It's no secret that people are going to die on FX's Fargo (Tuesdays at 10 p.m.), but the way they're dying is getting more and more epic each week. This episode was the bloodiest — and most awesome — yet.
Spoiler alert: If you haven't watched Fargo Episode 6, "Buridan's Ass," do not keep reading.
Waking up strapped to one of his exercise machines, duct-taped within an inch of his life, it was the quietest Don Chumph (Glenn Howerton) had ever been, only managing some grunts and moans, a few tears and sighs of utter disbelief at the situation he was in. His partner-turned-captor Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) was cutting him out of their blackmail deal, and also using him as bait to distract the local police. Don made one last-ditch effort to save himself from the death rig by pulling the trigger of the gun Malvo had taped into his hands but, of course, Malvo hadn't loaded that gun: "That's OK. I'd be insulted if you didn't try."
Illustration by Jayme Perry.
What followed was a bloody opera of death that tops all the other deaths we've seen on the show so far (even Adam Goldberg as Mr. Numbers, who Malvo left in a pile of bloody snow shortly thereafter), but was it as dramatic on set? Howerton (who also stars on FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) walked us through how this role came about, the tricks of the murder rig trade, and how dying onsreen just about gave him a hernia.
That death was so epic — maybe the best of the series so far. Did you know this was Don Chumph's ultimate fate when you signed on for this?
One of the selling points when they approached me about this part was that I was going to have a really dynamic death scene, but they did not reveal to me what that would entail… It was great for me as an actor because when I was a kid I wanted to become a stuntman. That's what I wanted to do — I wanted to be the guy in the action movies that got shot, fell off of buildings and out of helicopters, and just died in a blaze of glory. That's all I ever wanted to do with my life. As I got older, I got more into the actual acting aspect of it, so anytime I have an opportunity to die spectacularly, I'm probably going to go for it.
So you knew? That makes it even better somehow.
Yeah, I had the inside track. I had been talking to the head of the network, John Landgraf, for a long time, and he knew that most of my background was actually in dramatic acting, which is weird now that I'm mostly known for comedy. He's like, "I'd love to get you on one of our dramas sometime," and I said, "Great, I'd love to do that — just let me know if something pops up that you feel like I'm right for." And of course he sticks me in a totally comedic role, but… [Laughs.] So I guess it was actually his idea. He approached Noah [Hawley, the showrunner] about me playing the role, and it turns out Noah is actually a Sunny fan, so he knew me and said he'd love to have someone with some comedic chops come in to play this role.
Well it makes more sense than seeing you on, say, Sons of Anarchy.
[Laughs.] Yeah it probably would've been weird to see me in a leather jacket, riding on a motorcycle. I think I might have to transition more slowly into dramatic work after doing Sunny for so many years. People might not be able to take me seriously in a leather jacket. [Laughs.]
The tan! This will sound racist, but it's only anti-awful spray tan-ist: You just know he's stupid based on the color of his skin. He's bright orange.
[Laughs.] Yeah! That was all Noah's idea — I wish I could take some credit for it, but I can't. The character actually had frosted blonde-ish hair in the script, and we did a big makeup and hair test for the character and it was unfortunate because I was shooting The Mindy Project at the same time, kind of going back and forth, so I couldn't dye my hair blonde. It really bummed me out because I really wanted to do that. So we took a look at the hairpiece things… Noah came in and looked at the whole thing and was like, "This is getting too wacky." Blonde frosted tips, super tan skin, track suits… but the goatee was my idea just because I wanted to do something different with my facial hair.
Is a goatee creepier than, say, a pencil-thin mustache?
I think my character Don really fancies himself kind of an L.A. guy. [Laughs.] I think everything you're seeing on this guy is really him trying to be really cool and hip. He's trying to have a tan even though it's freezing cold outside… he just tries very hard. He spends a lot of time coiffing himself, a lot of time on his look. Just a perfectly sculpted goatee kind of made sense to go on a guy like this.
So let's break it all down: What was Don's death scene really like to shoot?
The good and the bad of that is it was a very uncomfortable scene to shoot because I literally had to be duct-taped to this machine, and that's not the most comfortable rig to spend almost an entire day in. The good news is it helped me as an actor to be very uncomfortable – I should be very uncomfortable; the character is very uncomfortable.
So you really were duct-taped in?
I was really duct-taped. Eventually they rigged it a bit — they had a couple of cut points so they could scissor through the duct tape if we had a long lighting set-up. They'd scissor through the duct tape so I could get out of the rig, then when I'd get back in the rig, they'd make those points meet back up and put one extra duct-tape layer around it so you never saw any seams. But I definitely spent a good amount of time in that rig.
But good to know you weren't, like, peeing in a cup on set.
[Laughs.] Yeah, nothing that crazy, no.
It still sounds so uncomfortable.
But it was really fun for me! I really like doing more heightened things like that. Honestly, after I shot that scene, I thought, "F---, man, did I just give myself a hernia?" One side of my stomach was really hurting from sitting forward in that thing and literally screaming. I think it's one thing to be able to let out a full-blown scream; it's another thing when it's trying to come out, but it's stuffed back in by the duct tape. It was creating a tremendous amount of tension and pressure down in my… my diaphragm, I guess? Somewhere. I felt like I was going to explode. I was really concerned that I gave myself a hernia at one point — I was doing research like "What is a hernia?" "How do you know if you have a hernia?" [Laughs.] I was really trying to get into it!
Was that the worst almost-injury?
I came away with a couple of cuts and scrapes. Wearing that duct tape around my face and the back of my neck really f---ed up my skin a little bit, but it was all for the good of the show.
The sad thing is, you may never be able to grow a goatee again.
It makes me think of all those times when I was in my early 20s when I actually did wear a goatee because I thought it was cool. Oh God… oh boy…
Where do you think this death ranks among all the other Fargo deaths this season?
I actually don't know… I have not read a single script beyond my character's death. I don't want to know what's next because, as a fan, I'm really enjoying the show. So I don't know how the main characters die, if they do. The death of Martin Freeman's character's wife, Lester's wife, in the very beginning was amazing — it was executed so beautifully. But in terms of through Episode 6, my final episode, I don't know if anybody's death comes anywhere near what happens to me. It's just operatic.
And the thing that was cool, and what I really liked when I was reading the scripts, is you keep thinking it's going to happen, and you keep thinking it's going to happen, and it doesn't happen. And then it doesn't happen again. And again. Then when it does happen, you're like, "F---! That is crazy!" It's pretty spectacular. I think Noah did a really great job of building your expectations and constantly misleading you… you know this guy's going to die. You know the second he shows up: "This guy is f---ing dead meat." But it just takes so long… it's really beautifully composed in that way.
Fargo airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.