It's a truth universally acknowledged that any actor in good standing must want to join the cast of Fargo.
"I think we're really attractive for actors to want to be in Fargo," executive producer Warren Littlefield tells EW. "There's a lot of people who normally wouldn't audition who will jump in, play with [casting director] Rachel Tenner, play with [show creator] Noah Hawley, and work it to the point where we go, 'You know what? Let's do this. We're enthusiastic about this.'"
It's easy to see why actors are jumping at the chance to put on their best Midwest accents. Over the last four seasons, the Emmy award-winning anthology series, which is loosely inspired by the Coen Brothers film of the same name, has taken home several trophies specifically for its impressive ensembles, which have historically featured actors like Ewan McGregor, Allison Tolman, Billy Bob Thornton, Chris Rock, and Kirsten Dunst.
The cast of its upcoming fifth season, which airs on FX starting Nov. 21, promises to be equally as star-studded as its predecessors, with Juno Temple, Jon Hamm, and Jennifer Jason Leigh at the forefront of Hawley's next great Midwest mystery. Ahead of its premiere later this year, Tenner and Littlefield pulled back the curtain on how they put together season 5's cast and the Fargo factor they look for throughout the audition process.
"When we're casting for Fargo, you want someone who has both comedic skills and dramatically that can hold up [and] has ballast and strength, but they need to be nimble," Littlefield adds. "Noah's dialogue really, really forces them to be nimble and understand that in the middle of that tragedy, there is comedy."
Michelle Faye/FX Juno Temple as Dorothy 'Dot' Lyon in 'Fargo'
The process for season 5 began shortly after Littlefield received Hawley's scripts in February 2022. "Then Rachel, and Noah, and myself, we just start dreaming," he explains. "You start with a dream and you say, 'Well, here's when it looks like we might make it, so let's start looking at availabilities,' and then you continue to adjust your dream. But I have to say we've been blessed; our Fargo casting in year 5, as we have with all of our seasons, we end up wonderfully with who we were meant to have, who it was supposed to be."
Tenner, Hawley, and Littlefield first focused their attention on finding the actors to play this season's core trio: mysterious housewife Dorothy "Dot" Lyon, her stern mother-in-law Lorraine Lyon, and domineering preacher and sheriff Roy Tillman. "Those were the first three that we approached," Tenner, who cast Fargo's previous four seasons, says. "I think we had to have these three settled to kind of understand what the landscape's going to look like, because some people are related to some of them."
Temple, known for her comedic turns in Ted Lasso as well as her grit in The Offer, quickly emerged as the obvious choice for Dot, a seemingly innocent woman whose past comes back to haunt her after she gets in trouble with local authorities. "Juno was definitely at the top of that group right away because she really embodies so much of what this character needs," Tenner recalls. "Like all of Fargo, she's so amazing at comedy, but she also can navigate the dark waters that Fargo explores every season. She was someone that was a pretty easy go-to when we started talking about it."
Alongside Temple, Hamm, who previously worked with Hawley on his 2019 film Lucy in the Sky, also fell naturally into place as the ruthless sheriff hot on Dot's heels, Roy Tillman. "Jon Hamm is Jon Hamm. Every actor should have a resume like that. I mean, remarkable," Littlefield says. "Dot needs a great adversary to tell this story and we felt that Jon could really sing from that hymnal, that he could be that North Dakota sheriff who really, really bought into an entire world philosophy, a rigidity, and he has an ax to grind and so he is such a critical pillar in Dot's story, the reveal of who she is, what is her past."
He calls Hamm's portrayal "wonderfully menacing" throughout the season. "We feel his muscle, his dramatic muscle," he says, "but he's also Jon Hamm, so you're like, 'Oh my god, did he do that?'"
Littlefield similarly recalls thinking it would be a "huge win" for the show if they could land Leigh, who has starred in the Coen Brothers' 1994 film The Hudsucker Proxy, as Dot's antagonistic mother-in-law and successful businesswoman Lorraine. "She steals a lot of scenes. Noah wrote great words for her," he adds. "She really, really enjoyed playing the character and she just loves it."
After securing their trio, they found their remaining key players through the audition process, including Stranger Things star Joe Keery, who plays Roy's hopeless son Gator Tillman. "Joe did the full process," Tenner says. "He taped, we worked with him, and we did a callback with Noah. He's someone that I was excited to see how he would navigate [Fargo]. We know he can do the comedy easily, but I know he can do the dark... if the season ends up going that way."
Michelle Faye/FX Jon Hamm as Roy Tillman in 'Fargo'
Both Tenner and Littlefield unanimously agreed that David Rhysdahl, who stars as Dot's well-meaning husband Wayne, absolutely crushed his audition. "That was one of those moments where someone just completely actualized what was in my brain," Tenner says. "Sometimes it just happens where it's exactly what you're thinking and that's always very exciting. That was a fun moment."
"When David Rhysdahl auditioned, he absolutely captured the Minnesota nice of Fargo. He's a car salesman; that is his character's job. You just looked at this audition and I know I said, 'I'd buy a car from him,'" Littlefield adds. "He was warm and delightful and so important, I think, to how we set up that family and what Dot is trying to hold onto, so he delivers that in wonderful, entertaining ways."
The audition process is also how they discovered Never Have I Ever star Richa Moorjani. Her character, deputy Indira Olmstead, is the "moral center of our story" as she attempts to solve the mystery of Dot's past, according to Littlefield. "Again, audition process," he remarks, "where an actress who I didn't know — and Rachel absolutely believed in — [auditioned] and we fell in love with her, what she brought to the character, and what she brings to our world."
Lamorne Morris, who plays Olmstead's partner Witt Farr, similarly came through the process and "delivered on every level of what we were demanding," according to Littlefield. So did Sam Spruell, who plays a mythological character simply named Ole Munch. "We looked at a lot of auditions and Sam had this power, menace, and this kind of otherworldly timeless quality," he notes. "And Sam is the sweetest person on the planet. He is such a gentle, loving soul, and that's not what he's playing."
"We're reminded that actors build characters from what's on the page and where they go to find all those places," he continues. "Every day we got to work with Sam was a treat for what he would bring and we still, to this day, [send] text messages to the Fargo family in the vernacular of Sam's character. It's all a tribute to Sam and what he's playing." (Yes, there's a Fargo group chat: "There's that and all kinds of splinter groups. It's Fargo, we are a family!")
Casting Dave Foley as Lorraine's right-hand man Danish Graves was a special moment for Littlefield, who previously brought him aboard the '90s sitcom NewsRadio. "I said to Dave, 'Every 25 years, we should definitely work together,'" he recalls. "It was wonderful to just be in Calgary and be reunited with someone who's so wonderfully gifted comedically but also really grounded and strong."
And in case you were wondering, the Midwestern accent is part of the audition. "We have them do a slight version of it. Something just to give us a sense of what it sounds like," Tenner explains. "At the end of the day, when they get booked, they get a dialect coach, but we have them do a slight one. It's not really the main focus of the audition whether they can nail it at that point because it's hard. It's not an easy accent to do."
Those casted are then invited to don their best winter coats and dive headfirst into the beauty and bloodshed of a new season of Fargo. "Essentially we say to the cast, 'Come spend the winter in Calgary with us,'" Littlefield says. "There's something that's very bonding about that. Everyone unites in that cold and I think it brings something special out in it. Everyone doesn't go home to their respective homes in LA — they're all kind of living and working together in Calgary. It's a wonderful experience [and] it adds to what we do."
Fargo premieres Nov. 21 on FX.