Turns out the research for playing one of the most amoral psychos on television these days is simple: Turn on the news.
“That was really how I did it,” says David Thewlis, who plays the coldly menacing V.M. Varga on FX’s Fargo.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him yet, V.M. in a sense is a VC, a man with a lot of money who wants more money. He delivers a particularly memorable monologue on that and other matters in the fourth episode of Fargo’s current season, which airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET.
What’s happened to this point in the story is that Varga lent a million dollars under the table to Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor), The Parking Lot King of Minnesota. Instead of taking repayment, Varga has now leveraged himself into a partnership with Ray and Ray’s associate Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg).
Ray has seen enough of Varga to know he wants nothing to do with him, which is a wise if futile instinct.
“Varga is a bad person,” says Thewlis. “He’s beyond redemption. He’s especially menacing to Ray and Sy because they don’t really know anything about him. They don’t know what he wants. He’s an enigma.”
He also becomes more central to the story as this season goes along, and that doesn’t bode well for anyone. His monologue Wednesday, laying out his worldview, is paranoid, defiant, chilling and free of concern for anyone but himself.
“When I first read the script, I thought Varga was a small part,” says Thewlis. “Almost like a guest spot. But he becomes more prominent. He inveigles his way into the story.”
While Varga isn’t modeled on any recognizable real-life figure, Thewlis acknowledges that the idea of a silent menace, of forces that could suddenly cripple our lives before we realize what had happened, is powerful stuff.
Perhaps especially these days.
“Since we were filming most of the show during the first 100 days of Trump’s America, I got a very different view than I might have had back in England,” says Thewlis. “I kept tuning to American news channels, probably more than I should have, because what kept coming up was so relevant to Varga.
“The whole question of ‘What is truth?’ seemed to be the theme of Trump’s presidency.
“I have to say, I’m utterly baffled about what has happened so far.”
That doesn’t mean, he adds, that he was playing Varga as a grand metaphor.
“I’ve become very aware with Fargo that [creator] Noah Hawley’s writing is hugely thematic. You see that in the way people analyze it, often wonderfully. And Noah has said that everything in drama for the next few years will be about Trump.
“But I can’t say I play the character with that in mind. I concentrate on what’s in the script.”
Which he says is plenty.
“There’s poetic beauty in Noah’s writing,” he says. “And it’s great fun to play a character who’s such a pure villain. You get into it. I like playing those characters. I’ll occasionally take an offer for something else and after a while I start to think, ‘I’m bored.’
“This is the most enjoyable thing I’ve done in many, many years.”
He does, however, allow there’s a bit of distance between himself and V.M., who at one point Wednesday is likened to a wolf.
“I’m not sure what animal I’d choose for myself,” he says. “Probably a cat or a bird of some kind.”
He muses that when he and Gary Oldman were in the Harry Potter films, they had to pick animals for each other.
“I think he had me as a deer,” says Thewlis. “But it definitely wouldn’t be a wolf.”
The 54-year-old Thewlis has spent much of his career in the movies, including five runs as Professor Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter series.
“That’s probably what people best know me for,” he says. “The first Potter generation is now in their 20s and 30s, so there a lot of them out there now.”
His next big-screen appearance arrives June 2, when he will be seen as Ares in Wonder Woman.
That’s almost three weeks before we’ll learn where V.M. Varga and an odd assortment of other Fargo characters, most of them much better-hearted and more well-meaning than he, will ultimately converge and learn their fate.
Extrapolating from the history of Fargo, that won’t spell happy trails for everyone.