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Given that one of the major underlying themes of the new season of Fargo is transformation, it’s fitting that star Juno Temple had plenty of help morphing into Dorothy Lyon in Calgary this year.
For those familiar with the English actress’s work on shows such as Ted Lasso, her turn as the seemingly wholesome midwestern housewife turned fierce protector in the Emmy-winning Calgary-shot series is impressive. Temple adopts a Minnesota accent and shows vulnerability and strength in a funny, poignant performance.
But the transformation required more than just acting skill. It took a village.
“I absolutely love working with hair and makeup and costume and creating somebody,” said Temple earlier this year when Postmedia was invited to the Calgary Film Centre to visit the set of Fargo. “They zip you into the skin in the morning.”
This is not a novel concept on a TV series, of course. But while the exacting standards of the Fargo universe may originate with creator Noah Hawley, the series has maintained a group of Calgary crew and department heads to realize them in terms of hair, makeup, costume and production design. Some started way back in 2013 when Calgary was chosen over Manitoba as the home of the anthology series. Production moved to Chicago for Season 4 with Chris Rock, which was reportedly because the Windy City was better suited to sub in for Kansas City circa the 1950s.
But Hawley has long said that Calgary is the true home of Fargo. When talking to the press in March, he said Calgary’s reputation has only improved since production was last in town to shoot Season 3. In that time, the province has hosted several massive projects, including Jason Reitman’s feature film Ghostbusters: Afterlife and HBO’s big-budgeted series, The Last of Us.
“Calgary has really transformed since the last time we were here six years ago to a big production hub,” Hawley said. “It’s great to have the whole crew back.”
That includes several familiar names from the local film and television industry. Producer Lesley Cowan, production designer Trevor Smith, costume designer Carol Case, hair department head Chris Glimsdale and makeup department head Gail Kennedy are among the top talents who have put their stamp on the acclaimed series, not to mention the crew members who work with them.
“We’re all really nomads, we go from show to show to show and there are so many people who don’t get to live with a long-running series and the value of that,” said executive producer Steve Stark. “We have about 250 people on the crew, sometimes 350, 400 with multiple units. But there are 94 people from Canada who have been with us from the beginning. That’s over a third of the people. That family is one of the reasons we love being here.”
“It’s just wonderful to return here. It feels so much of the part of the world we were able to bring to life,” said executive producer Warren Littlefield
Littlefield was among the TV executives and producers who took a tour of small-town Alberta back in July 2013. At the time, the province competed with Manitoba to land the highly-anticipated reimagining of the Coen brothers’ 1996 classic violent dark comedy. Since many Calgarians were displaced due to the 2013 floods, luxury rental RVs were in high demand. So this crew was whisked from town to town in a late-1980s model with a dodgy clutch that then-producer Chad Oakes had borrowed from a friend-of-a-friend. It was a sweltering day and, at that time of the year, rural Alberta was covered in lush fields of green and canola yellow. This, of course, looked nothing like the bleak wintery hellscape that Fargo was known for. Luckily, at one point in the trip, the executives were treated to one of the province’s infamously violent hailstorms outside of Strathmore. Whether this sealed the deal is uncertain, but eight months later Calgary was proclaimed the home base for Hawley’s vision. For four seasons – stretching back 10 years – the city and several Alberta small towns have been used to capture that distinct Fargo vibe, which Joel Coen once described as “Siberia with family restaurants.”
The action returns to Minnesota and North Dakota for Season 5, which also stars Jon Hamm, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joe Keery and Dave Foley. It was shot in 2022 and 2023 in numerous locations around the city but also in Didsbury, Priddis, High River, Stavely, Nanton, Beiseker and private ranch land outside of Calgary.
But much of the magic this season occurred within the soundstages of the Calgary Film Centre in the city’s southeast. In March, production designer Trevor Smith took media on a tour of a number of key set pieces. That included the suburban Minnesota house where Dot and her loving husband Wayne live, which becomes an unlikely spot for some unsettling violence in the first episode. The centre also houses the interior of the rural home of Hamm’s violent, misogynistic Sheriff Roy Tillman, a menacing remnant of Dot’s past who initiates the campaign of terror against her.
For Dot’s house, the production design team had to find the perfect spot in Calgary for the exterior of a house that would be painstakingly matched inside the sound stages. Production took over a vacant lot in a Calgary neighbourhood and began an eight-week build.
“We really thought it was important to make sure the exterior of the house was enmeshed in a neighbourhood of trees, it’s part of the community, part of the neighbourhood, that it’s not a fresh build of some orphan thing somewhere,” said Smith, who also worked on the first instalment of Fargo. “I tasked the scouts last summer with finding a vacant lot in a well-developed heritage neighbourhood that has a sense of community and home and lush, big trees. That’s a specific ask for our locations department.”
Part of the success of Fargo – its first four seasons have garnered more than 50 Emmy nominations and six wins – is the devotion to Hawley’s brilliant vision that has been maintained since the first season. “People have been forged in the fire of Fargo,” said executive producer Kim Todd. “It’s not an easy show, it’s a challenging show. The people who come back love the challenge.”
“The metaphor I use is ‘OK, we’re going to walk right up to the edge of the cliff and hang our toes over it,” Todd said. “We’re just not going to fall in, we’re going to go to the edge of our ability, the edge of our resources – the time and money we’ve got – to execute these scripts excellently. Every member of the crew bought into that and if they didn’t, they didn’t last the first two episodes. That was the army we had to be to get the show made.”
Given that the series was usually shot in wintry months, that included braving some nasty climes. This, of course, is old hat for Alberta crews, but over the years the stars of the series have not always been fans of the cold. In the first season, production was shut down when temperatures dipped below -30 C.
The media’s March 10 set visit this year coincided with a sudden blizzard that overtook the city. Hamm arrived at the film centre sporting scarves and multiple layers.
“I’m in my Jon Hamm costume that I wear every day,” he said. “Layers has been my keyword for Calgary at this point. We’ve been through it. This weather has been a challenge.”
Fargo Season 5 airs Nov. 21 on FX.