When Ewan McGregor approached the reporters assembled for a Fargo press junket last month in Calgary, Alberta, it took a second for everyone to realize it was him. Missing only a rusty mustache, the actor was all done up as Ray Stussy, the more hardscrabble of the two feuding brothers he plays in Fargo’s third season—the other being Emmit “Parking Lot King Of Minnesota” Stussy. In the guise of Ray, McGregor—a “notorious athlete with a good head of hair,” in the words of showrunner Noah Hawley—sports a long scraggly ’do and a receding hairline, and he’s noticeably paunchier. Although he gained weight for the bathtub sequence at the end of tonight’s season premiere, McGregor’s gut was merely padding by the time of the junket, another element of the lengthy process that turns him from the cleft-chinned star of Trainspotting and Moulin Rouge! to the Minnesota parole officer with the piss-stained boots.
“If we have a choice, usually it’s better to play Ray first, because it takes longer to make me into Ray,” McGregor told reporters. “It takes about two hours to turn into Ray. And then they’ll find a few scenes to shoot while I’m getting changed over into Emmit. It gives me a bit of time to get my brain into the other character. I’ve got 90 minutes or whatever to think about the other side.”
As the head of the show’s makeup department, Gail Kennedy is responsible for the Stussy brothers’ appearances. Ray’s weathered visage comes about with the help of silicon prosthetics, which give McGregor a double chin, widen the bridge of his nose, and fill in that marquee-idol cleft. The looker of the two Stussys, Emmit is a totally cosmetic creation: highlights, contouring, and sculpting. “He’s got more glam makeup on than the girls,” said Kennedy. Further underlining Emmit’s vanity, McGregor started out playing the role with Spanx on under his costumes, to conceal the extra pounds he put on for Ray. But he kept wearing them after he lost the weight because of the way the compression informed the physicality of his performance, all “upright” and “all tight in.”
Another key aspect of the characters’ personalities came down to colored contacts. “Once we saw the characters in the makeup test and just how he held himself, I thought, ‘Man, that Emmit’s kind of a cold character,’” Kennedy said. “So we decided to put the cooler brown eyes on him and put the blue eyes on Ray. Ray is such a nice, simple guy, and he’s so warm and friendly. We love to have him in the trailer.”
Above all, they wanted to make sure that the guy who played, say, Obi-Wan Kenobi in three Star Wars movies could walk into a room full of entertainment journalists and go temporarily unnoticed. “Our goal was to not make either one of them look like Ewan McGregor,” Kennedy said. It works for executive producer Warren Littlefield: “He’s unrecognizable. I joke that, ‘Hmm, I wonder if we’re going to have to put a chyron over the screen saying, ‘No, this is Ewan McGregor also!’” Littlefield admits that it would’ve been easier to find two separate actors to play the brothers, but that just wouldn’t be Fargo. “We always try and find some mountain that’s particularly difficult to climb.”