Photo by Chris Large/FX
On this season of Fargo, Mike Milligan, played by Bokeem Woodbine, is the lead henchman in Joe Bulo’s organized crime syndicate. He, along with the mute Kitchen Brothers, carry out Bulo’s dirty work, which at this stage of the series means full on war with the Gerhardts, Fargo’s local mob family.
Mike is a calm, cool and collected bad ass. And like Season 1’s Lorne Malvo, the audience is rooting for him despite the horrible acts of violence he commits. Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Mike is how did this hip African American dude end up in the lily white plains of Fargo, North Dakota, in the first place?
In a recent interview Bokeem stated, “Mike gets a tremendous amount of pleasure from subverting the notions that people have about black men in that timeframe and particularly in that region. So he gets a kick out of it.”
When it came time to create the character of Mike Milligan, Executive Producer Noah Hawley let Bokeem loose to go in the direction he felt was right, “He puts a lot of faith in his actors,” he stated.
He explained how he began fleshing out Mike, “I’m a mercenary. I get the lay of the land, per say, which would be the script. I get certain specifics as far as who’s working on my side or who the enemy is, to use that as a metaphor, and what my weapons are, if you will. What I have working for me and what I have working against me. And a lot of times that’s all the information I have.” He then uses that arsenal to craft the backstory of his character.
And after being cast in Fargo, he had five or six weeks to do just that. “I had plenty of time to talk with Noah, to work on things, to develop my sense of the character and that’s always a blessing.”
Bokeem was drawn to the character right from his audition (during which he flubbed a line and was certain he did not get the part). He recalled, “I could hear him in my head talking. And that’s how he sounded. So when I did the audition, I did it like that. I got the part and then when we were getting ready to shoot I kept waiting for them to tell me not to do that… but they never did. So I just went with it.”
Being in the Fargo-sphere is a very unique place for most actors. “There is a cadence to an extent,” noted Bokeem. “There is a certain rhythm and a vernacular. How does one try to make that honest? That was the ongoing challenge. Every line, every word, every page, every scene, had that same challenge. How do I make this as authentic and natural as possible for me?”
He confessed there was no easy answer, just a lot of hard work. He obsessed over the dialogue and didn’t think about anything else. He got wrapped up in the what he called “Fargo-eque flavor” and wondered, “How do we respect the audience, respect ourselves, respect craft and still bring it to life and still make it exciting? For me there was no formula, it was just one scene at a time.”
Bokeem did find the sweet spot, making Mike at once realistic and yet a Coen-ized caricature of a ‘70s mobster. “When you feel like you might have solved the riddle, or unlocked the treasure chest, there’s no feeling like it. The reward is indescribable when you feel like you might have figured out the honest and true way to deliver the rather, at times, bizarre yet quite sensical lines. So it’s an amazing challenge.”
Getting into character was made easier for Bokeem with the help of the costumes and and make-up to transform him. “Those sideburns to me were like a character unto themselves,” he stated. And as an actor who does not relish the wardrobe aspect of the job he admitted, “Getting dressed every day was a real joy.”
While no one’s fate is certain in a Fargo series, we hope Mike will stay with us through the end. Of course Bokeem could not discuss Mike’s future, but he did promise that Mike will give it his all.
“You’re going to get a chance to see some different tones as the show goes on and you might see some other sides of Mike Milligan potentially.” He continued, “The only thing that would really scare Mike is not reaching his full potential. Is not getting everything that he can get out of life given his attributes and his skill sets. Falling short of the mark… He doesn’t want to be that guy who didn’t quite go as far as his potential could have taken him.”
To find out Mike’s fate, watch Fargo Monday nights at 10 P.M. EST/PST on FX.