It’s one thing to take a Scottish brogue and turn it into a Minnesota accent that’s as flat as the prairies themselves — but it’s another trick altogether to transform one Scottish actor into two very different brothers from Minnesota. Yet that’s Ewan McGregor’s job assignment every week, thanks to a nifty bit of double casting that has him playing both Ray and Emmit Stussy in Season 3 of Fargo, which returns to FX April 19.
McGregor’s transformation into sad-sack parole officer Ray Stussy and his successful, “parking lot king” brother Emmit was led by Emmy Award-winning makeup artist Gail Kennedy. “Our goal was to not make either one of them look like Ewan McGregor — so I think we succeeded,” Kennedy says. “And I think the fans are going to hate me because neither one of them looks like Ewan McGregor.”
To become Emmit the parking lot king, Kennedy’s team’s job consists of not much more than applying a curly wig, brown contacts — and hoping the Spanx McGregor wears to transform his body into Emmit do their job. “The Emmit character,” Kennedy says, “I call it Ewan in his ‘glam makeup.’ He’s got more glam makeup on than the girls [in the show] — but it’s all done cosmetically. He’s got highlights and shadows and contour and he’s sculpted.” And it all takes less than an hour.
The story is more full-figured when it comes to doing parole officer brother Ray. It starts with choosing an eye color — which Kennedy kept wavering on. At first, she thought, Emmit should get the brown eyes, and Ray the blue. Then she changed her mind. Then finally, after meeting with McGregor, she went back to her original plan. “Ray is a more open character,” Kennedy says. “He wears his heart on his sleeve. And blue eyes are more innocent and open. Emmit is a more controlled and calculating character, and so Ewan and I both decided on brown eyes for Emmit.”
In order to morph into Ray, the paunchier, blue-eyed Stussy brother, McGregor undergoes a daily two-hour-plus ritual of adding padding, hairpieces and makeup to lose his movie star good looks and trade them in for something a little more humble. First come the prosthetics, made by Creative Character Engineering in LA; Kennedy and her team apply them to McGregor’s face to make it look fatter. “[They] look like chicken cutlets,” she says of the flesh-colored plastic strips, which vary in size. “It doesn’t take much to make a huge, but subtle, change,” Kennedy adds. “I don’t want people saying “great prosthetics.” I don’t even want them to notice that he has any on. I just want them to see Ray. You apply it very carefully, and somehow, it ends up looking like a double chin.”
Next up is the nose bridge, which makes Ray’s schnoz wider. (“For Emmit, I accentuate the straight and narrow,” notes Kennedy.) The final touch in McGregor’s facial transformation is tiny: “He has a chin piece that fills in his natural little adorable cleft chin,” Kennedy says. “[The prosthetics] look so small, but they’re so effective.”
Once Kennedy and her team have finished applying the prosthetics, McGregor slips across the trailer to the far end, where hair designer Chris Harrison-Glimsdale applies a top-of-the-line mullet wig. And yes, there is such a thing. “Wigs are super expensive,” explains Harrison-Glimsdale. He’s not joking: McGregor’s wigs about $5,000 apiece, while some of the other actors wear hairpieces that cost between $600 and $1000 each. “They’re hand tied. They take over two weeks [to make].” (We shudder to think how expensive the back hair wig Kennedy designed for Ray — which was ultimately scrapped — would have cost.)
McGregor gained three inches of real gut (think: fries with everything) to shoot Ray in the tub for episode one, but has since lost most of it. After he dropped the weight, the actor bulked up by wearing a fake gut that makes him look a bit like a backup NFL quarterback in a protective flak jacket. “We made Ray look round,” Kennedy says. “We filled out his cheeks optically, with makeup, and his chin is round — so everything about this character then becomes a little rounder.” The total effect of that transformation became apparent when a group of reporters visited the Fargo set in Calgary, on a snowy winter day in March. McGregor walked into the cook shack — dressed in jeans, cowboy boots, and sporting what appears to be an evolving beer gut — looking like every member of a television production crew who ever wanted to grab a quick cup of Joe.
The clothes come courtesy of costume designer Carol Case. She works on both of creator Noah Hawley’s series, so her palette ranges from the parkas, waitress uniforms and dad jeans of Fargo to the color-blocked, stylized track suits of Legion. It’s a range that helped when it came to designing the costumes for each Stussy sibling. “We try to keep this a very sleek silhouette for Emmit,” Case says.“And then for Ray, a very down-home [look]. We based him on country and western singers — untucked shirts, jeans, things like that. His padded prosthetics do make him different body-wise.” And that poses a challenge for Case when it comes to shopping for McGregor’s costumes. “We’re constantly going, ‘Which one am I buying it for?'”
And while each season of the show is set in a different year, there are always visual callbacks to various Coen Brothers films, Case says. “We start a lot from there so that’s usually a jumping off point,” she says. “This year, there’s a lot of The Big Lebowski, and things [like] A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis — because of the style of shooting.”
No matter what all the characters wear indoors, they all need to be fully armed against the Calgary cold — where temperatures can dip to -30 — when they step outside. “The coats are the biggest thing on this show,” Case says. “Early on, probably Season 1, both Noah and I went, you know, the key is going to be to come up with coats — for all our characters. And to keep those coats super-distinctive, because so much of our time is spent outside, you can’t just walk away from it. Everybody can’t be in a big black puffer jacket. They just can’t.”
Thank goodness, then, for a character like Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) — Ray’s gorgeous parolee girlfriend, whose multicolored fur coat definitely stands out in this Minnesota crowd. “She and I have had so much fun with lace stockings and colors – and all those fake fur coats,” says Case. “We do a lot of online shopping. I [also] buy a lot of Etsy stuff, if I’m looking for specific looks. It may come as a surprise to you, but Calgary is not a shopping mecca.”
Fargo Season 3 premieres Wednesday, April 19, at 10 p.m. on FX.
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