screens in Women Talking, the actor is enjoying a fruitful – and Oscar-hauling – career third act, creating work that is empathic, political, and often doesn’t look like acting at all

Andrew Pulver

26, Jan, 2023 @12:18 PM

Article image
Quentin Tarantino remembers Reservoir Dogs: 'I counted the walkouts'
Director tells Tribeca Festival first public screening of his debut was ‘a fucking disaster’ but revels in memory of dancing when Harvey Keitel came onboard

Rob LeDonne

29, Apr, 2017 @4:18 PM

Article image
Coen brothers reunite for Fargo-like spy movie

Working Title, Britain's most successful film company, is to renew its working relationship with the Coen brothers.

Charlotte Higgins

23, May, 2007 @9:13 AM

Article image
Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand to star in Joel Coen's Macbeth
The Oscar winners are set to take on roles in a new adaptation of the William Shakespeare tragedy

Guardian staff

28, Mar, 2019 @6:51 PM

Article image
LA riots on film: the projects marking the 25th anniversary of an uprising
Film-makers, including Spike Lee, John Ridley and John Singleton, have created work that remembers the disturbances from different angles

Lanre Bakare in Los Angeles

21, Apr, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
Steve Buscemi: ‘In some ways I feel I haven’t fulfilled my true potential'
From firefighter and bar fly to Hollywood superstar, Steve Buscemi has populated his films with lovable oddballs and cold-blooded killers. But, as Aaron Hicklin finds, it’s all been driven by his need to fit in

Aaron Hicklin

17, Sep, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Frances McDormand: two defining roles, two decades apart
Her reaction to an Oscar for Fargo suggested a complex attitude towards fame. With Three Billboards, it will be tested again

Mark Lawson

17, Feb, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
Who is the best Oscar-winning lead actress of all time?
Elizabeth Taylor? Meryl Streep? Frances McDormand? Our chief critic picks a winner from his five nominees – and reveals who you chose as your champion

Peter Bradshaw

14, Feb, 2018 @1:00 PM

Interview with Frances McDormand

She played a pregnant cop in Fargo and won an Oscar. Now she's back as a funny, fretful rock mum in Almost Famous. Michael Ellison takes pancakes with Frances McDormand

26, Jan, 2001 @12:06 PM