The Indian-American actress has officially landed in the Fargo universe, appearing as a core character in the fifth season. The black comedy/crime drama series, based on the popular 1996 Coen brothers movie, follows a sheriff (Jon Hamm) who searches for a woman (Juno Temple), who is not the Midwestern housewife she pretends to be.
Her character, Indira Olmstead, is a new addition to the show. According to Moorjani, she's whip-smart, fierce, and a disenchanted police officer with a deadbeat husband and debt collectors chasing after her. But for Moorjani, it was the fact that Indira was all of these things, plus a South Asian female character that drew her in.
"Not only was it a South Asian character I had never come across before, but it's a character I don't think we've seen on TV before," Moorjani says. "I remember calling my manager and telling him the scripts I received contained some of the best writing I had ever encountered in my career, especially for a South Asian female character."
Penned as the "moral compass" of the season, Moorjani says she immediately knew how important Indira's role in the season was. But in her discussions with Noah Hawley (Fargo's director, showrunner and executive producer), she really wanted to know why her character was written specifically to be Indian.
"Noah told me he grew up in Texas where Indian people are very much a part of the fabric of society, and you see them in every industry and walk of life, and he wanted to make sure to reflect that in his work," she says. "That was very meaningful to me as a South Asian actor who deeply cares about authentic representation and expanding how we are seen in the media."
Moorjani praises the characterisation of Indira as her South Asian identity is never erased in the story. "She has an Indian name, she's referred to as Indian in the show, and in her home, you see different cultural items. But the character’s storyline is not shaped or defined in any way by her cultural background, and yet it is very much a part of who she is. That was very refreshing and exciting for me."
Moorjani says that a key part of her authentic characterisation of Indira lay in the depiction of her home, which she played a huge role in cultivating. So much so, that the actress sent some pictures and references to Hawley of what she thought her character's "Indian home" would look like — something that was then incorporated into set design.
"I felt that her home would contain hints of Indian culture, but nothing stereotypical or unrealistic for a woman who grew up in Minnesota and married a white man," Moorjani says. "One thing that I thought would be interesting in her home is a picture of the goddess Lakshmi, mostly known as the goddess of wealth and power."
Ultimately, Moorjani believes that this instalment of Fargo is all about female empowerment. The fact that audiences get to see a South Asian American female cop — who looks completely different to all the previous cops that have been depicted in the Fargo world — is not lost on her. "As an actor, I'm always looking for my next project to be something that moves the needle in terms of representation for South Asians."
"To see a character like Indira who is so central to this story is something that I think is obviously huge for the South Asian community," she says. "But maybe even more importantly is what it says about the industry moving towards more inclusive and frankly better storytelling."
The fifth instalment of Fargo premieres Wednesday 22 November at 9:20pm on SBS and SBS On Demand, fast-tracked from the US