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Gus Grimly is about to fall.
The Duluth deputy, already beaten down by bad, frustrating circumstances, is growing increasingly agitated as he tries to will his police cruiser out of a snow patch. His teenage daughter, Greta, helpfully agrees to get behind the wheel while Gus sands the snow-covered area surrounding his tires. When that’s done, Gus gets behind the vehicle and readies to push. Greta gives it gas — and Gus falls face first in the snow.
He remains there for a moment. The snow soaks his police uniform. His pale face darkens as blood rushes to the head. Gus Grimly is tired of losing. Gus Grimly is tired of looking like a fool. Gus Grimly is sick of having bad days.
But Colin Hanks? He’s loving it.
Hanks, no stranger to television with roles on Band of Brothers, Mad Men and Dexter, stars on FX’s Fargo as Gus, a reluctant police officer and loving father caught in a horrible mess.
“He’s a simple guy,” Hanks told Spinoff Online on the Calgary set of Fargo. “He’s a single father. He’s raised his daughter alone. He’s experienced loss in his life. Life hasn’t necessarily turned out the way he expected. He’s done what he’s had to do for his daughter. He’s found himself in a position he didn’t think he was going to be in. He didn’t think he was going to be a cop, but they were hiring.”
As Hanks says, Gus isn’t a natural fit for the badge, and that’s clear in the Fargo pilot. Although he doesn’t appear until the very end of the episode, Gus is involved in a pivotal scene with Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo, the enigmatic criminal that sets much of the show’s dark events into motion.
“He makes this decision in the pilot that he has to live with and atone for,” said Hanks. “When we meet him, he makes this decision that’s both the right decision to make, and the wrong decision to make.”
“He makes it for the right reasons — to protect himself and his daughter,” he continued. “And then he spends the rest of the series trying to atone for that and fix it and try to make things better, to right the wrongs he’s had to make.”
Those frustrations begin leaking into Gus’ personal life, straining his close relationship with teenage daughter Greta, played by The Dark Knight Rises actress Joey King.
“Her father is being affected by these bad guys. He’s getting so stressed out, and it’s affecting how he treats Greta,” said King. “They still have a good relationship, but towards the last few episodes, you see the relationship weaken, because of all the stress he’s under.”
Just like Gus, Hanks can’t quite catch a break. During our interview, King called across the room at her on-screen father: “‘Colin, you suck!'”
“He’s hilarious,” she said after having the laugh. “Channing Tatum played my father in White House Down, and Colin made me always promise to tell him that he’s a better dad. ‘Tell me I’m a better dad than Channing Tatum. I want to hear it.'”
Can King make that claim? “Well, I worked with [Tatum] for three months…”
See? No breaks for Hanks. Even his other co-stars notice. Allison Tollman, who plays the sharp-minded but underestimated Bemidji Police Department deputy Molly Solverson, recalled some of Hanks’ complaints about playing Gus.
“He’s not a good cop; he’s very ineffectual and not good at things. I said to him, ‘Sweetheart, you are playing the part that women have been playing for centuries. Why don’t you do that while I take the male lead part. You’ll be fine,'” she recalled with a laugh. “And he said, ‘Touché.'”
“There are a lot of times this season where I’m like, ‘Come on, Gus. Come on, buddy. Grow a spine,'” Hanks laughed. “For me, there are definitely times where it’s frustrating. But it’s supposed to be frustrating for Gus as well.”
It’s not always so grim for Gus Grimly. “He struggles, but not the whole time,” Tollman hedged. “He gets his feet underneath him a bit — eventually.”
But not today. During our day on set, Fargo is filming its seventh and eighth episodes. Hanks slogs through take after take after take pushing the car and falling in the snow, suffering a mundane moment of embarrassment that serves as the cherry on top of a mountain made up of mortifying failure.
“I’ve been waiting for that scene for a few episodes now,” Hanks said after all those takes. “You gotta have those scenes to be a complete character. A lot of times, in other TV shows, maybe you don’t get that moment. It’s nice to have that. It’s more than just ‘Colin falls down.’ It’s more than just ‘Gus goes down.'”
Because, Hanks says, for all of his faults, Gus Grimly knows the errors of his ways.
“He’s hyper-aware of what his shortcomings are — as a policeman and as a father. He’s constantly beaten down, every time,” he said. “This scene, it’s just him kind of broken.”
Fargo premieres April 15 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.
Stay tuned to Spinoff Online for more interviews with the cast of Fargo.