Glenn Howerton Discusses ‘Fargo’ and Playing Don Chumph

Glenn Howerton Fargo interview
Glenn Howerton as Don Chumph in 'Fargo' (Photo by Matthias Clamer/Copyright 2014, FX Networks. All rights reserved.)
Glenn Howerton’s best known to millions of FX viewers for his role as ‘Dennis Reynolds’ in the long-running comedy series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But Howerton, who also writes Sunny, actually has a background in drama and when the opportunity to be a part of the Fargo ensemble was made available to him, he jumped at the chance to be involved.

Fargo airs on Tuesdays at 10pm ET/PT and in support of the show’s critically acclaimed first season, Howerton took part in a conference call to discuss his role, working with Billy Bob Thornton, and playing someone completely different than his Sunny character.

Glenn Howerton Fargo Interview

Can you talk about what originally attracted you to the character and why you took the part?

Glenn Howerton: “I didn’t know a whole lot about it when I said yes to it, if I’m being honest. Television moves at a different pace than film. I knew that the Coen brothers were involved. I’ve been a big fan of FX dramas for a while, and obviously, I’ve been a part of the family for many, many years, and the president of FX, John Landgraf, called me and he’d been speaking about…he knows that my background is not really in comedy and a lot of my background is actually in more dramatic stuff, which is weird. So, he always asks me, he threw it out there, ‘Would you ever want to be on one of our dramas?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely.’

So, this came along and even though it’s kind of a comedic role, he felt like it was something that I hadn’t really done comedically before and it was part of a drama. He explained the concept to me, who the character was, what the tone of the show was. I’m a big fan of the movie, Fargo, and I basically without ever even seeing a script, I said yes just because of all the people that were involved.”

Writer Noah Hawley has talked a lot about how he’s put little references to other Coen brothers’ films and not just Fargo in the series. Could you see a little bit of Brad Pitt’s character from Burn After Reading in your character?

Glenn Howerton: “I assumed the same thing you did when I read the script that it was a pretty clear homage to that character. I don’t remember ever actually having that conversation with Noah, but I know that he definitely wanted to distinguish it enough from that character, which I think is something that happens naturally when you cast two different actors. He and I are always going to have a different take on things. So, I think the homage was clearly there, but I certainly tried to stay away from anything that Brad did in the movie, especially because I actually did re-watch a lot of Coen brothers’ movies including Burn After Reading, and I was like, ‘My God, Brad Pitt’s performance in that is so brilliant, I don’t even think I could match it even if I wanted to.'”

Your character is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. How difficult is that to play?

Glenn Howerton: [Laughing] “Well, some of the tools are not meant to be sharp. So, I’ll start with that. You have a lot of blunt instruments in the tool shed. It’s a good question. It’s kind of a difficult question to answer only because I know I’m one of those guys that I have to just kind of feel it. Otherwise, it becomes a very intellectual exercise if I start thinking about it too much. I think it’s more, for me, getting into a very open-minded mindset where, for me, I felt like this was the kind of guy who is very easily influenced, especially by someone with such a presence as ‘Lorne Malvo’ has.

Obviously, there’s the threat of violence behind it all, but I think this guy is not so much afraid of any kind of violence against him as he is just sort of getting caught. I don’t know. It’s just sort of getting a feeling of being innocent again. It is a very different character than the character I play certainly on Sunny who thinks he knows everything. I think this guy thinks he doesn’t really know as much as he needs to know, but I don’t know. I don’t know quite how to answer that. I guess it’s just bringing a real openness to the role, more listening than demanding or saying. I don’t know.”

As a writer/actor on another popular show, did you have any input into the writing as far as your character goes in Fargo? How hard is it to resist the urge to sit down and start writing new lines?

Glenn Howerton: “It’s not hard for me to resist it because it’s not something that…it’s going to sound weird but I’m not compelled often to be a writer. I would much rather, as an actor, get something that’s so well written that I don’t feel the desire to write it or rewrite it, and that was certainly the case with Noah’s writing. I think he strove for a certain amount of excellence in his writing where if you said things pretty much word for word that it would convey exactly the message that it needed to convey. So, I really stuck pretty closely to the script on this one. But to Noah’s credit, there were certain sections where […]he was absolutely open to me changing or altering things in any way that I saw fit. But to be honest, most of the time I stuck pretty closely to the script.”

How do you think Dennis and the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia gang would have handled this situation that Don found himself in? Do you think that Dennis would have been manipulated by Malvo to the point where he would have executed his plan?

Glenn Howerton: “That’s a difficult question to answer simply because we most of the guest star roles we have on Sunny are sort of mowed over by our extremely energetic, forceful characters. In season seven, we actually did have a similar situation of being trapped in a closet and the trapped in a closet situation. So, I think the difference between Don and Dennis is Dennis would have spent the entire time trying to figure out how to get out of that closet whereas Don just spent the night eating whatever he had in the cabinet and peeing into his shoe or whatever the hell he did. I don’t know. I think he’s just a much more docile, trusting character, Don, whereas Dennis is much more cynical and untrusting.”

Glenn Howerton Fargo Interview
Glenn Howerton as Don Chumph and Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo in 'Fargo' (Photo by Chris Large/Copyright 2014, FX Networks. All rights reserved.)

What it was like working so closely with Billy Bob Thornton?

Glenn Howerton: “Billy is great. I’m always a little bit concerned anytime I get into a scene with somebody who I have as much respect for as an actor as I do with Billy just because they say, ‘Never meet your idols.’ And so I’m like, ‘I don’t want to meet this guy and have him be a son of a [bitch] or something,’ but he could not be a nicer, easier to work with person. He is just terrific. He’s extremely open to suggestion. He’s very, very easy to work with, very professional, came to the set knowing all of his lines. I’m a big fan of people who I feel like when I’m talking to them in a scene, they’re actually listening to what I’m saying. So, even if I did flub a line, he was listening to me and he’d pick up on it.

It was a lot of fun. It kind of became like a really weird sort of Abbot and Costello-ey kind of relationship where I kind of end up becoming his lackey. It was a lot of fun. I’m not accustomed usually to playing sort of, for lack of a better word, the dumb one in the comedic relationship. I’m usually the straight man. So, it was a lot of fun not playing the straight man.”

Do you have a favorite scene you can talk about?

Glenn Howerton: “I’d say that the scene I did in the closet with him was a lot of fun, which in the script it was actually a little bit of a longer scene. There was more in there, but as I’m well versed on with Sunny, you only have so much time to tell a story so you have to cut out anything that’s not absolutely essential. But I had a really good time shooting that scene. It was really funny. It’s so awkward to be literally inches away from someone’s face doing a scene, but I think that’s part of why it was so awkward and funny to shoot.”

What was the biggest challenge in playing your character?

Glenn Howerton: “I think the biggest challenge really is sort of getting into the mindset of someone who is, as one of the other people put it, not the sharpest tool in the shed just because I tend to get cast more often as the smart guy, some characters who might not be the sharpest tool in the shed but they think they are. So, I was not in my comfort zone playing sort of the dumb guy, the non-straight man character in the scene. I’d say that was a little bit of a challenge for me, but it was also what made it so fun. And then also, of course, feeling free and loose in a scene but not having to worry about screwing up the accents I think was a little bit of a challenge too. You don’t want to do, as somebody from Alabama, you know how frustrating it can be to watch someone do a Southern accent and absolutely just mangle it and make a joke out of it, and I didn’t want to make too much of a joke out of it. So, it was a little bit of a challenge just feeling like I had it in me and I wasn’t struggling with the accent while I was trying to play the scene.”

-By Rebecca Murray

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