Jean Smart’s Not Your Run-of-the Mill Midwestern Mom on ‘Fargo’
Photo by Chris Large/FX
On this season of Fargo, Jean Smart plays Floyd Gerhardt, the tougher-than-nails mob mom. Her husband Otto, the head of the Minnesota crime empire, has had a stroke and she finds herself in charge and walking a very thin line between keeping her family safe and waging an all-out war with the Kansas City syndicate who is trying to gain control of her territory. In a recent conference call interview Jean talked about creating the character of Floyd. To sum her up, she said, “She does what she needs to do, whenever it needs to be done.” But Floyd is way too complex to condense into one statement. She’s a mid-western mother in fear for the lives of her children and grandchildren while at the same time unafraid of anyone or anything, willing to do what it takes, to protect the empire built by her father-in-law. She recalled seeing the scripts early on. “I was given so much through the lines that it was clear to me where I wanted to go with her. I did not ask [Executive Producer] Mr. [Noah] Hawley why he named her Floyd, until the season was over. I decided to just come up with my own ideas of why she was named Floyd based on the kind of father she had and the kind of childhood she had. It’s fun to come up with your own ideas, and in this case it was very easy to let the script be my roadmap for her.” This installment of Fargo takes place in 1979, and the women’s liberation movement is in full force. Jean noted, “She’s a throwback to another era, but at the same time is very strong… She wouldn’t refer to herself as liberated, but I suppose that would be a word to describe her… It certainly was on her mind for her granddaughter’s sake, trying to keep her granddaughter from going down a path in life that she knew was going to be disastrous.” She also pointed out, “It’s subtle the way Noah has worked in the feminist sensibility of the late ‘70s and even the racial issues with Native Americans and African Americans. It’s all so subtle. He’s just dropped in little tiny, tiny moments that don’t try to make some kind of statement and don’t detract from the story, which is just so thick and you can’t turn a way from watching the train wreck.” In terms of Floyd’s own path, while she was thrust into the role of the head of the family, when Otto took ill, it was clear she had been helping make the decisions all along. “She’d always been pretty much equal or felt like an equal to her husband. For better or worse, they were probably a very good team.” She continued, “She’s a strong woman in a man’s world. She’s always been surrounded by strong men. Probably her father was not wildly dissimilar from her father-in-law or her husband. Her boys for the most part were very strong men but she’s not cowed by anything. Her husband was certainly the leader of the family. She refers to him as ‘my lion’ and she probably loves him very much… I think they probably had a pretty equal partnership.” This struggle between love and hate carries over to her relationship with her son Dodd. While he is in fact her second child, her firstborn was killed in the Vietnam War. So Dodd is next in line to the thrown. But when Otto becomes incapacitated, Floyd knows Dodd is not yet ready. “She knows he’s damaged in a way, who knows how much she’s privy to how he interacted with his father.“ She wants to protect her baby, yet she knows what he does in the name of the family empire. “She’s in the kitchen basting a turkey while he’s in the barn torturing a guy. She knows what’s going on, it’s business. He comes to the kitchen and makes an off color remark and she barks at him… If she wasn’t as strong a woman as she was, she would be afraid of him. She’s not afraid of him even if she knows he’s capable of dark things.” And while it’s easy to admire Floyd for her strength and position, she is, in fact running an illegal crime family. So why do viewers like her so much? She explained her reasons, “We all know that no one’s all good and no one’s all bad… It’s cathartic for us to see the darker side of people.” As the war with the Kansas City crime syndicate escalates, the line between business and family is being put to the the test for Floyd. Jean stated, “Floyd is a very practical person, very pragmatic. Business is business. Family is family. But obviously there’s going to be a conflict between the two.” She recalled the scene with Brad Garrett, “Joe Bulo’s character said ‘when one of my men steps over the line, I break his arm or I take his tongue. What are you willing to do with your children or your grandchildren?’ And she can’t answer that because obviously her instinct as a mother is to not lose any more kids. It’s going to be a conflict with the empire. That’s why she doesn’t want to go to war, but she’s perfectly willing to and she’s not afraid to die.” Find out the fate of Floyd and her family on Fargo on Monday nights at 10 P.M. EST/PST on FX.