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John Lamb, Published April 12 2014

Cast our ‘Fargo’: Who would portray our city’s characters on the big screen?

FARGO - The rest of the country will get a look at how the national media sees our part of the world when the new TV series “Fargo” airs Tuesday night on FX.

Like the namesake Coen Brothers’ 1996 movie, that screen version of the Upper Midwest may not always sit so well with locals. People are bound to say, “We don’t talk like that” or “We’re not that violent.” (Seven people died in the 100-minute movie, and trailers for the 10-part TV series suggest a similar body count.)

This got us thinking. How would we cast our movie of “Fargo”? That is, who would portray the very real characters who are so identifiable in our community?

Our selections aren’t necessarily doppelgangers, but rather actors we think could depict characteristics of locals.

The first name to come up was Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker. As solid a leader as he’s been over his eight-year term, his personality isn’t what you would call dynamic. And while he cuts an imposing physical figure and has been tireless in fighting floods, his slow, low, monotone delivery and silver goatee and moustache have led to some calling him “Mayor Walrus.”

Wilford Brimley (“Cocoon” and oatmeal enthusiast) first came to mind, though on further consideration, he doesn’t fully fit the bill. Nick Offerman also sports an impressive ’stache, and the physique is closer. While he can play an official (Ron Swanson in “Parks and Recreation”), he may be too … energetic.

Enter Brendan Gleeson. The Irish actor may be best known for charming, yet mumbling, disheveled figures like Alaster “Mad-Eye” Moody in the Harry Potter movies, but his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Into the Storm” showed that he can play a fearless leader.

Walaker’s West Fargo counterpart, Rich Mattern, similarly leads with a stoic pride, making Edward James Olmos (“Stand and Deliver,” “Battlestar Galactica”) an obvious choice.

Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams is more challenging. With just a half-year in office, Williams is a newcomer. One thing she’s been promoting is Moorhead as an arts-friendly community, including possibly luring Theatre B from across the river. So, thinking outside of Hollywood, we’ll cast Theatre B’s Carrie Wintersteen, who can easily embody Williams’ enthusiasm.

The area may not be as bloody as the film depicted, but there’s still a need for law and order. Both sides of the river supply interesting characters to portray. On the Minnesota side, Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist’s stern, steely face is fit for Harvey Keitel’s (“Pulp Fiction”) hard-nosed mug. His Cass County counterpart, Sheriff Paul Laney, has a power-lifting physique that makes for an opportune acting debut for professional wrestler/mixed martial artist Brock Lesnar.

Speaking of sports stars, North Dakota State University Athletic Director Gene Taylor has had to do some scrambling of his own to replace two successful coaches this year. You’ve got to feel sorry for the guy, and few actors are as sympathetic as the soft-spoken David Morse (“The Green Mile”).

One person who is not soft spoken is Ed Schultz. True, he no longer lives in Fargo, but when he shoots his mouth off, it does reverberate here. Another former football player, John Goodman, has shown he can capture that explosiveness effectively, as he did in the Coens' “The Big Lebowski.”

Doug Burgum, a much quieter figure, has arguably the biggest influence on the area without being an elected official. Daniel Day-Lewis has shown he can get lost in king-makers and kingdom-builders (“Gangs of New York,” “There will be Blood”), as well as effective politicians (“Lincoln”), should he ever run.

Another person outside of politics who has a lot of say in how we live day to day is WDAY meteorologist John Wheeler. Casting the well-known weatherman was harder than you’d think, until we looked right under our news – or a spoof of the news – and saw the physical similarities (though not as much for personalities) Wheeler shares with funnyman Steve Carell (“Anchorman”).

When it comes to the movies, no one has been as active promoting films and the Fargo Theatre as its former executive director, Margie Bailly. While she may be small in stature, she delivers a big influence, not unlike the diminutive but distinguished Linda Hunt (“NCIS: Los Angeles”).

And how could we cast our own version of “Fargo” without the one Fargoan to be in the movie? Kristin Rudrüd’s portrayal of the doomed Jean Lundegaard was filled with wiry, comic energy, the kind Kristen Wiig could nail.

Also starring ...

• Fred Thompson as Fargo’s Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney.

• Bob Balaban as Fargo School Board member turned City Council candidate John Strand.

• Loretta Swit as arts advocate and Cass County Commission candidate Dawn Morgan.

• Ian McKellen as Roland Dille.

• Jimmy Smits as restaurateur/tennis champ Juan Mondragon.

• One Direction (minus one) as The Blenders.

• And introducing Andrina Brogden as singing sensation, Andrina Brogden.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533