Emmys 2014: Allison Tolman on Finding Her Inner Midwesterner on ‘Fargo’

Photo Source: Chris Large

When Allison Tolman, star of FX’s runaway hit “Fargo,” first read the script for the series, she had the same reaction that most people did: “I was like, Why are they doing this? And then I read the script and was like, Oh yeah, ‘cause it’s awesome—that makes sense,” she says laughing. Now nominated for an Emmy in the outstanding supporting actress in a TV miniseries or movie category, it’s clear the industry also noted the awesomeness. Tolman began as a theater actor doing summer stock, writing her own material, and balancing it out with a day job before she landed her first role on a television series.

Set in the world of the Coen Brother’s film of the same title that starred Frances McDormand and William H. Macy, Tolman is taking on the role of Molly Solverson, a rookie cop with blossoming detective skills. The buzzy Emmy-nominated newcomer plays opposite Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, both of whom are also nominated for Emmys in the TV miniseries category.

On working in her first TV role.
“I think while I was making the show I pursued it in a very Molly like fashion: with very little sense of the wide implications. I just put my head down and went for the role. I didn’t think about how my performance was going to be revived but about the show and its dignity. As nice as it was for people to know my name it was almost as cool to them fall in love with the character. I love this character and secondly it gave me faith in the TV viewing community that they responded so well to this woman, someone who's not flashy and purely good.”

On moving from theater to television.
“The thing about theater that always and still kind of makes me edgy is that you work and work and work and work, and then you’re just in performance mode and then you have to just be on; the work is done and then you just have to do it over and over again, so you’re just constantly at that performance level. I liked in television that you do some work, then you perform, then you stop and you have a break because they have to set up lights and then you do some more work. I really liked the pace of it; it really agreed with me. I enjoyed it. I was like, what if I worked for 10 years to get to this point and then I get there and I don’t like making television shows. Wouldn’t that be the saddest thing ever? Luckily I didn’t!”

On how improv classes influenced her performance.
“I think [my improv training classes] are some of best acting classes I’ve ever taken. They really work at bravery and being fearless and leaping off without really knowing where you’re going to land, which is not my natural inclination as a performer. I like to know how things are going to go and I kind of have a plan of this how I see this moment going, how I feel she would this. Improv training allows you to get out of your head a little bit and take more risks, which is something I would like to continue to improve upon. Martin’s incredible at that; he’s just all over the map take after take. He’s so fearless and so unafraid to try different things. I’d really like to work on that in the future and be a little bit less precise when I’m acting—just to do different things and see what different takes would look like.”

On how she kept evolving as an actor.
“It was important for me as a theater artist to allow myself and my interests to evolve over time and allow my notion of what success meant to evolve over time. I’ve always had a day job and never been just acting. But it didn’t make me feel like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. If I got tired of acting then I wrote for a while. I wanted to go to a comedy and went and pursued a comedy…This is a marathon race and not a sprint, a life in this business. For most actors it’s going to be plays here and there, commercials now and then and you have to let that make you happy. And look towards being member of the community in every capacity.”

For more another interview with an Emmy nominee, check out “Emmys 2014: Alfred Molina on Humanizing a Homophobe in ‘The Normal Heart.’ ”

Briana Rodriguez
Briana is Backstage’s managing editor. Before Backstage Briana Rodriguez worked as a mixed-media music and pop culture journalist and documentarian. She’s a tap dancer who loves watching "I Love Lucy" reruns almost as much as she loves guacamole.
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