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How FARGO Turns Ewan McGregor into Two Characters

How FARGO Turns Ewan McGregor into Two Characters

Last month we headed up to Calgary to visit the set of Fargo, to speak with the cast and crew while they were filming the third season of the hit FX series. And oh geez dontcha know they had a whole heckuva lot to share with us, so in the build up to next week’s premiere we’re bringing you the most interesting things we learned there. Today in the first part we’re looking at how one Ewan McGregor becomes two very different character.

The main cast of characters for this year’s Fargo is the smallest of the three seasons. In terms of total actors it’s even fewer than that, since Ewan McGregor is playing two major roles on the show: brothers (though not twins) Emmit and Ray Stussy. Professionally, Emmit is a hugely successful parking lot magnate, and Ray is a lowly parole officer. Emmit’s sharp suits show off both his wealth and how fit he is, whereas Ray’s ’70s aesthetic accents his bald head, portly belly, and low standing in the world. Yes, they might both be played by the same man, but they are very different from each other, and even physically different from McGregor himself.

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“Our goal was to not make either one of them look like Ewan McGregor,” said makeup department head Gail Kennedy. While Emmit definitely looks like he is related to Ewan, you’d walk by Ray on the street and never realize who it actually was… which made it strange to interview him while he was dressed like Ray.

The ensemble includes a Hulk Hogan-esque wig (but not a bald cap, McGregor is shaving his head for the show, which also helps with attaching Emmit’s wig), small prosthetic pieces that create a nose bridge and cover up his cleft chin, and a big veal cutlet-looking piece to give him a double chin, as well as a fat suit to create a beer belly. (McGregor did had to gain real weight for the first episode, since he is seen without his shirt on, which allowed him to eat anything he wanted for a few months.)

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Then there’s Emmit, who requires him to wear Spanx–at first to help hide his weight gain for Ray, though he continued to wear them as he lost weight while filming to help keep him in character–as well as a curly wig.

While it takes about two hours to turn McGregor Ray, 90 minutes for makeup and about 30 for hair, only half of that time is warranted to bring out his inner Emmit. Of course, sometimes the brothers are in the same scene, or McGregor has to play both parts in a single shooting day, which requires a quick change over. They prefer to start with Ray, since he takes longer and his transformation holds up the production longer, though making the switch in either direction is a lot quicker than starting from scratch.

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(You know what really holds up production? When you accidentally put his double chin prosthetic on upside down by accident, which happened one day.)

Besides helping the audience understand that these two brothers are very different people, the physical changes also help McGregor himself. He said that not only does he use the time in the makeup chair to get himself into the mind of either character, but that the different weight and body shape of the brothers helps him play each part. Each has his own way of moving, sitting, and standing that helps convey who he is personally and how he is different from the other. (As for how he makes the brothers similar, McGregor doesn’t think about that as much, saying he just trusts his instincts as an actor.)

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These physical differences even means that two different stand-in actors fill in the roles of Ray and Emmit when McGregor plays the other. So it takes two men to do both jobs McGregor is doing alone, a workload that requires him to be on set constantly.

We’re going to guess all that effort will pay off with the audience, though, since it works on set for the cast and crew. Gail Kennedy said when McGregor is Ray it’s all hugs and laughs, but that when he is Emmit she’s afraid of him. “I’m reserved on set, I approach him cautiously,” she said, even though she clarified that McGregor personally is wonderful to work with.

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Apparently, this is how most people on set treat the two brothers. McGregor explained that “everyone loves Ray,” the brother who “has soul,” whereas the successful Emmit, who he said is always trying to win at life, gets a much colder reception. Even Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Ray’s loving girlfriend, has trouble separating Ewan from the two parts. “I don’t know how to talk to him as Emmit,” she said.

If you’re wondering if McGregor feels differently about them, he says he doesn’t have more empathy for one over the other, and actually defended Emmit as maybe being a better person than he is given credit for. At the time we visited, though, the cast and crew still didn’t know how the story ended, so how anyone feels about Ray or Emmit by season’s end is up in the air.

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It’s a lot of time, energy, and money to make one Ewan McGregor into two Stussy brothers, but they’ve managed to do it so well that even the people making Fargo forget he’s the same man in either costume. That means it should be really easy for those of us just watching.

What do you think of Ewan McGregor playing two roles on the show? What surprised you most about how they are transforming him? Tell us in the comments below, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for more from our visit to the set as we get ready for the April 19th premiere of the new season.

Images: FX

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