Matt Shakman's name might sound familiar for several (very different) reasons. He has directed approximately one-third of the 107 episodes of FXX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, more than any other director on the show. That gig opened doors for him to helm comedies like Happy Endings, New Girl, and Childrens Hospital, as well as more high-profile dramas like The Good Wife and Mad Men (he was the man behind Season 5's very divisive "Mystery Date").
Fun fact: He was also the kid on Just the Ten of Us, one of ABC's TGIF series that ran for three seasons, from 1988-1990, after spinning off from mega-hit Growing Pains. Just the Ten of Us followed the Lubbock family, which was slightly Seaver-esque, but with several more daughters. That made Shakman's character J.R., the family's only son, kind of a mix between Mike (Kirk Cameron) and Ben Seaver (Jeremy Miller) for the Tiger Beat-swooning crowd.
Don't remember the show? This should refresh your memory:
But Shakman hasn't worked in front of the camera since and, much like his friend and peer in child acting Fred Savage, he's now amassed an impressive list of credits for his work directing TV, movies, and theater. "It's many lifetimes ago and not connected to the work I do now ... Maybe if I directed multi-cam shows or still acted, but I don't think of those days much anymore," Shakman told Yahoo TV.
This week, Shakman's name popped up on our radars for the latest dark and twisty turn his career has taken. Shakman directed the final two episodes of FX's critically-acclaimed Fargo, and without spoiling anything, we just have to say: He really knows how to capture brutal and bloody action!
So how did he get the gig? Turns out it was all thanks to the man behind Fargo's villainous henchman himself, Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton also stars in Shakman's latest feature film, Cut Bank, which will premiere at the LA Film Festival next week, and he recommended the director to the show's boss Noah Hawley and the Fargo powers that be.
"Getting a chance to work with Billy Bob twice in one year was incredibly lucky. He's absolutely brilliant, a gentleman, and one of the funniest guys I've ever met. If we hadn't done Cut Bank together, I never would have been a part of Fargo. I have him to thank for that."
While prepping to shoot the culmination of a season full of death and mystery and manhunting, Shakman said the word that kept cropping up was "tension," noting that "there was always a monster in the house... somewhere."
But he was able to have fun directing the show's two battling monsters, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) and Lorne Malvo (Thornton), who both had very new looks and lives in this week's Episode 9, titled "A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage."
"It was the chance to introduce a new Lester — a bolder, more confident guy than we had seen before," Shakman said. "A new house, a new wife, a new business. Everything is looking up — and yet he can't resist flaunting that new Bill Blass suit in Malvo's face and risking it all.
"There was also a new Malvo to introduce — a dentist in St. Louis, chatty, one of the boys, with a beautiful young fiancé and a whole new silver fox look. I borrowed a bit from my Mad Men experience for those opening scenes: a mid-century feeling in the production design, with wider, more static frames. I wanted there to be something slightly old-fashioned and safe about his St. Louis world. We even hunted all over Calgary to find a working old-fashioned dentist chair with the built-in porcelain sink. The viewer learns from this St. Louis side-story just how far Malvo will go to succeed. But in the end, he happily dispatches Burty-Burt and Jemma — Lester is the greater prize."
Shakman admitted to being a huge fan of thrillers, so all that tension was right in his wheelhouse, but he also loved directing the redeeming, good side of this bloody story with Molly (Allison Tolman) and Gus (Colin Hanks). "We got Molly's vindication by way of Pepper [Jordan Peele] and Budge [Keegan-Michael Key]. She and Gus are the heart and soul of the show and to see her finally get an 'atta-boy' is worthy of a loud cheer."
Speaking of Gus, his new mode of transportation had a Shakman connection as well: "There was strong overlap in the crew between my film and Fargo. Even the mail truck was the same — we found it in Ottawa, then drove it out to Edmonton. Bruce Dern drives it in my film and now Colin Hanks has inherited it in Fargo."
But if you're looking for juicy teases about the Fargo season finale, titled "Morton's Fork," you're out of luck. "I have nothing to tease about the finale because Noah would kill me," Shakman said.
FX has just released a few interesting stills from it though... get ready.
Fargo Season 1 finale airs Tuesday, June 17 at 10 p.m. on FX.