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N.D. actor talks role in FX’s ‘Fargo’

Tom Musgrave

FARGO — Tom Musgrave wants you to come along on a visit to a place called “Fargo.”

Not that city in eastern North Dakota that Musgrave called home for a time. But a different Fargo. One that’s part of an off-kilter and far darker universe.

This is the “Fargo” of the Coen brothers’ imagining, one that captivated audiences worldwide with its juxtaposition of grisly murder and the polite provincial attitudes of rural Minnesotans in the 1996 movie of the same name.

That universe was reimagined in the highly anticipated FX series which premiered Tuesday. As in the movie, this “Fargo” is also more of an idea than a geographical location. Much of the series is set in Bemidji, Minn.

Musgrave, who grew up in Valley City, N.D., and graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead, got to help shape that universe, landing a recurring role as insurance salesman Bo Munk and working with an impressive ensemble cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton (“Sling Blade”), Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”), Oliver Platt (“Bored to Death”) and Allison Tolman (“Prison Break”).

Musgrave can only say he appeared in three episodes of the 10-episode season. Any more than that, he explains, and he might start giving away clues about its highly secretive ending.

“It was magical. It was the best thing ever,” he said of the experience. “The whole cast was just so kind and so giving. And that’s everybody, from the stars to the recurring characters. There was this nice family atmosphere.”

He also gave high marks to the showrunner, Noah Hawley, a longtime writer for the quirky crime drama “Bones,” and the rest of the show’s writing staff.

“With the scripts we had, we could just say the words and get out of the way,” Musgrave said.

The show builds off the tone and tenor of the Coen Brothers movie. In the show’s opening, the audience is immediately introduced to Thorton’s character, Lorne Malvo, driving at night. He swerves off the icy road after hitting a deer and crashes into the ditch. A man, clad only in boxer shorts, escapes the trunk and takes off running across a field. Malvo, in turn, seems only to care for the deer he hit.

The scene then cuts to the home of Lester Nygard, played by Martin Freeman, and his broken washing machine.

Welcome to “Fargo.”

Musgrave worked closely with Freeman for many of his scenes. Freeman can claim global superstar status for his leading role in “The Hobbit” movies and for co-starring alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in “Sherlock,” but Musgrave said he was “grounded” and a delight to work with.

“Martin’s fans are excited to hear his North Dakota accent,” Musgrave said. “He wasn’t afraid to use me as a resource. He looked at me on the first day of shooting and asked me, ‘What the heck is a hotdish?’”

Martin even poked fun at Musgrave’s upbeat demeanor and mustache for the role of Bo Munk, calling him “Ned Flanders.”

For fans of the “Fargo” movie (and dark humor in general), Musgrave said we can expect the same blend of “hard-working, bright-eyed Upper Midwesterners against a backdrop of murder and mayhem.”

The season is told as one long narrative block, a move many popular shows like “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones” use to build intrigue from episode to episode. That intrigue also reinforces Musgrave’s reluctance to speculate on a second season of “Fargo.”

“It’s all about money. I talked to Noah (Hawley) briefly about it, and he said he has ideas for a second season if it gets the green light. He’s definitely thinking about things and it might include a different town. Plus, we all have to wonder: Who’s going to survive the first season?”

Even if his future as Bo Munk is uncertain, Musgrave said the role has given his career a boost.

He will continue to act as a company member of The Road Theatre in north Hollywood, where he recently closed a world premiere of the play “The Different Shades of Hugh,” but is still trying to keep his focus on TV and film. And, casting agents are starting to pay a little more attention to him.

Watch “Fargo” at 9 p.m. Tuesdays, FX, Grand Forks Channel 56.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhea, and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit 

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