Emmy nominees won’t be revealed until mid-July, but there’s already strong buzz for a contender in the category of supporting actress in a movie or miniseries, someone who will most likely compete against Oscar winners Julia Roberts and Kathy Bates.
Welcome to the club, Allison Tolman!
Uh, hold on. Allison who?
Tolman understands why her name doesn’t ring a bell. She had landed only two TV parts in five years before she was plucked out of near-obscurity to play the role of sweet but stubborn Deputy Molly Solverson in FX’s “Fargo,” the Minnesota-set sensation that wraps up its season on Tuesday.
“It’s like when you have a dream where you get a great job or bought a car and then you wake up and say ‘goddammit,’ ” said Tolman, apologizing profusely earlier this week for being 14 minutes late for a phone interview, a sure sign that’s she’s still new to the business. “That dream could be happening right now.”
Tolman, 32, was doing sketch comedy in Chicago and working in a photography studio when her agent suggested that she audition for the role. Her arm didn’t need to be twisted.
“When you’re a working actress at my level, you don’t pick or choose,” she said. “I would have been happy to book a part on a terrible TV show.”
Tolman might have had an edge because she’s used a Minnesota accent on stage for years.
“Whenever I’ve done a sketch in which I’m asked to play a mom, my brain goes to Minnesota,” she said. “It makes the character seem matronly, warm, the kind of person that takes care of you and brings you Campbell’s soup when you’re sick. It’s a great shortcut.”
It took creator Noah Hawley only five days to select Tolman, putting her in a cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Colin Hanks, who plays her husband. Heady stuff for someone whose biggest role to date had been an unnamed nurse on “Prison Break.”
“They made it really easy,” Tolman said. “I remember how terrified I was the first day, but I wasn’t terrified the second day.”
Tolman’s character is a rarity on television: No deep secrets, no scandalous background, no ulterior motives, no affair with a vampire. Her good nature and everywoman physique are big reasons why audiences root for her.
“I don’t look like a lot of actresses we have on TV right now,” she said. “My body shape is appropriate for our story and should be appropriate for more stories if we’re going to be honest about what we put on television. I think it makes viewers feel better about themselves.”
Despite all the attention, Tolman doesn’t have her next gig lined up, although she is planning to move to Los Angeles this summer with her boyfriend. She’s waiting to see whether “Fargo” gets a second season. All signs point to that happening, with an average viewership of a little under 2 million viewers — significantly more than FX’s “The Americans,” which has been picked up for a third round. If so, the question is whether she might return as Molly or perhaps as an entirely different character, a device Ryan Murphy has applied with great success on “American Horror Story.”
“I would be so lucky to get another season,” she said. “I told Noah I wanted to come back as a prostitute. Based on his reaction, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”