It’s been 20 years since the Coen brothers spliced the docile frost and welcoming “You betcha” song of the Dakota-Minnesota dialect with kidnapping and murder, creating an American classic worthy of that overused term. In the time since, two television shows have sprung up (yes, two; we’ll get to that) and countless fans have found the film on home video, likely sparking their fixation with Fargo and the Coen brothers. If you’re one of those fans or someone who has been on board since the original, chances are fair to middling that you’ll consider watching the film in the near future to stoke your memories. But before you do that, why not take a closer look at our list of surprising facts about the film and the production.
The wood chipper became a piece of state pride
The infamous wood chipper is now on display at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center, and apparently they will provide you with a leg (fake, right?) and a bomber hat (frequently washed, right?) should you want to capture the memory of you re-living one of cinema’s goriest moments with a smile.
Bruce Campbell makes his way into the movie
Campbell played Ronald Reagan in the Fargo TV series, but he had a very brief and unofficial sorta cameo in the film, as well. In the above video, you can see footage from Campbell’s time on a regional soap opera from the late ’70s popping up on the TV in the cabin. Why the homage? Like his frequent collaborator Sam Raimi, Campbell was a friend from way back and had appeared in the little-seen Raimi film Crimewave, which the Coens co-wrote, and previously worked with the Coens on Hudsucker Proxy. He’d later have an uncredited role in Intolerable Cruelty — as a TV soap actor.
Norm Gunderson’s duck paintings were done by friends of the Coen brothers
The duck paintings seen at the Gunderson home were actually done by the Hautman brothers, a group of three brothers who paint wildlife and are friends of Joel and Ethan Cohen. All three of the Hautmans have won the annual Federal Duck Stamp contest, with Joseph walking off with the honors in 2015.
When Gaear Grimsrud takes off in his car to chase down the eyewitnesses to the highway patrolman murder, he says “Jävla fitta!” Which is Swedish for “f*cking c*nt!” Now you know Swedish curse words that you should never use.
None of the movie scenes were actually filmed within the Fargo city limits
The bar exterior in the beginning of the movie is located in Northeast Minneapolis, and due to an unusually warm winter, fake snow had to be created for some scenes.
There is an entire website dedicated to the question “were those girls really hookers?”
Why this website exists is a bit puzzling, but there’s been much debate over whether the girls picked up by Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud were actual prostitutes or just loose women. (Never mind that they are billed in the credits as “Hooker #1” and “Hooker #2.”) The Great Fargo Debate rages on…
Hooker #1 helped Francis McDormand with her accent
Larissa Kokernot, who played hooker #1 (or not a hooker #1), helped McDormand with her accent and mannerisms, which McDormand referred to as “Minnesota Nice.” This was Kokernot’s only professional acting role. She’s been married to screenwriter Karl Gajdusek since 2002. Melissa Peterman, who played “Hooker #2,” has worked steadily since Fargo, most prominently in the sitcom Reba and most recently on the ABC Family series Baby Daddy.
Fargo almost had a TV series 19 years ago
And the name of that series (drum roll)… Fargo. Yep, Bruce Paltrow and Robert Palm wrote a television pilot after the movie’s success in 1997. The 60-minute pilot, directed by Kathy Bates, made its way to TV in 2003 for about a nanosecond and revolved around Marge Gunderson (played by Edie Falco) investigating the murder of a pharmacist who was shot while helping a stranger jump start their car.
There is no welcoming Paul Bunyan statue in Brainerd
In the movie, we see the huge Paul Bunyan statue welcoming those to Brainerd from the south. In reality, that statue is located at Paul Bunyan Land, a park founded in 1950 in Baxter, Minnesota. Financial troubles almost led to the park’s closing in 2003, but it was kept open when a local family purchased it and moved its attractions six miles east — to Brainerd.
Jerry is named after a Minneapolis movie critic
Jerry’s last name, Lundegaard, is a nod to Bob Lundegaard, movie critic for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune from 1973 to 1986. His son, Erik Lundegaard, has carried on the family profession. In a 2006 essay for MSNBC, Erik remembered his father as a writer whose “critical tastes tended to reflect Joseph Pulitzer’s journalistic motto of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted — that is, he tended to like little-seen foreign films more than your typical Hollywood thump-o-rama,” tastes Erik suggest led to his early retirement.
The morning show Jean Lundegaard was watching was an actual Minnesota morning talk show
The morning talk show that Jean Lundegaard is watching just before her kidnapping was a Minnesota afternoon talk show that ran in the ’80s and early ’90s called Good Company. It was hosted by Sharon Anderson and Steve Edelman. Edelman would later go on to produce shows for the Food Network and other cable channels.
The film gives two subtle nods to Stanley Kubrick
The first is when Carl says he’s in town for “just a little of the ol’ in-and-out,” a reference to A Clockwork Orange. The second pays tribute to Full Metal Jacket, with the song “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” that plays on the radio when Carl and Gaear are driving into Minneapolis.
There was a rumor that Prince played a murder victim
What started as a joke among the Coen brothers later took on a life of its own with the false rumor that native Minnesotan Prince played the murder victim in the snowy field. The film’s credits poked fun at the joke, but the actual victim in the field was Fargo storyboard artist J. Todd Anderson.
The snow plow at the end of the movie wasn’t planned
That snow plow that drives by at the end wasn’t planned as there were signs all over asking motorists not to drive through because of filming. The snow plow driver just didn’t give a sh*t.
NOT a true story
The film’s opening credits state “THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” The film is actually loosely based on several real crimes.
In 1962, St. Paul attorney Eugene Thompson hired a hit man to kill his wife, who then hired a second guy to do the job. During the job, Mrs. Thompson was fatally wounded, but managed to flee to a neighbor’s house and ask for help, with everyone involved in the plot being arrested not long after.
In 1972, Virginia Piper was kidnapped and held for a $1 million ransom in $20 bills that was paid by her wealthy husband. Mrs. Piper was found alive and tied to a tree in a Duluth park. Here is where it gets even more messed up… her kidnappers were arrested five years later, convicted of the crime, but later acquitted after a re-trial with one of them then going on a five-person killing spree.
The Helle Crafts murder provided the Coens’ with their inspiration for the wood chipper scene. Helle Crafts was a flight attendant in the middle of a divorce with her husband in December of 1986 when she went missing from her Connecticut home. The police investigation led detectives to uncover documents that Mr. Crafts had purchased a large freezer, a new bed comforter, a chainsaw and rented a wood chipper following her disappearance. Forensic evidence later pointed to the fact that Mr. Craft used his chainsaw and wood chipper, but not for cutting firewood.