FARGO’s Olivia Sandoval on Winnie & Gloria, mid-western nice, and an exciting S3 finale

Olivia Sandoval, photographed by Ryan West

Navigating the “mid-western nice” of FARGO was new territory for Olivia Sandoval, the newcomer who has given life and incredible depth to beat-cop Winnie Lopez over the course of this stellar third season. As the show narrowed in on figuring out the mystery that was front and center, it has given audiences an authentic female friendship that is worth rooting for in Sandoval’s Lopez and Carrie Coon’s phenomenal Gloria Burgle.

In a call to preview the finale, Sandoval told me that “getting to play with [Carrie Coon] and having that kind of ‘We’re a team and we’re together and we’re out to get them, we’re out to win it.’ It’s an actors dream, absolutely an actors dream,” adding that these characters have built a friendship where “they both see each other.”

Over the course of our chat, we talked Noah Hawley (“creative genius, without any sense of hyperbole”), the team behind the seasons of FARGO (“they have such an instinct for casting and for actors”), and her dad, fellow actor Miguel Sandoval (“My dad’s the best, he’s just the best.”).  Read on for more and do NOT miss one minute of the finale!

I cannot say enough about this season of the show. I feel like FARGO has never let anybody down and season three is no different.
Oh yay [laughs].

I was reading an interview you had done that you said you hadn’t watched the show before you got the audition or went out for it, so what was it- Was it something that you had read or was it something Noah had done in the script? What was it that made you think “Okay, season three FARGO, I’m going to dive in and try for this role”?
Well, you know the audition came through my managers office and I, you know such a huge, huge, huge fan of the film. Just a chance to walk into that world I can barely contain my excitement. Of course my parents were just tremendous fans of the show and were just constantly bugging me “You gotta watch the show, you gotta watch the show” but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. As soon as even the scene, which was the scene where I’m in the Stussy office and I’m talking to Michael Stuhlbarg [Sy] in episode four, that was my initial audition scene. Reading that, the writing just blew me away. I don’t think I had ever read anything that jumped off the page quite like that. I just felt so excited to go in and play that scene and be that person, even if it did end up being just for the audition. Needless to say lucky me, I got to see it through to the end. I just think that Noah is a real creative genius without any sense of hyperbole [laughs]; I think he’s a master at what he does. It’s amazing.

It’s so true, and a lot of what we’ve seen in FARGO too, I think is also how your actors and people like you are playing the words that you’re given. There’s not a lot of time for flash, you get to do these little subtle moments that make these big character movements, which I think is so exciting.
Absolutely. There’s so much wonderful stuff to play within that world of Minnesota Nice, it’s just as much about what isn’t said, if not more, as it is about what is said. Getting to play, especially playing a policewoman and the element of hunting for the truth and reading a room and constantly being aware of what’s this guy’s angle, what’s that guy’s angle? Playing that within the world of mid-western nice culture, was just too much fun. Then of course Carrie Coon, getting to play with her and having that kind of “We’re a team and we’re together and we’re out to get them, we’re out to win it”. It’s an actors dream, absolutely an actors dream.

That relationship, with Winnie and Gloria, you search Twitter and everybody is obsessed! One of my best friends even said yesterday, “I love that there’s this female relationship that’s not about a guy,” it’s about murderers and finding killers; it’s not these women coming together over a man, it’s just these strong women. What was that even like, you mentioned Carrie but what’s it like to play that?
That’s actually a really good point. I think that it’s – one thing that was really reinforced for me most personally and artistically the importance of having supportive, uplifting, strong female relationships in your life. I think that’s really so much beautiful stuff happens between Gloria and Winnie, I mean obviously as you said the fact that they’re really the sharpest tacks in the room and the truth where their male superiors stomp all over everything and miss the details, it takes that feminine energy has to come in to really see what other people are not letting themselves see. Also the beautiful friendship that happens between Gloria and Winnie where they both see each other.

That scene in the bar with Carrie for me to play as an actor, and also as- Carrie and I had developed this really great friendship and me, as a newcomer, she offered so much mentorship and guidance, which I will just always be grateful for; I can’t thank her enough. Everybody was incredible, just the most lovely group of people I’ve ever worked with, and Carrie especially she just really made it unforgettable. Art imitating life thing, certainly in that scene I felt like it was both Winnie connecting and seeing and thanking Gloria but it was also me thanking Carrie, for these months we’ve spent in Canada creating this story. It was very special and it was very emotional and Keith Gordon the director is such an incredible person to work with. He really lets you play and be good at all kinds of different ways. He’s so attentive to your needs as an actor, he’s really fantastic. I’m so excited for the finale because [laughs]. They hit it out of the park!!

Obviously there’s so much that still has to happen in this finale, there’s so much coming! What is there that you think you can tease about this last episode?
Just that you’re going to be glued to the screen. There’s so much but it’s good stuff that happens and so much delicious performances. It’s amazing acting by all of our heroes, our antiheroes as it were. So it’s something you’re definitely going to want to put your phones down for, turn the lights down, and not take your eyes away because it’s riveting.

It’s so important that you say that “Put your phones away, focus on the T.V.”. There are those shows out there where you’re like “I’ll just put it on in the background,” but I found that little moments on shows like this-
There’s a place for that, but this is not that [laughs]. Noah calls every season of FARGO it’s like a ten hour film, and that is really how it ends like that and it began like that, and that’s what it felt like to me. It felt like we were working on just a really long feature film.

And you mention being the newcomer and Carrie being kind of the season vet here, what I think every season of FARGO has done has really given time to the vets and the newcomers to shine and really succeed as a group; individually but as a group as well. Do you feel that, too?
Without a doubt. The ensemble … Of course this is the season that I’m in so this is the most special to me [laughs] because it really was just an amazing group of people and it was such smart choices and risky choices. I still to this day it’s hard to believe that they entrusted me, this unknown, with such an incredible character, and entrusted me to hold my own along with, like you said, such seasoned vets. I mean people whose work I’ve admired for years and years, I can’t believe I even got to share the same air with them [laughs].

I think that they have such an instinct for casting and for actors and so here we are, we’re all in different stages of our careers obviously and from all over the world. I mean Goran Bogdan’s from Croatia, we’ve got David [Thewlis] from England and Scotland and you know. We all got along like we had known each other our whole lives and we had so much fun. I could never have prepared myself for how much fun we had. It was hard to say goodbye at the end because there’s that scattering to the winds thing that happens in this business. You have to learn how to let go of characters and it was hard to realize that I didn’t get to spend every single day with these people. I think we all felt that at the end.

For a season like this, did Noah have all ten episodes ready and you knew what was coming ahead of time, or was it script by script you kind of found out how the story was going to play out and how you’d play a part in that?
We were really on the edge of our seats because I think you know, I came in a few episodes in and I had received the first four or five or something like that. Then for the second half of the season we were all hanging out in our hotel rooms just waiting for the script to come in. We were just as much fans as anybody else. They play everything very close to the vest and we learned very quickly that you couldn’t expect anything, expect the unexpected the entire time. They would change things too, scripts would come in and then they would get tweaked and new drafts would come in so it was this really exciting feeling. Really felt like you were part of something, and the fact also that we went really quickly from shooting into it being on the air, it actually overlapped. We wrapped on May 5th and I think the premiere was April 19th? So it’s really been this whirlwind and it’s very strange that it is finally coming to a close. It feels so, this whole 2017 has been nothing but FARGO so the fact that it’s ending this week makes me kind of sad, but of course all good things must come to an end, as you know.

Olivia Sandoval, photographed by Ryan West

Are fans reaching out? Are you hearing from people and seeing the same thing that I’m seeing, the Winnie and Gloria stuff on Twitter? Are you on social media and interacting with people?
Yeah, I do. I have a Twitter account, I’m a good little millennial. It’s been so heartwarming and I’m so touched by the response. It’s a dream come true for me and Winnie was so special. I really love Winnie, I fell in love with her as soon as I read that first scene, like I said. The fact that people are connecting with her and connecting with that strong female relationship between the two of them. It’s really meaningful and I’m so appreciative and touched. I shed a tear almost every day over something that someone said, so I just feel so fortunate to have, like I said to have been entrusted to play this character. It’s kind of amazing!

What else, obviously talking about FARGO coming to an end, what is next for you? Are there things that you’re interested in doing, or have you read for stuff coming up? What’s next?
Well, the future is unwritten as of yet. I’m trying to of course get more work. I’ve had a taste of the good life [laughs]; I want it to keep going! I’m obviously very spoiled. It’s been an incredible experience on FARGO, but I play in a band called Whiskey Sunday. It’s like Irish-American folk music and that keeps me very busy and I’m out auditioning and seeing where the cards fall. I’m in the exciting unknown right now.

You’ve obviously been involved in the business, even being around the- Whether this your first big thing or not you’re with your dad [Miguel Sandoval, MEDIUM, ALIAS, DIRK GENTLY, to name a few]. What’s it like growing up in that world? Are you automatically predisposed to want to be an actor?
[laughs] Probably. I always joked that for a long time I tried to pretend like I came up with it on my own, like, especially as a teenager, like “no dad this is my idea that I want to be an actor.” My dad’s my hero and I wanted to be just like him. I’m very grateful for having grown up in this business because I came into being a professional with a sense of reality of this is what it’s going to be like and that I had no misgivings that it wasn’t going to be anything but a challenge. It’s tough and you’ve got to have a thick skin and all that stuff. I didn’t know how surreal it was to grow up in the business until I was older and I looked back and I was like, that was pretty unique but I’m obviously grateful for having all those experiences. My dad’s the best, he’s just the best.

And my dad of course, he’s like I said earlier, just the biggest fan of the show. He’s just obsessed with the show, so he was joking the whole time like “Doesn’t Winnie have like a dad, or a grandpa character” every time he would talk to me he goes “Talk to Noah about”- I think he named his unofficial character on FARGO Sonny Lopez.

Oh my god that’s amazing.
“Go talk to him about writing Sonny Lopez.”

The Season 3 Finale of FARGO, called “Somebody to Love,” airs Wednesday 6/21 at 10/9c on FX. DVR Alert – it runs until 11:15!