David Rysdahl had enough on his plate. The 36-year-old actor was playing a pivotal role in the upcoming season of "Fargo" as a Twin Cities car salesman overwhelmed by a mysterious wife (Juno Temple) and a bossy mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh), by far the most substantial role of his screen career.
But Rysdahl took on an additional chore. Growing up in New Ulm and attending St. Olaf College made him the cast's resident expert on everything Minnesota — including that distinctive accent.
"They knew I was from Minnesota and they took advantage of that," Rysdahl said last week in a Zoom interview from his New York home, two days before he would fly to Los Angeles for a red carpet premiere.
He leaned on his dad and childhood pals to record some messages so fellow cast members on the Calgary, Alberta, sets could hear what Minnesotans really sound like.
"At first, I had them read passages from the script, but it didn't feel authentic. They would end up acting," said Rysdahl, who had several dinners with the London-born Temple before shooting began to help sync up the way they talk. "So I just asked them to tell me about their day, their plans for the weekend, so it came across as more natural."
Rysdahl also wanted to make sure creator Noah Hawley didn't turn his character into a clueless, cuckolded husband. Over the course of the first six episodes, we learn he's stronger than his good manners would initially lead you to believe.
"I didn't want Minnesota Nice to come across as silly," Rysdahl said. "Friendliness shouldn't be a weakness."
"Fargo," which premieres Tuesday on FX and begins streaming on Hulu Wednesday, caps a momentous year for Rysdahl. He played chemist Donald Hornig in "Oppenheimer" and appeared in an episode of Netflix's "Black Mirror." Last month, he got married in Germany to his longtime partner Zazie Beetz, best known for her Emmy-nominated role in "Atlanta."
But don't expect the success to go to his head.
"He doesn't have any ego," said his brother Gabriel Rysdahl, who is also an actor based in New York. "Surrounding yourself with people who love and respect you for who you are is a recipe to never letting your head get too big."
Rysdahl makes sure to get back to New Ulm at least once a year to visit his parents. It was in that city, southwest of Minneapolis, where he first got the acting bug, doing productions at Cathedral High School and playing in the forest with his two younger brothers.
"We'd bring food in, build little forts and pretend we were on excursions," Gabriel Rysdahl said.
After spending a summer as an apprentice at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Rysdahl moved to New York to pursue a professional acting career. There were theater parts, some of which he wrote for himself, but fame eluded him for over a decade.
He lived with up to six roommates at a time. He paid the bills by working in the catering department at the Standard High Line Hotel, appearing in student films whenever he could. It took him awhile to adjust to screen work.
"In film, you can start playing to the crew, which is the wrong thing to do," he said. "You've got to play to the camera. Realizing that was a big turning point for me."
His on the-job training has paid off. "Fargo" casting director Rachel Tenner insists she didn't recommend Rysdahl because of his Midwest ties.
"I saw his audition tape and went, 'Omigod,'" she said. "I had no idea he was from Minnesota until much later."
If success ever becomes problematic, Rysdahl can turn to his wife for help.
"Fame happened for Zazie first," he said. "It was a very surreal experience to feel like your privacy is gone. But you ground yourself with the people you know. I watched her go through that, so it'll be much easier for me."