21 Darn Tootin' Facts About Fargo

1. Fargo was almost a TV show back in 1997.

FX’s original series Fargo, which debuted last year to critical praise and enthusiastic viewership, has breathed new life into the funny-accents-meet-brutal-violence formula. However, FX’s take on the Coen Brothers classic actually marks the second major attempt to adapt Fargo for the small screen. In 1997, a pilot directed by Kathy Bates (yes, that Kathy Bates) and starring a pre-Sopranos Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson was passed on by the major networks. Although it never had a full run on television, this first made-for-TV version of Fargo wasn’t lost forever: it aired on the short-lived cable network Trio in 2003, as part of its Brilliant But Cancelled programming series. 

2. Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley wasn’t sure how to take Ethan Coen’s reaction to his first episode.

A bit more on the TV series: While the Coens had nothing to do with the 1997 pilot, they serve as executive producers on the FX show. According to showrunner Noah Hawley, when Ethan Coen first read the script, he gave two words of feedback: “Yeah, good.” Only after talking with Fargo cast member and frequent Coen collaborator Billy Bob Thornton did Hawley realize this was a rave review, and not just modest praise. 

3. Rumors that a Japanese woman died pursuing the buried ransom money led to a sort of Fargo spinoff.

The award-winning 2014 independent film Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is loosely based on the urban legend of Takako Konishi. In 2001, several media outlets falsely reported that Konishi had trekked from Tokyo to Bismarck and Fargo in search of the fictitious money hidden by Steve Buscemi’s Fargo character Carl Showalter, and froze in the cold. The misunderstanding stemmed from a police officer who seemingly wanted to create an interesting story. In reality, however, Konishi’s story was much less strange and a bit more melancholy: she had traveled to Fargo to commit suicide in her ex-lover’s hometown.

4. Siskel and Ebert gave it way more than two thumbs up.

Roger Ebert called Fargo "one of the best films I've ever seen" and added that "films like Fargo are why I love the movies." Both Siskel and Ebert named it their favorite movie of 1996. 

5. Despite lots of critical love, Fargo was second banana at the 1997 Academy Awards.

A critical favorite since the moment of its release, Fargo took home two Oscars in 1997: one for the Coen Brothers for Best Original Screenplay and another to Frances McDormand for her portrayal of Marge Gunderson. However, Fargo lost most of the big awards to Elaine Benes’ least favorite movie, The English Patient. The World War II romance epic won a whopping nine Oscars at the show, including Best Picture and Best Director. 

6. It killed at the box office.

The Coens' previous film, 1994's The Hudsucker Proxy, had by far their largest budget to date at the time with $25 million. It was also by far their biggest flop, earning less than $3 million at the box office. For Fargo, the Coens returned to a much more modest budget of $7 million, but ended up taking in $60 million at the box office, making it their highest percentage return on investment at the box office to date.

7. Steve Buscemi’s word count is a running joke.

Throughout the entire movie, Peter Stormare’s character—Gaear Grimsrud—has just 16 lines of dialogue. By comparison, his chatty accomplice Carl Showalter (played by Buscemi) has more than 150. This turns up as a running Coen brothers joke in The Big Lebowski, where Buscemi’s character Donny is constantly being told to “shut the f**k” up.”

8. The Upper Midwest has a love/hate relationship with the movie.

Fargo received some understandable backlash from Minnesotans and North Dakotans for portraying their neck of the American woods as being full of simple, funny-talking folks. Indeed, in the movie's DVD commentary, native Minnesotan Joel Coen referred to the state as “Siberia with family restaurants.” Fargo mayor Bonnie Cumberland said of Fargo in 1997: “It’s a movie that people who don’t live here seem to enjoy, but for us it’s a little bit of an embarrassment.”

However, as of late, many Midwesterners have warmed up to the film (pun totally intended). The film’s infamously lethal wood chipper is currently housed in the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center, and in 2006 and 2011, the Fargo Film Festival kicked off with a “larger than King Kong” screening of the movie on the side of the city’s tallest building—a Radisson hotel—to celebrate the 10th and 15th anniversaries of its release.

9. William H. Macy took extreme measures to the land the role of Jerry Lundegaard.

Originally, William H. Macy was being considered for a much smaller role, but the Coens had him come back and read for the part of Jerry Lundegaard. Macy was so convinced he was the right man for the job that he pleaded with the Coens, even threatening to shoot their dogs if they didn’t cast him (jokingly, of course). Macy ended up receiving an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the bumbling Lundegaard, but lost to Cuba Gooding Jr. for Jerry Maguire. Macy claimed the role was a major turning point in his career, and that after: “I was ratified! I was sanctified! I'm a made guy." 

10. Only a few minutes of the film take place in Fargo.

Despite the title, only the opening scene—where Jerry meets with Carl and Gaear to reveal the plan to kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom—takes place in Fargo. Most of the movie takes place in either Brainerd or the Twin Cities area. According to Joel Coen, “'Fargo' seemed a more evocative title than ‘Brainerd’” and that’s the only reason why they chose the North Dakota city for the title. Additionally, none of the filming was done in Fargo; the Kings of Clubs, the bar where the meeting between Jerry and the criminals takes place, was actually located in Minneapolis. 

11. An inside joke led to rumors that Prince had a cameo in the film.

The Coens provided anyone willing to stick around for the extended credits to a bit of a Minnesota insider joke. The role of “Victim in the Field” is credited to a scribble resembling Prince’s “Love Symbol,” which he went by between 1993 and 2000. This spurred rumors that Prince had a hidden cameo in the film. Anyone paying attention, however, would have noticed that the role was clearly played by a much huskier fellow, who also happened to be the film’s storyboard artist (and a longtime Coen collaborator) J. Todd Anderson

12. The film features two very familiar Coen Brothers tropes.

Two of the Coens' favorite plot devices—stolen or missing money and kidnapping—feature in eight (Blood Simple; Fargo; The Big Lebowski; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; The Ladykillers; No Country For Old Men; and Burn After Reading) and four (Raising Arizona; Fargo; The Big Lebowski; and Burn After Reading) of their movies, respectively. Alongside A Serious Man, it’s also one of two Coen films set predominantly in their home state of Minnesota. 

13. Every single one of Jerry Lundegaard’s nervous stutters was carefully scripted.

At the root of Macy’s career-making performance are lines that constantly sound like they’re tripping over each another. While they were well played by Macy, almost every single stutter-step was actually mapped out by the Coens in the script. (Ex: “Well, that's, that's, I'm not gointa, inta — see, I just need money. Now, her dad's real wealthy —.”) 

14. The movie marked a major comeback for one actor.

Before taking on the role of Wade Gustafson, the rich and hardened father of the kidnapped Jean Lundegaard, actor Harve Presnell hadn’t taken a film role in 20 years and was focusing on stage work. Following his turn in Fargo, he popped up on screen in blockbusters like Face/Off, Saving Private Ryan and Old School

15. You might know it wasn’t actually a “true story,” but the Coens' web of deception goes even further than the opening credits.

While the tag on the beginning of the film reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel Coen stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.” However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan Coen pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

16. The Big Lebowski almost came first (and that could have spelled disaster for the Coens).

It’s pretty much taken for granted that the Coens are small kings in the cinema world, able to more or less have complete creative control over their films. But without Fargo, this probably wouldn’t have been the case. Following the release of The Hudsucker Proxy, which bombed ferociously at the box office, the Coens had more or less finished scripts for The Big Lebowski and Fargo. Because The Dude was written for Jeff Bridges, who was busy shooting another movie, Fargo ended up getting made first. 

For the Coen Brothers, this release order ended up being a massive stroke of good fortune, since The Big Lebowski was a box office dud upon release and only built up its massive following after its theatrical run. Had The Big Lebowski been made first, it would have been the Coens' fourth consecutive poor performer(following Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and The Hudsucker Proxy), and might have had major consequences on their careers. Instead, they gained the goodwill that came along with Fargo, a box office success that was praised by many as an instant classic. They’ve pretty much been riding the wave of praise and box office success ever since. 

17. The film’s editor, Roderick Jaynes, is actually Joel and Ethan Coen.

Because the Coens found having their names appear on screen as directors, writers, producers, and editors a bit tacky, they credit their editing work to the fictional “Roderick Jaynes,” who’s listed on all of their films outside of Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing. When the fictional Jaynes was for nominated for his first Oscar on Fargo, the Coens wanted to have actor Albert Finney accept the award in character, but because the Academy doesn’t allow for surrogates to accept awards (presumably due to a 1973 incident involving Marlon Brando and a Native American named Sacheen Littlefeather) they had to scratch the plan. Jaynes ended losing to Walter Murch for his work on The English Patient, and would lose again in 2008 (with The Bourne Ultimatum's Christopher Rouse beating out the Coens and No Country for Old Men)

18. Not everything about Frances McDormand’s legendary performance was authentic.

To play the pregnant Marge Gunderson, McDormand sported prosthetic breasts and a faux-pregnant belly full of birdseed. It was McDormand’s second time wearing fake breasts in a role for the Coens, following Raising Arizona, where she thought a fuller figure was appropriate considering her character had recently given birth to quintuplets. 

19. Weird weather made production a headache.

Production for Fargo was made much more difficult since the winter of 1994/1995 was one of the warmest and least snowy in Minnesota history. This led to heaps of production delays and scrambles to find snow-covered scenery. Interestingly, David Zellner, who directed the aforementioned Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, also dealt with unseasonably warm weather when he set out to shoot his quasi Fargo follow-up, waiting a year to get the movie’s appropriately chilly look. 

20. The Coen Brothers have a way with birds.

Fargo’s opening memorably features a bird in flight set against the frigid Minnesota landscape. The incident was unscripted, as were memorable bird cameos in Barton Fink and Blood Simple. Joel Coen has commented “We have an uncanny ability to make birds do what we want them to do.” 

21. The actors went through extensive training to get their accents right.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

All images courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

15 Convenient Products That Are Perfect for Summer

First Colonial/Lunatec/Safe Touch
First Colonial/Lunatec/Safe Touch

The Fourth of July is the epitome of summer—and after several months spent indoors, you need some outdoor fun more than anything. Check out these 15 summer must-haves while they’re on sale and save an extra 15 percent when you spend $50 or more with the code JULYFOURTH15.

1. CARSULE Pop-Up Cabin for Your Car; $300 (20 percent off)

Carsule tent from Mogics.
Mogics

This tent connects to your hatchback car like a tailgate mobile living room. The installation takes just a few minutes and the entire thing stands 6.5 feet tall so you can enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of your car.

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2. Mosquito Killer Lamp; $30 (25 percent off)

Mosquito-killing lamp.
Kinkoo

If you just so happen to be one of those unlucky souls who attracts a suspicious amount of mosquitos the second you step outside, you need this repellent lamp to help keep your arms and legs bite-free. It uses a non-toxic combination of LED lights, air turbulence, and other methods to keep the pests at bay.

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3. Super Shield Mosquito Repellent Electronic Watch Band; $17 (57 percent off)

Mosquito repeller watch.
Safe Touch

While a lamp is a great non-toxic solution for keeping bugs at bay, active individuals need a bug repellent that can keep up with their lifestyle. This wrist wearable keeps you safe from mosquitoes anywhere by using ultrasonic sounds to drive them away.

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4. ZeroDark 3-Piece Tactical Set: Flashlight, Lantern, and Headlamp; $20 (66 percent off)

Aduro flashlight set.
Audro

If you want your summer to be lit, this set will do the trick. All puns aside, this trio of LED brightness is perfect for camping fun and backyard parties, or it can be stored in the car for emergencies.

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5. Outdoor Collapsible Cooler and Camp Table Set; $64 (27 percent off)

First Colonial cooler.
First Colonial

Cookouts are easy with this cooler and table set that chills your drink until you're ready to pop it into one of the four convenient cupholders. Bring this set camping or out by the pool for convenience anywhere.

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6. Trident: Underwater Scooter; $550 (21 percent off)

Trident underwater scooter.
Geneinno

If you’ve ever dreamed of better mobility while exploring the water, you’re not alone. The Trident underwater scooter, which raised over $82,000 on Indiegogo, can propel you through the water at up to nearly 6 feet per second, which isn't that far off from how fast Michael Phelps swam in his prime. The battery on it will last 45 minutes, allowing you to traverse with ease.

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7. Go Portable Solar Oven; $119 (14 percent off)

GoSun solar grill.
GoSun

Bake, roast, steam, or broil anywhere you bring this portable oven. Measuring in at just over a foot long and weighing only two pounds, the oven will work in most daytime weather conditions and can hold around 13 ounces of food.

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8. 3-in-1 Waterproof Bug Zapper Lantern; $25 (50 percent off)

3P Experts bug zapper.
3P Experts

Mosquitoes tend to be a big problem at night, partly because it's hard to swat in the dark. This lantern will light the area and zap mosquitos from nipping at you in the process.

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9. Urban E-Skateboard: Basic Version (Orange); $120 (73 percent off)

Urban Rover E-Skateboard
Urban Rover

This e-skateboard is perfect for getting around during the summer. You'll catch a breeze while you’re cruising on the battery-powered platform and won’t break a sweat when you pop the compact board in your bag.

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10. H2 Headlamp: Waterproof, Rechargeable LED Wide 180° Angle Headlight; $37 (26 percent off)

Headlamp from One80Light
One80Light

Camping, car troubles, and sports all pose a problem at night. This LED headlight will light up your surroundings across a 180-degree radius for prime visibility, meaning your outdoor activities won't have to stop when the sun sets.

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11. Whirlwind Cool Bladeless Mini Fan; $22 (63 percent off)

Bladeless fan
Whirlwind

This portable fan comes in a powerful handheld size so you can keep cool while on the move. Unlike other portable fans, this one has a sleek, bladeless design and features three different speeds.

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12. Bladeless Personal Fan; $22 (63 percent off)

Bladeless fan
3P Tech

This bladeless fan won't just keep you cool while you work on your laptop—it also has a built-in rechargable battery that you can use to charge your phone.

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13. MOGICS Coconut: Portable Waterproof Light; $37 (24 percent off)

Mogics portable lamp.
Mogics

This portable light is designed to adapt to your lighting preference. It self-inflates in a few seconds and can bounce, get wet, and set the mood.

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14. Lunatec 1L Hydration Spray Water Bottle; $25 (21 percent off)

Lunatec spray water bottle.
Lunatec

A water bottle can do more than hydrate you. This one has a spray nozzle that can create shower, stream, and mist patterns for doing dishes while camping, sharing a sip without sharing germs, and washing off those muddy shoes after a long hike.

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15. Sport Force Hydration Backpack; $25 (68 percent off)

Hydration backpack.
It's All Goods

Hiking enthusiasts know how important it is to stay hydrated, but carrying around awkward jugs of water is a hassle. This unique hydration backpack can be filled with two liters of water and features a convenient drinking nozzle that extends to the user's mouth. Now, you can replenish those fluids without breaking stride.

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

10 Fascinating Facts About Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge stars in Fleabag.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge stars in Fleabag.
Amazon Studios

In just two short seasons, British sitcom Fleabag has made a lasting mark on television. The series centers around Fleabag, a 30-year-old Londoner—played by the effortlessly funny Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also created the show—who is caught up living a life of late nights filled with booze and promiscuity in the wake of her mother’s death.

At first Fleabag appeared to be a simple half-hour comedy following the often naughty exploits of its quirky main character. Yet, as the series progressed, it quickly proved itself to be a truly masterful piece of work with each episode adding more complicated layers and darker themes to which many viewers can relate. Here are some facts about the groundbreaking comedy.

1. Fleabag began as a one-woman stage play.

It’s hard to imagine what Fleabag might look like if it were stripped of all its chaotic characters and performed as a solo show, but that’s exactly how it started. Before there was a TV show, creator/star Phoebe Waller-Bridge staged Fleabag as a one-woman play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2013. The title character addressed the audience in an hour-long, sexcapade-filled monologue, which was generally met with praise by theater critics. The TV show was created soon after, and originally premiered on BBC Three in July 2016.

2. The title of the show refers to more than just the main character.

The title Fleabag comes from a nickname given to Phoebe Waller-Bridge by her family. “It was my family nickname as far back as I can remember,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2019. Speaking to This Morning in April 2020, Waller-Bridge also revealed a deeper meaning for the name choice (which is never actually spoken in the show).

“A fleabag motel is something that's a bit rough around the edges,” Waller-Bridge explained. "I wanted to call her that because I wanted her persona and her outside aesthetic to give the impression that she was completely in control of her life, when actually, underneath, she's not."

3. Phoebe Waller-Bridge co-founded a theater company before penning Fleabag.


L to R: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Vicky Jones, and Tuppence Middleton at London's Soho Theatre.
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

In 2007, several years before Fleabag was born, Waller-Bridge was fed up with not being able to find work, despite having graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art two years earlier. So she co-founded her own theater company, DryWhite, with her best friend Vicky Jones. DryWhite paved the way for Waller-Bridge’s 2008 debut stage performance in Roaring Trade at London’s Soho Theatre, which led to two other successful plays—Crashing and, of course, Fleabag—both of which were created by and starred Waller-Bridge, and both of which were turned into television series. DryWhite is still going strong today, bringing fresh talent out in new productions every year.

4. Isobel Waller-Bridge, Phoebe's sister, composed the Fleabag soundtrack.

The badass guitar chords played after every episode of Fleabag are composed by Isobel Waller-Bridge, Phoebe’s very talented sister. Isobel earned a bachelor's degree in Music at Edinburgh University followed by a master's degree at King's College London then additional study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Isobel has firmly established herself in the music world. Like her sister, Isobel has received several awards, including Best Composer at the Underwire Film Festival. She also composed the chorused background music for Fleabag’s second season, which perfectly fit the religious theme. Her impressive work can be heard on her SoundCloud.

5. The fourth wall breaks in Fleabag aren’t just there for comedic effect.

Fleabag’s hilarious fourth wall breaks actually serve a deeper purpose for the character, which is realized by the end of season 1. Fleabag, who is deeply suppressing grief from the loss of her mother and best friend, uses these breaks to escape her troubled reality.

By season 2, the fourth wall breaks became less of a crutch as the character became more engaged in her real life and even fell in love. By the end of the show (spoiler!), Fleabag retires from the audience altogether as she decides to face her reality going forward.

6. The “Hot Priest” role was written specifically for Andrew Scott.

Waller-Bridge worked with Irish actor Andrew Scott years before she cast him to play the role of The Priest—a.k.a. “The Hot Priest”—in Fleabag’s second season. Speaking to IndieWire in 2019, Waller-Bridge praised Scott’s acting style, saying, “there’s something really dangerous about how truthful he is as an actor … he just comes with so much complexity that your characters instantly become interesting.” Waller-Bridge wrote the part once Scott agreed to it and their perfectly tragicomic love story was born.

7. Had Andrew Scott turned the part down, a second season of Fleabag might never have happened.

Waller-Bridge was so set on getting Andrew Scott to sign on to play The Priest that she admitted a second season might not have happened if he had said no. She told IndieWire:

"Religion was already a theme in my mind from very, very early on, but I didn’t know how to distill that until I had decided on The Priest. I worried it would be too much of an obvious sort of comedy idea, that Fleabag, who you can’t imagine has ever stepped foot in a church before, that she should come up against a man of the cloth. It seems almost too comedic, too sitcom.

"But then the moment I imagined Andrew Scott in that role, and making this man complex and three-dimensional, and sort of a match for Fleabag, then I was like ‘I’ve got the show now.’ It’s all about these two and how they affect each other’s lives. I called him up before I’d even written it to see if he’d be interested in doing it, and I pitched him the idea because I think if he’d said no, I don’t know if I would have actually been able to write that part."

8. The Priest notices something about Fleabag that no other character in the show is able to see.

Andrew Scott in Fleabag (2016)
Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Amazon Studios

Fleabag often breaks the fourth wall mid-conversation with characters to address the audience, until she is eventually caught in the act of doing it by The Priest—much to her, and the viewer's, surprise. Whenever things get too intense for Fleabag, she switches off, which is something the Priest notices almost right away. In a 2019 interview with IndieWire, Waller-Bridge discussed the significance of this moment between the two characters: “[S]peaking to the audience concerns the theme of loneliness, and I think that he’s able to recognize that because he’s actually able to see her.”

9. Fleabag had an alternate ending.

In 2019, Waller-Bridge revealed to The Guardian that there was an alternate ending for Fleabag, but she remained tight-lipped on what it was. At the beginning of season 2, Fleabag tells audiences this is “a love story” which, despite ending rather tragically, remains hopeful by the end as Fleabag leaves audiences behind to move forward in her own life. So Waller-Bridge can keep her alternate ending—the one viewers saw was perfect.

10. No, there will not be a third season of Fleabag.

Sian Clifford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in 'Fleabag'
Sian Clifford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag.
Hal Shinnie/Amazon Studios

Though Fleabag dominated the most recent awards season, winning two Golden Globes (including Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy) and six Emmy Awards (including Outstanding Comedy Series), Waller-Bridge has made it clear that there will not be a third season. Even after the second season won so many awards, Waller-Bridge said, “I haven’t changed my mind about season 3. It feels more and more about being the right decision. [These awards shows] are just beautiful goodbyes."