‘Fargo’ Postmortem: David Thewlis Explains Varga’s Eating Issue

David Thewlis as V.M. Varga in FX’s <i>Fargo</i>. (Photo: Chris Large/FX)
David Thewlis as V.M. Varga in FX’s Fargo. (Photo: Chris Large/FX)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the “The Narrow Escape Problem” episode of Fargo.

His character defines the word “enigmatic,” but this week’s Fargo episode finally gave us some pretty major reveals on David Thewlis’s V.M. Varga, including his living situation, his guiding philosophy, and even why his teeth are so gosh darn janky.

Yahoo TV chatted with British actor Thewlis about Varga’s newly revealed health problem, how far into his backstory the series will dive, and his hints about how there are some wild turns ahead for V.M. (including, maybe, what those initials stand for).

So, the eating situation with V.M. Varga — is it bulimia, or another medical condition?
The idea is bulimia in his life. He’s a man who is so ultimately in control of seemingly everything, and it’s therefore an expression of the one part of his existence that he’s not in control of, something that at times he loses control of… vulnerability. It’s not something I knew about when I first took the role. I’d only just read the [first] three episodes when I took the role. [Series creator Noah Hawley] called me and discussed this idea for Episode 4, and it explained something about the teeth as well. That was the idea from the beginning — that it could cause some of the tooth decay was part of it. It was always something we’d planned.

As you just said, we haven’t seen any other way that he is vulnerable. This could be the only opening Emmit and Sy are going to have to him being vulnerable to them.
We’ll have to see if we think it’s a vulnerability that can be taken advantage of. Because nobody knows about it.

And there are still a lot of things the audience doesn’t know about him. We do get to see his living arrangements though, that he’s living in this semi-truck he parked in the Stussy lot earlier in the season. Is it safe to assume from that that he’s not someone who’s concerned with putting down roots? It really seems like it’s all about, for him, going into a place, stripping it of what he can get out of it, and leaving. Is that accurate of what we can conclude about him?
Yes. In terms of what we might find out later… without sort of anticipating too much. That’s the general picture that’s been painted up to now. The speech he gives to Emmit in [this episode]… it’s definitely the accumulation of wealth, the hiding of it. Being anonymous and invisible, hence his appearance. We certainly understand by now that he’s someone who’s completely familiar with grand wealth. I’m talking about wealth, not money. He doesn’t need Emmit. Emmit is [only] rich, compared to what [Varga] has his eyes set on.

David Thewlis as V.M. Varga and Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy in FX’s <i>Fargo</i>. (Photo: Chris Large/FX)
David Thewlis as V.M. Varga and Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy in FX’s Fargo. (Photo: Chris Large/FX)

How much of what he says to Emmit in that speech is his personal philosophy, the way that he operates his own life? How much of it, if any, is what he’s saying only to try to manipulate Emmit into signing those partnership papers?
Oh, I think it’s 100 percent his own philosophy. I do very much. It’s something that recurs later on. Like I said, he’s so constantly in control. It’s funny, because me, as an actor, when I was learning the lines for Varga, we were blocking the scene, I found strength in knowing where to go in the room and how to learn the language. It works just because he knows. He knows how a scene will develop.

If you think of that scene with Emmit in the study, he reveals to Emmit by the end of the scene that he’s listening to him — that it’s a surveillance operation and that he knows all about his brother. He knows about the stamp. Now, I don’t think he factored into it when he turns up at the house that he’s going to reveal that information. He knows that this is the time to take the operation further. He’s going to feed Emmit with little scraps to show Emmit how absolutely threatened and vulnerable he is. Nothing seems to happen by accident with him. He never makes a slip of the tongue. He never says anything he doesn’t need to say, you know, never gives anything away he doesn’t want to give away. But I do think everything he is saying is honest, it’s not a scam. It’s not something he’s hiding. I think this is his modus operandi. This is his personal philosophy.

He clearly, as you just said, sees Emmit as vulnerable, probably weak is a word you could use as well. When they’re in the study and Emmit says he needs to call Sy, Varga says to him, “I thought you were the one in charge,” which is very effective in making him not call Sy. Is that why he also goes to Emmit’s house, to meet away from Sy, because he senses that Sy is a little smarter, a little tougher?
Yeah, certainly Sy is more suspicious, and less able to be manipulated. In episodes to come, we may see what it is about that, in terms of how he deals with Sy’s reluctance to throw himself into his whole concern. With Emmit, who’s been head of the company, Sy is a business partner and an advisor. But he’s not really the one who’s useful to Varga. There’s no getting to Emmit and disregarding Sy. He doesn’t need Sy to achieve his ends, so he goes directly to the man he needs. But Sy will be an issue for Varga later.

How deep will we continue to get into Varga’s backstory? Will we continue to find out piece by piece? Is there maybe a whole backstory episode? He’s a fascinating character, certainly. I think we all want to know as much about him as we can.
Yep. You certainly see a lot more of him in coming episodes. I think the part grows and becomes much more like a plague really, throughout the series, of overtaking people’s lives. In terms of a backstory… you’ll have to see. I’m not going to answer that. But, he’s not going to disappear.

Is there any chance that we find out what the V.M. stands for?
You’ll have to wait and see.

What’s the most fun thing about playing V.M. Varga? What do you find most interesting, most humorous?
Noah Hawley’s beautiful writing, really. The dialogue is just so rich and so unexpected and so beautiful to learn and interpret and perform. Without doubt, whenever I get the script, I just relish it. I get on with learning it straight away. As soon as I have the script in my hand, I’ll be up in my apartment room pacing up and down learning it, because it’s just such a lovely thing to do. It wasn’t a chore. I never played anyone who speaks like this. Because he speaks in riddles. Things come out of nowhere and will continue to do so. There’s some stuff coming up that’s just, “What the hell?! Where is he going with this now?”

So there are things that surprised even you, as you continued to get the scripts?
Oh yeah, definitely. Because I mean, like I said, I only read three episodes when I took the role. Things were constantly evolving every time I got new scripts. It was such a great experience getting the new scripts. I’ve never done episodic TV before. So for me, it was a really great experience. I could see how that could be a bad thing, if one signed up for a series and then your character starts running away from what you anticipated, if it weren’t really, for me, interesting, or your part kind of dwindled and got sidelined. Then, I guess, that could be problematic. For me, it’s just been one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever had.

So there may be more TV in your future?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s been an absolutely fantastic experience. It’s been long, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m still smiling.

Fargo airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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