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Fargo embraces Canadian winter

Popular offshoot will feature new cast, storyline in second season

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Actor Martin Freeman filmed during an especially frigid winter.


Actor Martin Freeman filmed during an especially frigid winter.

HOLLYWOOD -- During a career than spans more than three decades in the television industry, Warren Littlefield has been a lot of things -- a development executive, a network entertainment president, an independent producer and the author of a bestselling book about the inner workings of the TV biz. But there was, until recently, one thing that he had not been:

Really, really, really, really freakin' cold.

That all changed late last year when, as one of the executive producers of the acclaimed FX-network series Fargo, he took up temporary residence in Calgary during one of the harshest and most inhospitable Canadian winters in recent memory.

"We actually started shooting in November, but winter came very hard and very fast, and December was pretty brutal up there," Littlefield said last week during FX's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. Production on Fargo -- a 10-part series inspired by the 1996 Coen brothers feature film of the same name -- lasted until early April.

"It was a bit of a shock for my body, that's for sure," Littlefield later told the Free Press. "I have a new wardrobe now -- I have three Canada Goose coats, Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. It was certainly a challenge; other than a couple of days here and there, I hadn't been in a winter climate for about 35 years. But I loved it. I think I'll have to acclimate myself all over again this year, but I can't wait."

Fargo, of course, is the FX series that almost called Winnipeg home. For several weeks last year, the series' producers and FX executives scouted locations in both Manitoba and Alberta before deciding -- partly on the basis of direct-flight availability to and from Los Angeles -- to shoot in Calgary.

"We hated saying no to Winnipeg," Littlefield said. "There were a lot of things we really loved about the city."

In fact, even after the Fargo bunch had shifted its focus to Calgary, Winnipeg-based producer Kim Todd was invited to join the series team.

"We had a great session when we met with her in Winnipeg," Littlefield explained. "We said, 'Look, we have no idea whether this will interest you, but if you're willing to come to Calgary, we'd love to have you (as producer),' and she said, 'I'll be there.'"

During FX's press-tour presentation last week, network CEO John Landgraf announced a second-season renewal for Fargo. The series will once again shoot in and around Calgary, with Todd as one of its producers.

The first season of Fargo premièred on FX Canada last April before being shifted to the newly launched FXX network. Viewers in Winnipeg and other parts of Western Canada were unable to see the series' other first-run episodes because FXX owner Rogers had not -- and, to date, still has not -- reached agreements for other cable providers such as Shaw and MTS TV to carry the channel.

FX executives said this week in L.A. that they're "hopeful" that FXX will become available across Canada before Fargo's second season airs next year.

Fargo's first season, which starred Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine, Bob Odenkirk and breakout star Allison Tolman, earned an impressive 18 nominations for this year's Emmy Awards, second only to HBO's Game of Thrones among TV-trophy hopefuls.

The second season of Fargo will feature an all-new cast, a completely new storyline and will be set mostly in and around circa-1979 Sioux Falls, S.D.

Littlefield, who served as NBC Entertainment's president during the 1990s and was responsible for shepherding such hits as Cheers, Seinfeld, ER and The West Wing into prime time, said that despite the extremely harsh Canadian winter it endured, Fargo's production team lost only one day of production due to bad weather last year -- a day in December when the temperature dipped below -30 C and the logistics of filming simply couldn't be worked out.

"I arrived on the set, and I said to the (assistant director), 'How are we doing?' And he said, 'Well, the bathrooms don't work, because the pipes are frozen,'" Littlefield recalled. "I thought, 'No bathrooms -- that's not good.' Then I looked around and I said, 'Where's the warm-up bus?' And he said, 'Yeah, the warm-up bus isn't here today; it wouldn't start this morning.'

"And then this wind came off the prairie, and the orange cone we had blocking off the highway we were going to be shooting on shattered into shards of rubbery plastic, and I went, 'You know what? Today we're supposed to shoot a naked guy popping out of the trunk (of a car), running across the field and into the woods, where he's going to freeze to death. I don't want to really kill anybody today, so I think that's it.' And we called it a day. But that was the only day we lost."

One of the unexpected side benefits of shooting in Calgary was that Littlefield developed a sudden appreciation for hockey.

"Oh, you have to," he said with a laugh. "You don't have any choice. And then, of course, I came home, and the (L.A.) Kings had this incredible (Stanley Cup) run -- I was like, 'They're doing this for me,' because I never could have appreciated it before.

"I'm a longtime Lakers (basketball) fan; there was certainly nothing to celebrate there, but this (Kings win) was incredible. I came back with this hockey education -- Colin Hanks kind of schooled me on it up there -- and a great appreciation for the game, and then we had this incredible spring and a championship. It was spectacular."

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 G9

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