Ewan McGregor says playing two brothers on ‘Fargo’ an ‘amazing challenge’

Ewan McGregor on playing dual roles on 'Fargo'

CALGARY — Ewan McGregor lifts up a faded polo shirt to reveal a slab of white padding strapped to his midsection.

The Scottish actor’s prosthetic paunch is key to his transformation into Ray Stussy, one of two brothers he plays on the third season of the Alberta-shot, Coen Brothers-inspired FX series “Fargo.”

Ray, a parole officer, has a long-running grudge against his more handsome and successful older brother Emmit, the “Parking Lot King of Minnesota.”

Their father died when they were teenagers, leaving Emmit a sports car and Ray a stamp collection that turned out to be valuable.

Emmit later hookwinks his brother into a swap and Ray blames all his life’s disappointments on losing a fortune he’s convinced is rightfully his.

“He’s got a hard life. He’s got a job where he watches men pissing in cups all day long,” McGregor says of Ray, while taking a break from filming at a soundstage in a Calgary industrial area.

McGregor is barely recognizable while in costume as Ray, with phoney tufts of scraggly hair attached to a bald cap.

McGregor worked hard to adopt the distinctive Minnesota accent that’s a hallmark of the show, and also had to learn how to calibrate his voice while switching between Ray and Emmit.  

“Why I took (the role) was because it was an amazing challenge,” he says.

There is a bathtub scene early in the season that required McGregor to show a real potbelly while in his role as Ray, which complicated playing Emmit.

“I ate from October till January when we started — just, like, anything I wanted,” says McGregor.

While Ray is “more lazy and slouchy and unhealthy,” Emmit is more trim and upright. So when McGregor was on the heftier side, he says he had to squeeze into Spanx in order to play Ray.

The show’s third season is set in 2010 but touches on themes that fit with the 2017 zeitgeist.

“It’s quite interesting with the whole Trump thing because I feel sometimes there’s moments that I’m channelling,” says McGregor.

That mostly comes through when he’s playing money-hungry Emmit — “like, his thin skin and the way he can react when (something bad) goes down.”

Executive producer Warren Littlefield says the show’s theme of “the truth is what you say it is” will resonate at a time when phrases like “alternative facts” and “fake news” have entered the popular lexicon.

“It became, in the last number of months, far more interesting and relevant,” says Littlefield.

Anxiety over the encroachment of technology also plays heavily into the upcoming season, says actress Carrie Coon, who plays Gloria Burgle, a newly divorced small-town police chief who feels untethered in her life.

Gloria is made uneasy by the bright cellphone screens she sees everywhere she goes.

“There are many moments in the series where she looks around and she notices everyone else is looking down and no one’s communicating with her anymore,” says Coon, who admits she was a holdout when it came to getting a cellphone.

“I completely understand Gloria’s point of view about how alienating this technology can actually be when it’s unfamiliar to you,” Coon says.

“She feels, I think, the erosion of community as a result.”

The first episode of Fargo’s third season airs Wednesday on FX Canada.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press