Arguably the biggest breakout character in this season of FX’s Fargo has been Hanzee Dent, the Gerhardt’s cold, menacing, and mysterious Native American strongman. His presence on the show has been a slow build. When he first speaks he explains, completely unfazed, how he had to cut someone’s ears off, then resumes not saying much at all. But now a character who began the season lurking in the background is the last man from the Gerhardt clan standing heading into the show’s season finale tonight. Along the way we’ve seen Hanzee — a name derived from the Lakota word aháŋzi (oh-hahn-zee), which translates to shade and shadow — eat raw rabbit gizzards like it ain’t no thing, be completely unimpressed by magic tricks in a flashback scene to his childhood, and, of course, kill his Gerhardt family sidekick/brother with a bullet to the head. And it’s made us wonder: Who is this guy and who’s the actor playing him so wonderfully?
Well, his name is Zahn McClarnon, who you may have seen previously on Longmire, where he’s been a series regular for four seasons as Officer Mathias. We spoke to McClarnon recently about the show, his career, the offbeat fictional world of Fargo creator Noah Hawley, and whether or not his character may be an alien, among other things.
I’m always curious to hear how actors who, shall we say aren’t so well known, land big parts in high profile movies or shows like you did with this one. How did you come to be cast in Fargo?
I was doing a play on the East Coast. I knew that they were looking for a Native American actor to play a part on the show, I had heard about it through the acting community, so I got my agent on it and was called to audition. I didn’t do a very good job in the first audition, to be honest. I kinda walked out of the room going, “Aw shit, I really screwed up that one.” But they did call me back and for that one they had sent me new material that had a bit more dialogue to play with. I did it once, and I looked at Noah (Hawley) and asked, “Do you want me to do it another way?” And he responded, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And I got the part.
Did you have any insight at all into the fact that the character you were auditioning for would be one of the standout characters on Fargo, a show with such a stellar cast? That he’d be one of the last men standing, sort of this season’s Lorne Malvo?
No, I had no idea. I had no idea where the storyline would go or where that character would go. They only had a couple of episodes written at that time, I believe. What I did know was that he was a Vietnam vet, and that it was the ’70s, and I know what Native Americans, people I know personally, went through in that area in the late ’70s — I grew up in that area: Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota — so I took all that stuff with me into it. Coincidentally, a friend of mine, Steve Reevis, played the American Indian character in Fargo the movie. He beat the crap out of that guy with a belt.
Yeah, what was the character’s name?
I’m blanking on it.
Yes! So that actor who played Shep Proudfoot in Fargo the movie is a friend of yours? That’s a wild coincidence.