‘Fargo’s’ Allison Tolman to Vogue: ‘I haven’t been recognized’Continue reading.
‘Fargo’ the place to be for Chicago’s Allison Tolman
Before “Fargo” star Allison Tolman relocated to Chicago from Texas in the first half of 2009, she was a standout on the Dallas theater scene, acting frequently and earning awards.
She also did commercial spots for such brands as Walmart and Denny’s as well as television work on such programs as the Fox drama “Prison Break.”
Then only in her mid- to late 20s, she was already critically beloved. In 2008, Dallas Morning News critic Lawson Taitte called Tolman and a fellow Dallas-area thespian “the best actresses of their generations hereabouts.”
As the 32-year-old Tolman tells it, though, none of the cred she garnered down south gave her a leg up in Chicago. After settling into a Lincoln Square apartment, getting accepted into and making her way through Second City’s conservatory program and scoring zero non-stage acting jobs while serving as the office administrator for a small IT firm in River North, she began resigning herself to the fact that things might not work out quite the way she’d planned.
“I felt like I had done the right thing by going to Dallas and building up a resume and getting these great commercial credits together,” she says. “And I thought, ‘This is really smart. I started out in a smaller market and now I’m going to go to a larger market.’ But I quickly realized that it didn’t really matter. I still was starting from the very beginning.”
Prior to that realization, on a stage at Second City, she learned how to be more fearless and focus externally rather than internally — to get out of her head.
“I was always really impressed by her ability to take and execute a note,” says Anne Libera, one of her conservatory teachers. “I gave her some feedback at the end of level 4 and she had completely incorporated it by level 6.”
Although Tolman considers her improv training to be “the best acting classes I’ve ever taken,” she found she had a far greater affinity for scripted material.
“I know the benefits of having a really great improv show are amazing, because it was this one rare and fleeting thing that was incredible,” she says, “but the risk just didn’t appeal to me. I liked the control of sitting down and writing things.”
A couple of years after her Second City matriculation, local casting directors got wind that folks from “Fargo” were seriously considering an audition tape Tolman had submitted. As a result, her currency rose and opportunities began coming her way. She was thrilled.
“That was as far as I thought about things going,” she says. “I was like, ‘This is great! I’m totally going to book a lottery commercial, I just know it!’ ”
To her surprise and delight, something much better came along. In August of 2013, after flying to New York for an audition, Tolman was hired to play Bemidji, Minn., police deputy Molly Solverson on “Fargo” (9 p.m. Tuesdays on FX). It is only the second non-theater role she has landed while living in Chicago, from which Tolman and her boyfriend will likely move at the summer’s end to set up shop in L.A. Even if the Calgary, Alberta-shot “Fargo” (modeled after the 1996 Coen Brothers film) fails to get picked up for a second season, she says, it’s good to be where the action is.
Actor, writer and director Matt Lyle, a Dallas transplant and fellow Baylor University graduate, has worked with Tolman in Chicago for several years, most notably on the City Life Supplement comedy podcast that Lyle hosts. (Tolman will lend her voice to couple of future episodes, on April 26 and again in late May).
“She’s naturally charming onstage or onscreen,” Lyle says. “She’s also able to play something honestly but still get the humor out of it. Really, the hardest thing to do as a comic actor or as an actor in general is comic timing. You can’t teach it. It’s this innate thing she has that helps her a lot. She’s kind of an everywoman as well.”
Presumably, those are a couple of the qualities that spurred Tolman’s hiring on “Fargo,” in which she gets significant everywoman screen time with Naperville native and “Breaking Bad” breakout Bob Odenkirk (he plays weak-stomached Bemidji police deputy Bill Olson). Besides their shared Chicago-ness, Tolman’s manager is Odenkirk’s wife, Naomi. Odenkirk has proffered some valuable advice, too.
In an email to the Sun-Times, he praised Tolman’s “sharp comic intelligence” and a “natural down-to-earth self-deprecating quality that also makes her incredibly likable.”
And though he “can’t remember more than half of the crazy crap that falls out of my mouth,” he does recall telling her that this shot at playing the “Fargo” female lead “may qualify as a fluke, but her talent is not.”
If “Fargo” gets picked up for a second season, Tolman says, a small film role might be a logical next step. If it doesn’t, she’ll start auditioning again — as always, never banking on a job that isn’t yet contractually hers.
“The best thing I ever learned when I first started acting is that you audition and then you forget about it when you walk out the door,” she says. “Even when you have a callback, you can’t bank on things until you actually book that job or your heart will just be broken over and over again.”
In other words, she’s had to harden her heart?
“Yes, exactly. And swallow my tears.”