“It came completely out of nowhere,” he says of the concert in the fourth season of the FX drama.
Yes, that was Andrew Bird in the two-episode debut of the fourth season of FX’s beloved Bloody Drama Fargo playing the hard-fought owner of a beatnik undertaker Thurman Smutny. And if you ask the veteran singer / songwriter / whistle / violinist how he managed to add yet another notch to his already long list of talent, he’ll honestly tell you he has no idea.
“It came completely out of nowhere,” says the low-key singer Scoreboard on his acting debut in one of the most anticipated series of the fall.
As he describes it, Bird was playing at a concert in Austin, Texas, where show creator Noah Hawley lives, and later Hawley stepped forward and offered him the role of the smutny undertaker.
No auditions, nothing. “Just a quick meeting with him and I thought, ̵
And even though the 47-year-old singer – who has been playing stages for nearly 25 years – did what he thought he should do and showed up on the Chicago set after preparing his lines for months, Hawley wasn’t done surprising him.
“The first thing he did was give me completely different dialogues, perhaps by design in case I was too prepared,” says Bird, a native of Chicago. “I’ve never really understood acting. I’m an artist, but it’s a different thing to pretend to try things you don’t feel.”
If you have seen the Fargo At first, you already know that Bird disappears completely as the nervous Smutny, who seems to be slipping further and further into the mud of the crowd thanks to a reckless loan he and his wife have taken from local gangsters.
The singer, who has also just announced his next holiday album Hark! (October 30) – which features a mix of originals, re-imagined Christmas classics and a few selected covers of songs by John Prine, John Cale and The Handsome Family – had a lot more to say about his Fargo travel.
Check-out Scoreboardthe Bird interview below.
This is your official debut as an actor, but are you telling me you’ve never acted in school? Anything before this?
No not at all. On the other hand, every time I had to go on stage or do a reportage I was very embarrassing and shy, but as soon as I got on stage I was calm, collected and focused. This is different though, there are cameras and sets and multiple angles that you have to shoot over and over again. It’s not like a live performance. I was thinking, “I can focus enough to take a shot,” but then they do it and then they take an hour to set a different camera angle and you do it all day.
Any tricks you quickly learned to sustain that performance since you’re used to doing it for an hour or two and then did it?
No. I didn’t really know if I was pulling out while I was doing it. I received a lot of advice from my actor friends who made it seem like there was nothing to be done: learn your lines and trust in the power of editing. I really wanted to know: “What should I do? How do I think?” Nobody helped me with any of that.
Did Noah ask you to take acting lessons?
No, he didn’t want me to take acting lessons.
Sounds a little daunting for a first acting gig, right?
Yes. I’m surrounded by career professionals, so it’s hard not to feel like a cheater. But at the same time, the actors in that show are so good that it helped lift me to a certain level. Everyone was very kind and encouraging.
You have the most delicious name in Thurman Smutny. Who did you think about when you felt your character’s handle?
It sure has a Victorian feel. It was fun working with the costume designer on how Thurman should be … we talked about a hint of Victorian, with the tie, but at the same time he’s kind of a modern, progressive guy.
One of the reasons Noah thought of me for the part was that I assume it’s partly based on my stage presence. I don’t really have an alter ego on stage, it’s just an amplified version of myself. So if I feel uncomfortable on stage, I’ll share it with the audience. I think he thought Thurman Smutney was a nervous man and I’m an actor who tries not to be nervous.
The season takes place in Kansas City, but is filmed on your old Chicago grounds. Did this help you give yourself a little more confidence?
Yes. If he had been in Toronto, I probably would have felt more alienated. This is the weird thing, going back to a place you know to do something you don’t know … sometimes you can escape from a place where you developed your identity and then you can’t create a new identity, but once if you leave that place you can escape its borders.
Do you have music this season?
There wasn’t really an expectation that I would be making music, but I whistled on set in a scene that comes late and made some recordings for the soundtrack, but I’m not sure it’s there.
Again, I’m not trying to blow the smoke, but you’re very good so far. Have you received any other offers now that you are an official actor?
Yes. I would definitely be interested in doing it again. Not only because I can’t do a tour right now, but that’s a good reason. I find it a really inspiring and interesting job. I would be interesting to see what range I have beyond this character.
Check out Bird at the 40-second milestone in the Season 4 trailer below.