Interview: Keith Carradine talks ‘Fargo’ and a ‘Deadwood’ anniversary

04.23.14 4 years ago


CALGARY – If actors aren't monitoring when there shows are celebrating their 10th anniversaries, I've taken it upon myself to inform them.

Like in January, Method Man didn't know that the 10th anniversary of “Method & Red” is coming up this summer, but I told him. And now he knows! Assuming he remembers. Which he probably doesn't.

And in March, on the Calgary set of FX's “Fargo,” I told Keith Carradine about the 10th anniversary of “Deadwood.” He hadn't known, but he's more likely than Method Man to remember.

And yes, I place the 10th anniversaries of “Method & Red” and “Deadwood” on the same plane.

Playing Lou Solverson, father of Allison Tolman's Molly Solverson, Carradine is part of the soulful core of “Fargo.” Yes, there's a spiraling assortment of increasingly violent crimes, but there's also the relationship between a father, a former cop now living a safer life behind the counter of a diner, and the daughter who followed in her dad's footsteps, much to his chagrin.

It's a bond that hits home for Carradine, son of acting legend John Carradine, brother of Dave and Robert, father of Martha Plimpton. He knows what it's like to be part of a semi-reluctant professional lineage. 

In our interview, he talks about that personal tie to the material, as well as his relationship with relative newcomer Tolman. Carradine speculates on the point at which an actor becomes venerable and discusses his theory on the passing of time vis a vis the “Deadwood” anniversary.

It's a great chat.

Watch “Fargo” tonight on FX and check out the full Q&A below…

HitFix: So you're playing a former law-enforcement figure here.

Keith Carradine: Correct.

HitFix: Do you have any sense of how many law-enforcement figures you've played in your career?

Keith Carradine: [Chuckles.] Quite a few. Yeah, I've kind of run the gamut. No, I'm trying to remember, the first I think was when I played Trooper John Rule in – what the heck was it called? It was called “Kansas Gothic” and then it was called, gees I can't remember what they finally called it. But it was based on a true story. It was about the Lutheran minister who murdered his wife in Emporia Kansas. Oh, “Murder Ordained” was what they wound up calling it. So I think yeah, I think that was my first law enforcement role. So I've played a state trooper, I've played obviously Special Agent Lundy on “Dexter,” that's FBI. And here I was State Police in North Dakota. I think that might be it. 

HitFix: That's not so many at all!

Keith Carradine: I think all of my other associations with law enforcement I've been on the other side of the… Yeah. I've either been hunted by them or killing them. When I did “Chiefs”  that miniseries I did back in the '80s where I played Foxy Funderburke and it was a three-part miniseries, six hours, and that was a fun role. And he was this guy who basically was a serial killer and managed to kill every police chief in the community that even got close to getting onto what he was up to.

HitFix: But this guy here is comfortably on the side of right.

Keith Carradine: Yeah. Yes. Lou Solverson he's straight arrow.

HitFix: Now, it feels at least, I've only seen the pilot, as if there's an emotional core to the story that comes from the Lou/Molly relationship. Has that sort of continued to be the case going forward?

Keith Carradine: Yeah. I would say that there is, I think that that's her anchor. The most consistently normal thing in her life is her relationship with her dad. And the fact that he, as well as anyone might, he knows what her world is, what that is that she's doing because it's what he came from. And I worry for her, as my character is concerned for her having chosen this life, especially her being my little girl all grown up now and she's gone into this sometimes really dark world of law enforcement and particularly in this case, the story that unfolds here it's pretty grim. So I think she counts on her dad's consistency.

HitFix: Is that's something you sort of relate to personally, the sort of father not necessarily wanting the children to follow in the footsteps? I mean you come from a family where there are generations of people who do the same thing. Is it something you relate to?

Keith Carradine: Oh yeah. There are certainly parallels. Absolutely. But it's interesting, one of the wonderful things about the actor's life is that's what we have the opportunity to do; we bring all these aspects of ourselves and of our personal lives into the work that we do. We carry it with us, so sometimes it's intentional, sometimes it's subconscious, but certainly in this case I can well relate to, you know, the notion of the children going into the profession of the parent and the parent being not necessarily thrilled by that prospect having lived that life themselves and knowing firsthand what it entails and what the heartbreaks can be. So yeah, I could definitely relate to that. And I mean I have three children now who are variously involved in show business. My oldest daughter, Martha, obviously she's quite successful and having a wonderful life as an actor. My younger daughter has made some movies now and my son has worked in films and is writing and is a musician. And so I certainly worry for all of them about how tough this business can be on one's psyche. Now, it's funny because I know from my own point of view that my dad worried for all of us but…

HitFix: And yet you all did it anyway.

Keith Carradine: And yet we all did it anyway. And in a funny way I know that our having made that choice was a kind of a validation for him in terms of his own life. He warned us, you know, he did his best to try and say, “Try to think of something else to do, but if you can't think of something else to do here's my advice…” And he certainly spoke to the insecure nature of what this is. So there are certainly parallels now with Lou and Molly. I mean I can't imagine a more dangerous thing to do professionally and you just never know what's going to happen. And we make references in the story to Lou's having walked away after being shot and he thought, “OK, that's enough.” And now I'm watching my daughter plunge headlong into this life. And it worries me and at the same time I have to respect what she's chosen to do and support it. And I'm conflicted about it. I support it and at the same time I try to seduce her into maybe doing something else. “Why don't you come work with me at the restaurant?” you know. And it's just us. We haven't gotten deeply in detail into the backstory of when she lost her mother and when I lost my wife; we haven't really talked about that. But one gets the feeling that it's been a while and that the two of us have taken care of one another since.

HitFix: Well, how much of that backstory do you feel like you have in your mind even if it isn't actually in any of the scripts?

Keith Carradine: Well, I certainly have my own emotions about it. I think Lou carries a sense of, he's typically a North Dakota Nordic stoic. He doesn't talk about these things. He makes sort of fleeting mention of it. At one point I'm having a conversation with her and I'm telling her a story and Lou's fond of sort of allegorical advice. And I'm telling her a story about this memory I have of her and this look she had on her face and I make reference to the fact that, “It's the same look your mother used to get.” But apart from that we don't really dive deeply into that. I just know that Lou, there's a sense of loss in him about that. And I talked with Noah Hawley about these aspects of Lou's character and the fact that Lou still wears his wedding ring. He keeps it on. It's his way of saying, “Yeah he's done.” He's not cruising.

HitFix: Now you mentioned Noah and you've worked on a lot of TV shows and you worked on some obviously where it's going to be sort of writer by committee and you never know who the writer is. But Noah his name is on everything sort of like David Milch's fingerprints would be on every “Deadwood” episode. Does that make it easier for you as an actor knowing that one man is there and if you have questions…?

Keith Carradine: Well, it certainly enhances the clarity of things. It really is there's a singular point of view and I think it's distinctive and I think that makes a huge difference. And even Milch, while his name was on everything there was a team of writers who were a part of that process. That's not the case here. It's really all Noah. And obviously all of the creative elements, the production team and the network all have input and he consults with all of those elements as he's working, but it's his vision. And I find it really refreshingly consistent. One can't help but bring one's own personality into what one is doing, and it's certainly true of us actors and it's true of writers. And a different writer coming into this is going to bring his own sensibility and as hard as those different writers might try to adjust their style to fit the tone that's being set, there are going to be those variations. When you have one person doing it, as Noah is in this case, it makes it much more searingly clear, I think, in terms of the tone. It's very consistent and frankly my hat's off. I am so impressed with his ability to do this. He's a very special guy and he's done something extraordinary here, absolutely extraordinary. And it's kind of weird, man. He's kind of channeled Joel and Ethan [Coen]. It's like he got in side their brains and kind of, you know, and apparently they don't disagree. I mean they approve of what he's doing.

HitFix: Now, Allison is a relative newcomer and you're a relatively old veteran of this.

Keith Carradine: My God. I'm just this side of the venerable, what are you talking about? That was very tactful though. I appreciate it.

HitFix: What is the point at which one becomes venerable do you think?

Keith Carradine: I'm not sure. I'm not sure there's an actual age demarcation for if it has to do with the body of work or just a survivability, if you just last long enough. What can I say, man? I'm still here.

HitFix: I suspect you've achieved both the body of work and the surviving long enough down. But when you're sort of spending that much time with a younger actor and you're in sort of a father/daughter role, do you inevitably become sort of paternal off set as well to any degree?

Keith Carradine: I wouldn't say that I'm paternal in any professional way, and in terms of the work and the craft and one's approach to doing this, she doesn't need any advice for me. She's got it going on. And she is very accomplished and very mature for her years certainly. I mean she's a young woman, but she's got moxie as they used to say and the kid's really got it. But I do find that as we've had the chance to work together over these last few months that, you know, there is an inevitable kind of affection and it feels very paternal to me. It's nice. There's a warmth that I think colors what we do.

HitFix: Now, obviously most of your scenes are going to be with her, who else are you getting to work with or is it almost entirely…

Keith Carradine: It's certainly mostly has been Allison and Bob Odenkirk; we've worked together. I think I've got something with Martin coming up now and Billy Bob and I have a fairly fraught-filled encounter. Very subtle, but there will be a moment when he comes in to the diner. And it's extremely well-written. Noah is masterful at creating these scenes where there is so much tension and the audience is so put on the edge of their seats wondering what's going to come of this. And this scene that I'm going to do with Billy Bob is no exception. I mean it's going to be fun.

HitFix: And have you sort of gotten into any of the tenth anniversary of “Deadwood” discussion that's happening, because it's coming up in only a week?

Keith Carradine: Is that right? No, I hadn't

HitFix: HBO is marathoning it and everything…

Keith Carradine: Oh, I didn't know that. Listen, I've been up here working so when you're working you tend to not pay so much attention to the noise machine. But that's cool. That was an amazing experience and it was a wonderful role, albeit a brief one. But the characters impact was substantial.

HitFix: Does it seem like it's been ten years? Doesn't seem like it's ancient history? I'm never sure sorta a how recent anything like that feels like is.

Keith Carradine: Well, you know, I like to say my own personal philosophy about these things, I think time is elastic. There are moments in my life that are many, many years ago and yet I can conjure them as though it's a second ago. And there are other things that happened maybe last week that seem like ages ago. So it's all relative. It is surprising to think that “Deadwood” is now ten years ago. But when I think back over what's happened since then I think “Oh yeah right, that feels about right. It's about ten years.”

HitFix: You can sort of go through your list of credits.

Keith Carradine: Kind of. Yeah. But it does give one pause because I hadn't really thought about it. My gosh, 10 years? Okay!

“Fargo” airs Tuesday nights on FX.

Around The Web