Watch: Stephen Park breaks down his Fargo character

The real-life Mike Yanagita tells the story of one of the most memorable scenes in the Coen brothers’ filmography.


Adam Woodward


Korean-American actor Stephen Park made his film debut in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in 1989, playing a grocery store owner who gets caught in the crossfire as racial tensions spill over on the sizzling streets of Brooklyn. Park has since worked with such acclaimed directors as Bong Joon-ho and Wes Anderson, most recently appearing in The French Dispatch for the latter – but you probably know him best for his small but decisive role in the Coen brothers’ homespun crime-drama from 1996, Fargo.

The Coens have mastered the art of crafting memorable scenes around minor characters, who may only appear on screen for a few minutes but still play a crucial role in establishing a key theme or helping to unpick the film’s mysteries. Think of the ill-fated gas station attendant in No Country for Old Men, Adam Driver’s wannabe country singer in Inside Llweyn Davis, or the jibbering lawyer who defends Frances McDormand in The Man Who Wasn’t There.

But perhaps the most unforgettable of them all is Mike Yanagita, the lovelorn ex-classmate of Fargo’s heroine, Marge Gunderson. Park’s brief but brilliant cameo is one of the most cringe-inducing moments in the Coens entire filmography, as Mike clumsily confesses his true feelings to the “super lady” he’s invited for lunch. Twenty-five years on, the scene has lost none of its ability to make us laugh (and squirm).

To mark the film’s anniversary, video essayist and regular LWLies contributor Leigh Singer sat down with Park to get the inside story of the scene. They discuss the real meaning of Mike and Marge’s reunion, how Park prepared himself emotionally for the scene, and how the character was received in the Asian-American community. Watch the full video below and stay tuned for more – next time, Park breaks down his A Serious Man character.

Published 16 Aug 2021

Tags: Coen brothers Fargo Frances McDormand Mike Yanagita Stephen Park

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