When Cristin Milioti signed on to the TV adaptation of Fargo, she had seen only the 1996 movie that inspired it — one of her all-time favorite films. What sold her on the show, though, was the depth of her proposed character. “It’s not often that a strong female role comes across one’s desk, unfortunately, but it’s getting better,” the actress, calling from her home in Brooklyn, says. “I liked that the character has incredible inner strength during this tumultuous time, not only for her community but for her family and herself.”
In the second season of Fargo, which recently came out on Blu-ray and DVD, Milioti plays Betsy Solverson, the wife and daughter of the show’s two cop protagonists, as well as the mother of Season One policewoman Molly. Throughout “year two,” which takes place mostly in 1979 Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she is dying of cancer at home as the men in her life hunt down gangsters in places where they can’t contact her. It’s a complex and demanding role, as Betsy manages to keep her resolve as her worlds – externally and internally – fall apart.
If any actress was up to the task, it was Milioti, who, at age 30, has been enjoying a varied and unpredictable career split between TV, movies and theater over the past decade. Although her breakout role came with Once, a Broadway production that won a streak of Tonys in 2012, she’d already had bit roles in The Sopranos, 30 Rock and Nurse Jackie. Beginning in 2013, she played Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in The Wolf of Wall Street and became the ill-fated titular mom in How I Met Your Mother through its controversial series finale. Most recently, she appeared in David Bowie’s surrealistic off-Broadway musical Lazarus, leaping from one end of the stage to the other in stiletto heels while singing songs like “Changes” and “Always Crashing in the Same Car.” She’s currently gone back television for a role that will be announced in the coming months.
As for Fargo, she loved the experience. And though it’s unlikely she’ll ever reprise her role – Season One, set in 2006, pre-spoiled her character’s fate – she’d be “back in a heartbeat” for a flashback sequence.
You first saw the movie Fargo when you were nine. What did you make of it?
I think most of it probably went over my head except for the most traumatizing parts. One of my favorite moments ever, though, has become Frances McDormand’s monologue at the end when she says, “Was all this just for a little bit of money?” It’s extremely emotionally affecting and I think Noah [Hawley], who adapted the show for TV, does scenes like that beautifully, too.
What connection do you see between the film and TV show now?
What I love about the Coen brothers – what everyone loves – is that they sort of toe the line of a truly dark comedy. You can’t believe you’re laughing at something so dark. The TV show honors that without imitating it.
Your character is dying of cancer throughout the season, yet she’s always steadfast and almost upbeat. How did you find that balance?
I don’t think she ever feels sorry for herself. So I just never focused on it and didn’t play that she was sick unless I had to. I tried to play against what was happening.