PASADENA — "Fargo," the 1996 feature film that showed a whole new use for wood chippers, serves as the launching point for the new FX network limited series of the same name. Instead of William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and Frances McDormand, this foray into the offbeat world of snow-covered Middle America stars Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Colin Hanks.
Thornton plays a drifter who meets and changes the life of the small town insurance salesman played by Freeman. Most of Thornton's early acting jobs were in TV, but there came a time when the Oscar-winning actor was more intent on sticking with feature film roles — such as "Sling Blade" and "Love Actually."
TV changed his mind.
"The fact of the matter is, the entertainment business can pretend all they want, but the movie world has changed drastically, particularly in the last five or six years. And when I was coming up, if you went to television from film, it meant something was wrong. So you may as well as be on 'Hollywood Squares.' And now it's the opposite," Thornton says.
"Actors, especially my peers, the guys I came up with — Dennis Quaid, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Kevin Costner — the movies we were accustomed to doing, say, in the '80s and '90s into the early 2000s, they were the mid-level movies for studios and higher budget independent films.
"That's especially where I lived. That doesn't really exist anymore. The motion picture studios make big event movies, and they make broad comedies, and they make action movies and movies about where evidently vampires are all models."
Thornton became convinced the quality of TV programming had gotten very strong after he watched episodes of "The Wire," "Big Love," "Boardwalk Empire" and "Sopranos."
He also could have watched episodes of "Sherlock," starring his "Fargo" co-star Freeman.
The British actor was shooting the most recent season of the public television series based on the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — in which he plays Watson — when the script arrived for "Fargo."
"I read episode one and by the time I got to the scene with Lorne Malvo, I thought, 'I've got to do it.' There were not enough reasons not to do it," Freeman says.
"With this job, what kind of brought me to it, I have to be honest, wasn't the idea of making a 'Fargo' spinoff at all. Enjoy the movie as I do and enjoy the Coens as I do.
"It was because it could have been a terrible 'Fargo' spinoff. It could have used that as an inspiration, or I could have read the script and it's awful. It has to stand on its own, and I felt it did."
Hanks was drawn to playing Police Deputy Gus Grimly through one scene in the first episode. He's a fan of TV and found the scenes to be "really brave and incredibly interesting." He found the scene to be a unique way of introducing a character.
The cast is different but there are a lot of similarities between the new series and the much-heralded feature film from Joel and Ethan Coen.
Noah Hawley, executive producer of the TV show, says just like the movie, the series will deal with inability to communicate that was so important in the original film.
"It's a region that's presented in the movie as one where it's a much more stoic culture. People don't like to talk about their feelings. We've all listened to 'Prairie Home Companion,' so there is a language to it, a lot of sentences started and abandoned for other sentences. There's a sort of brokenness to the way that people communicate, which was just my approach in diving into the dialogue, was a lot of stopping and starting," Hawley says.
The 10-episode limited series also stars Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt, Kate Walsh, Glenn Howerton, Allison Tolman and Joey King.
"Fargo": 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, on FX.