He’s made a career out of playing meek, nice-guy protagonists, but things changed for Martin Freeman when he took on the role of Lester Nygaard on FX’s “Fargo.” The latest Freeman character starts off like many of his others, but takes a decidedly dark turn early on.
Freeman is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for his role on “Fargo,” and for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for “Sherlock,” for which he’s been nominated before.
“I’m quite good on both shows,” the British actor jokes to TheWrap.
He’s up against co-stars in both categories, facing off against “Fargo” co-star Billy Bob Thornton and “Sherlock” co-star Benedict Cumerbatch in Leading, and “Fargo” co-star Colin Hanks in Supporting.
Currently on stage in “Richard III” on London’s West End, the actor got on the phone with TheWrap to talk about the inherent darkness of his “Fargo” character, who he’d like to see win the Emmy if he can’t, and what’s next for Sherlock.
Congratulations on your two nominations. How does it feel?
Thank you, it felt great. It was really lovely as it always is to be recognized for something that you’re proud of and I am very proud of both of those shows. I was really pleased.
Were you surprised?
Well yeah, pleasantly surprised. That’s a trick question isn’t it. [Laughs]. Pleasantly surprised given how many good shows and good people there are. Its unusual for me to be nominated twice, let’s put it that way.
I know it’s a bit like asking you to choose your favorite child, but does one of these mean more to you than the other?
No, I love both of the shows. I have a great loyalty to both of them. I have great pleasure in having done them. I would like to win them both, obviously. [Laughs]. I’m not expecting that, frankly. And I also have friends in each category.
Oh really? So what’s your favorite performance in each of your categories?
It’s hard to say. How do I choose between Benedict [Cumberbatch] and Billy Bob [Thornton]? They are both fantastic actors and both lovely men. I am going to stay out of that one but I will be happy if any three of us win. From my other category I would be very pleased if Colin Hanks wins.
On “Fargo,” Lester became less and less empathetic as the show went on and he had no redemption arc. Was it important to you that he ends up as the ultimate bad guy?
I always thought that was interesting. That was part of the reason I wanted to do it. Again, I always kind of think: What is a hero and what is a villain? I am never quite sure. It all depends on the angle of the shot or the angle that the writer wants to take that scene or that day. Obviously Lester was doing awful things and he starts off as doing a terrible thing in the spur of the moment, then proceeds to lie and cover up and lie and cover up until he gets dishonest and becomes a bit of a bastard by the end.
If you are playing a vocal bastard you’ll have to play him or her empathetically. Otherwise, people aren’t going to care. Either way, people were rooting for Lester to a certain degree even though they knew that he had to pay a price. That’s what my wife thought, she knew that he had to die at the end for there to be some justice.
Did you play him as an inherently dark person or do you think he could have gone on and lived a normal life if it weren’t for this one twist of fate?
I think if he hadn’t killed his wife early on in that spur of the moment thing, he might well have carried on a quite normal, very unhappy, very thwarted life. Like he had for the previous years. I think these things build up and up and up until there is nothing left to give. It is a very unlucky thing that he happens to have a hammer nearby. I don’t think he would have driven three miles out of his way in order to kill his wife. It was just right there, she was pushing the right buttons, and he had a hell of a day.
He wasn’t a criminal mastermind, I think he would have carried on shmucking around just sort of being pretty unhappy. I don’t think he would have turned to a life of crime, I don’t think he would have been very good at it. Although he did get better at it! He stops acting out of self defense because he is enjoying
A second season was recently announced. What do you think of that?
Good luck to them. I’ve spoken to Noah [Hawley] a bit about it, and from the sounds of it, it’s going to be great. It’s going to be a really, really interesting take on it. It’s going to have to be something quite different. They have gotten rid of a couple main characters. I trust Noah and I trust that it will be fantastic. Alas without me.
It’s a prequel and will take quite place quite a bit earlier than the events in the first season, but do you think you would come back to make an appearance if you were asked?
Oh, certainty if I was asked. I would read anything that Noah wrote all day long. I’d take anything he’d ask me to do quite seriously.
And you are doing Richard III on stage right now?
I am, in my dressing room as we speak. I am going for a company warm up soon and then I am going to get in costume.
What is it like to take a character like Richard III through his entire character arc over one night as opposed to playing someone like Lester over several weeks or months?
Well, that is the beauty of theater, really, because you get to do everything that films and TV do in months in one night. However, you rehearse for six weeks. When you are rehearsing a play you dig in and see what it’s about and who these people are. I love that it is sort of packed into two and a quarter hours of action and mayhem and murder and fun and all that. I like that we can do it over and over again every day. There is always something else in there. That’s the thing about good material. You will always find something else to play it, a different color, or a different nuance to bring to it. Even when you are doing it eight days a week for three months.
A few months ago you let it slip that there could be a one-off “Sherlock” special before a full season 4. Did you get in trouble for that or did it help speed things along? What’s the status now?
It didn’t help speed it on, no. We are planning to do it January, February, for a one-off Christmas special. But that just takes as long as it takes really. It’s aligned so we are all ready to do it. The hope is that it will be early next year. It has a chance of being the best thing yet. There is a one off and then we are going to do more after that.