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Emmys 2014: 'Fargo's' Allison Tolman marks a major understatement of the year

Allison Tolman talks about her time on 'Fargo' as tenacious deputy Molly
Allison Tolman's background in sketch comedy helped her nail Molly's accent in 'Fargo'
Allison Tolman on 'Fargo' character Molly: 'understate, understate, understate'

Not that long ago, Allison Tolman was working temp jobs in Chicago, scraping together dough and auditioning for anything and everything. One possibility seemed a long shot but worth pursuing: the role of Molly Solverson, the determined Minnesota deputy in the FX miniseries "Fargo." Tolman taped a reading, sent it in and ... you know the rest. The 32-year-old "newcomer" landed the role, leading her first to Calgary, Canada, for the six-month shoot and now to Los Angeles, where she is a newly minted Emmy nominee.

Tolman stopped by The Times for a video chat while ballots were out. These are excerpts from the conversation.

What was the key to understanding Molly for you?

Just sort of her understated, pragmatic nature, which to me dictated her relationships and the way that her comedy is played is always to understate, understate, understate, which is a departure from the past few years in sketch comedy. And the direction that I got the most often is that they would remind me that the way she gets things done is through patience and that smile and that "Minnesota nice." So that was kind of a character trait that I developed that first week on set.

You lived in Chicago, so you had to be kind of used to the Calgary cold during filming?

A little bit more than the guys who are from here, for sure. But, yeah, it certainly gets colder in Calgary than it does in Chicago. But it stays sunnier there, which is nice — the hardest part about Chicago is that it's gray for six months out of the year and you get depressed and have to take a lot of vitamin D. But in Calgary, even when it's super, super cold, the sun is usually out and shining.

Costar Martin Freeman was telling me you'd step out and it would be below zero. How do you function?

There's a type of cold where you sort of leave your body [laughs] or just kind of, like, "This is interesting." And all you can think about is getting to the point where you can not be in the cold anymore, like where you can get to the drugstore you're walking to or get through the shot or whatever. We canceled one day of filming because it was too cold: an orange traffic cone, like, shattered, untouched; it just got too cold and shattered.

In the sixth episode, there's that big whiteout going on. I'm assuming that was largely done with special effects?

Yeah, we very rarely filmed in active snow. There was often snow all over the ground, and then we would create snow to varying degrees. And then John Ross, our special-effects artist, went through and really tightened that up and made that blizzard really something where you wouldn't be able to see through it — and it would be conceivable to accidentally shoot your love interest.

Yeah, Gus seemed like the kind of police officer like … you remember Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show"?

[Laughs] He's just not built for a life in the police force. He's not naturally suited to it. And, yeah, I mean, what an unfortunate way for that [relationship] to come to fruition. But you know, it creates great dramatic tension for the relationship between the two of us. It's a trust issue, right? "Because you might shoot me."

"Fargo" fans couldn't get enough of Gus and Molly; their ship name is "Golly."

The moment that we met is really when this kind of broke open for me. When Molly met Gus, people were like, "Ooh," and then I started being recognized on the street and being tweeted at, etc. So for whatever reason, that's what really solidified this character for people, was her relationship with Gus.

Getting that accent must have been easy because of your sketch comedy?

Yes, I'd been doing a sort of absurd version of it for many years. You know, for giggles. So we worked with a dialect coach who helped us all kind of whittle it down to the same region and keep us all on track.

You were telling me earlier that if you're going into a new town, costar Bob Odenkirk is the guy to have with you.

I don't know how he does it so quickly, but the moment I met him, he knew where, like, two bookstores were that we should go to and every good breakfast spot in town. He'll tell the locals where they should be going as well.

Twitter: @GlennWhipp

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