Plemons and Dunst met while shooting the second season of FX’s “Fargo,” in which they played a married couple engaged in a criminal cover-up. “I knew that she would be in my life for a long time,” he said. Though they didn’t begin dating until a year and a half after the season had wrapped (and both had netted Emmy nominations), the connection was instant: They often stayed up late running lines with each other, a level of dedication that had been drummed into them from a lifetime spent in the entertainment industry.
“We laugh about the fact that we were two child actors,” Dunst said, “and we both made it out OK.”
As a young performer, Plemons would fly from his hometown Mart, Tex., to Los Angeles for auditions. He lacked the over-the-top, pixie-stick enthusiasm of his child-actor brethren, and he remembers a low-key reading for the Disney Channel that left the casting director “genuinely confused and almost worried,” he said. But at 18, that Everyman earnestness landed Plemons a breakout role as Landry, the bookish friend of the star quarterback, in the NBC football drama “Friday Night Lights.”
The show’s cinéma-vérité aesthetic played to Plemons’s strengths: He could imbue any plotline with a documentarylike rawness, and the series leaned on him more and more as it went on. Scenes weren’t rehearsed, and he was allowed to improvise at will, a process that granted him total immersion in his role. It was the perfect training ground, and it spoiled him, too: “I feel like I’m trying desperately to circle back to what it was like during ‘Friday Night Lights,’” he said.
The low-rated show led to much higher-profile opportunities — Plemons would go on to play Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son in the Paul Thomas Anderson drama “The Master,” and appear in Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” and “The Post” — but as he bore down on them, that youthful sense of freedom was hard to recapture. “I went through a period of time where I was pretty hard on myself, where it was not as much fun as it should’ve been,” he said. “I care so much and want to give everything that I have, that it just starts eating you up and becomes less enjoyable.”
In other words, it’s a lot of work to make it look like no work at all. “He works so hard at what he does,” Dunst said. “He takes everything very seriously and embeds himself very deeply.”