|First appearance||"The Crocodile's Dilemma" (2014)|
|Last appearance||"Morton's Fork" (2014)|
|Created by||Noah Hawley|
|Portrayed by||Martin Freeman|
|Occupation||Life insurance salesman|
|Significant other(s)||Gina Hess|
Lester Nygaard is a fictional character in the first season of the FX television series Fargo and is portrayed by Martin Freeman, who received positive reviews for his performance, and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Critics' Choice Television Award for his performance.
Lester Nygaard was born in 1966 and has a younger brother, Chaz Nygaard. He attended high school with Sam Hess, Bill Oswalt, and his future wife, Pearl; Hess bullied him constantly throughout high school. Lester and Pearl got married in 1988 when he was 22.
In January 2006, Nygaard runs into Hess, and when startled by Hess, breaks his nose on a storefront window. At the hospital, Nygaard meets Lorne Malvo, who casually suggests murdering Hess; Nygaard neither approves nor rejects the idea. When Malvo kills Hess, Nygaard confronts him and is reminded that he never said "no" to the crime. Shortly after, Nygaard kills Pearl during a fight and calls Malvo for assistance. Before Malvo gets there, police chief Vern Thurman stops by after getting a tip from someone who overheard Malvo and Nygaard discussing Hess. Thurman sees Pearl's blood and starts to arrest Nygaard, but Malvo sneaks into the house and kills Thurman. Malvo disappears and Nygaard knocks himself out to stage a home invasion. After the police arrive, they suspect Nygaard is innocent and let him go. Deputy Molly Solverson suspects that Nygaard killed Hess, Pearl, and Thurman, but Oswalt, the new police chief, assumes a drifter committed the murders. Despite Oswalt's doubts, he and Solverson interview Lester, who claims not to remember anything. Nevertheless, Solverson continues to investigate Nygaard and is removed from the case as a result.
Lester returns to work and calls Sam's widow, Gina, about his life insurance policy. She unexpectedly starts flirting with him in an attempt to get more money, unaware that Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, two hitmen sent from Fargo, North Dakota to kill Hess' murderer, are watching from outside. Convinced he killed Hess, they visit Lester's office and threaten him, but leave when Solverson unexpectedly arrives. Solverson claims that she is interested in a life insurance policy and "accidentally" shows Lester an abduction photo showing Malvo's face. Lester's reaction convinces her that he recognizes Malvo. She tells Oswalt about this, but is made more upset by visiting him. Later, Numbers and Wrench attempt to kidnap Nygaard, but he escapes. When they chase him down, he punches a police officer in order to be taken into safety. In order to get arrested so they can see Nygaard again, Wrench and Numbers stage a bar fight, and are put into Nygaard's cell and force him to give up Malvo's name.
Lester is hospitalized after his hand has become severely infected from a shotgun pellet wound sustained when Malvo shot Thurman. On the way to the hospital, Solverson rides in the ambulance and tries to get more information from Lester. She presents her evidence to Oswalt, who is starting to question Nygaard's innocence. Nygaard sneaks out of the hospital, visits Chaz's house, and plants evidence in his gun cabinet; he also places one of his brother's guns in his nephew's backpack, to ensure the police will search Chaz's house. This allows Lester to frame Chaz for Pearl and Thurman's murders, leading to his release from jail while Chaz is incarcerated. Lester agrees to have sex with Gina in exchange for approving her husband's insurance policy, neglecting to tell her it was cancelled for non-payment. Later, Gina and her sons angrily storm into Lester's office, but he manages to repel them with a stapler. Lester's alpha male behavior impresses his co-worker, Linda.
One year later in Las Vegas, Nygaard receives an award for Insurance Salesman of the Year. While at the hotel bar, he spots Malvo with three acquaintances. Malvo initially pretends not to recognize him, then quietly warns him to "walk away." When Nygaard refuses to back down and demands Malvo address him, Malvo shoots his acquaintance in front of him. Instead of helping Malvo hide the bodies, Nygaard hits him over the head with his award and runs back to his hotel room to fetch Linda, now his wife.
When they get home, Nygaard promises Linda that they are going on a vacation to Mexico. Lester tells Linda to go inside and pack for their trip, saying to himself that they will probably never come back. As she goes upstairs, Lester checks everywhere to be sure Malvo isn't waiting for him. He goes into the basement and pulls out Chazz's old hunting gear from a pile of boxes. In it is a bear trap, as well as a pistol with magazines, which he puts in his back pocket. But as they are about to leave, Solverson stops by to ask about the murders in Vegas. Solverson was made aware of the murders due to the Nevada State Police department asking her to interview the witness who called the murders in: Lester Nygaard.
Officer Solverson talks with Nygaard and Linda about the events of the murder. Lester makes up a story, saying he never met anyone on his way back to the hotel room. Solverson asks why they tried to board a plane at the last minute, Linda backs up Nygaard's story by saying they left because she was homesick. Solverson finishes up and leaves, but before she does she tells them the Vegas PD will be sending over some security footage, so they shouldn't leave town for a while. Linda is about to bring up their trip, but Nygaard assures her that they will stay put. Later that night, Nygaard purchases two online plane tickets out of Minneapolis. He tells Linda they're leaving soon. She reminds him they need to stay in town, Nygaard lies and says he talked with Officer Solverson and they are free to go. Before leaving town, Lester says they need to stop by the office to pick up some cash and their passports from the safe. In the parking lot, Nygaard notices a light that he didn't turn on. Suspicious, he sends Linda into the office wearing his coat to get what they came for. Malvo appears inside the office and shoots Linda in the back of her head, thinking her to be Lester. Realizing his mistake, Malvo exits the building and scans the parking lot for Nygaard. Seeing no one, he lights a cigarette and walks away as Nygaard nervously watches from a distance. Once Malvo leaves the area, Lester goes into the insurance shop in order to get the money from the safe. Before leaving, he covers up the crime scene in order to make it look like he was never there. Nygaard then goes to Lou's Coffee Shop, and tells the owner that Linda will be right over because she has to get something from the store. He then excuses himself to the bathroom, but actually goes out the back door to make an anonymous phone call to the police, saying that he heard gunshots. Following the call, he sneaks back into the coffee shop.
Officer Solverson receives word that another of Lester's wives has been murdered. She goes to the crime scene where she meets Nygaard. Nygaard tries but fails to retrieve the tickets from the jacket that Linda is wearing. The police bring Lester back to the station where he refuses to answer any questions. The next morning, Lester is allowed to return home, but must be accompanied by FBI agents Pepper and Budge. Malvo later sees Lester being taken home by the FBI agents, and follows in his own car. Once they've returned Lester home, the two FBI agents remain outside, and Malvo sneaks up behind both of them and murders them. Malvo enters Lester's house, and each stalks but fails to kill the other. Malvo strikes Lester in the face with Lester's award, bloodying his face and mirroring the injury inflicted on Lester by Sam Hess a year earlier. Though Lester's gun jams, Malvo's foot is caught in a bear trap left by Lester, and he escapes severely injured. Malvo retreats to his nearby cabin to treat his injury, and is killed by Officer Gus Grimly, who saw Malvo outside of it earlier that day. When the police arrive, they find Malvo's trove of audio tapes, including the one containing Lester's confession for the murder of his first wife.
Two weeks later, Lester is shown on a snowmobile attempting to escape to Canada in Glacier National Park in Montana. Being sought now that his role in his wife's death has been established, Lester is recognized by law enforcement officers also on snowmobiles. Lester tries to escape, only to crash his snowmobile. Desperate, he escapes on foot, only to crash through thin ice into a lake, dying within minutes.
For his performance in the first season, Freeman received widespread critical acclaim, with many critics comparing it to William H. Macy's Academy Award nominated performance in the original 1996 film.
Robert Bianco of USA Today praised the dynamic of Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, writing that their "brilliantly written and played dynamic gives the warped relationship between Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective a run for its money."
Freeman was initially hesitant to accept the role, because he was not interested in doing more television and didn't want to leave London to film another project due to him just getting off filming The Hobbit, a project that caused him to be away from his family for a long period of time. But was very impressed by the idea that it would only be ten episodes, stating, "The reason I've never gone for pilot season even as a younger actor, and wouldn't entertain that sort of thing now, is the idea of signing a piece of paper that binds me for six or seven years. So [Fargo] was already interesting. I read the script and that was enough for me. A very good script that only lasts 10 episodes was like, 'Great! That's right up my street'."
Freeman kept his Minnesota accent at all times during filming, due to the fear that he would lose it.
Due to the obvious similarities of the characters of Lester and Jerry Lundegaard of the original film, Freeman has stated that he purposely decided not to watch the original film to prevent his role to seem like an imitation of William H. Macy's portrayal of Lundegaard. Freeman was quoted as saying "[Macy's] a brilliant actor and the world doesn't need another actor doing a Bill Macy impression and I don't need to be doing that and he doesn't need it and all of that. So, I purely treated it as my performance of a different character, albeit with some comparison. There are some parallels, but I was too busy concentrating on what I was doing with 'Lester' really. At the risk of protesting too much, I know I'm not playing that."
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