One of the most highly anticipated parts of the upcoming season of Fargo is Ewan McGregor’s duel role as brothers Ray and Emmitt Stussy. The key point is, of course, that they are not twins. McGregor is practically unrecognizable as Ray, the younger brother whose often called a “loser,” sporting a receding hairline, a hefty dose of extra weight, and an outdated style. While McGregor did tell us that he put on some real weight to film a scene in the first episode where he’s shirtless, as the season wore on he ended up losing that and using padding, as well as a prosthetic double chin and a nose piece. When we spoke to McGregor on the Fargo set in Calgary back in March, he was in his Ray garb (which takes about 2 hours for him to get into), and one of my fellow journalists initially mistook him for a member of the crew. It wasn’t exactly how we all imagined meeting McGregor, but it was also a testament to the hair and makeup department’s success with that look. As executive producer Warren Littlefield told us, “I say it after I’ve seen the material in post: are we going to have to do chyron that says “Hey, this is Ewan McGregor too!” Because he’s unrecognizable.”
“The heart of the story is this grievance between these two brothers that happens in their youth when their father passes away,” McGregor told us. “And one brother sort of hoodwinks the other out of what turns out to be his fortune I suppose. But then again, you never really know if that’s true.” As Emmitt, the hoodwinker, becomes a successful businessman, Ray flounders in his life as a parole officer (“he watches men pissing in cups all day”). To help differentiate the two brothers even more, McGregor learned two different shades of Minnesota accents for them. But the most startling difference is in their looks of course, which helps inform the performances.
“I mean partly I just get ready and I just trust my instincts. Once I’m Ray and I’m saying Ray’s words, I feel like him, and with the Emmitt the same thing happens. I’m not trying to impose too much on it really. I mean vocally there’s a little different between them, and that’s it, and physically they’re very different. I wear this [gesturing to his current look] for Ray, and I wear Spanx for Emmitt. So they make me feel different, and their physicality is just bourn out of my instincts, when I started playing them [… for Ray] I wear cowboy boots, which I’m not used to wearing, so I walk about in cowboy boots and there’s something about the weight and the boots that helps with him. And he’s more lazy and slouchy and unhealthy, and Emmitt wears Spanx which keeps me all tight in, so I’m more upright I suppose. and he’s dressed in a nicer way, and he becomes more upright in a way, and together, I don’t know.”
And yes, we followed-up on the Spanx, which he explained: “Well the Spanx came out of because I was fat for Ray and I had to not be fat for Emmitt; I didn’t want them to be the same shape. So the Spanx started off being a way to compressed my Ray stomach, and then I just kept them because it feels like Emmitt now. We’re doing their next campaign I think, Spanx,” he joked.
On days when McGregor is playing both Emmitt and Ray, the preference is to start with Ray because his costuming takes longer. In addition to the prosthetics (which take around 90 minutes to apply by the head of the make-up department, Gail Kennedy), the application of the (super expensive) hand-sewn wig by hair department lead Chris Glimsdale takes another thirty. For the transformation into Emmitt, whose look is almost all cosmetic, it takes around 45 minutes total. But for McGregor, those days have their own challenges with portraying his two separate characters.
“There’s a handful of scenes where they’re in the same scene […] it gives me a bit of time to get my brain into the other character which is quite nice, to sit there in the makeup chair, and I’ve got a little 90 mins or whatever to start thinking about the other side. And also, I’ve done this two times before in a film called The Island, a Michael Bay film, and a film by Rodrigo Garcia called Last Days in the Desert where I play two character in scenes with each other. And both of those instances I had an actor to work with who played that side of the scene while I played this side of the scene, and I would swap. So I know that that works when you cut it together, it doesn’t really look like I’m acting with somebody, and that’s quite important.”