A couple of days ago, we learned — via a script leak — that the second season of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective would have only ONE male lead (and male/female co-stars). This completely changes the dynamic we’ve been dreamcasting for months. Instead of pairs that would work well together, we can simply eye male actors that might fit. And despite some things we heard from Pizzolatto about ideas about using the secret history of the occult in the California transit system, note that — per his interview with Dan Harmon — that he scrapped his early script ideas and started all over. So, we really don’t know much, except that it will take place in California and it will “capture a certain psychosphere ambience of the place,” whatever the hell that means.
With that in mind, and assuming that True Detective will once again pluck someone from the film world to transition to television (a big assumption), I thought we could check the schedules of some of the better actors in Hollywood, measure their TV drawing power, try and guess how well they might fit into Pizzolatto’s world, and come up with ten strong possibilities to play the one male lead in True Detective. Yes, I’m spitballing, but it’s educated spitballing. And it’s fun.
If Pizzolatto’s recent statements are any indication, we should probably know the lead by the end of July. Could it be one of these ten guys?
Edward Norton — The Yale Graduate is still considered one of the best actors in Hollywood, but rumors (some substantiated) have often suggested that he’s difficult to work with. The two-time Oscar nominee has a wide open schedule (he only has one movie in the works, and it’s in a voice role). It’d be the kind of role that could resurrect his career, but the question is, is he exciting enough for True Detective? Would audiences ultimately be disappointed in him?
Ryan Gosling — This seems like a long-shot, if you’re thinking of the Ryan Gosling best known for The Notebook and Crazy, Stupid, Love, but if you think about the Ryan Gosling best known for roles in Drive, The Place Beyond the Pines, and the film that got him an Oscar nomination, Half-Nelson, he might be perfect for True Detective’s world. He would make a huge splash for HBO, plus consider the fact that he has a wide open schedule. After a busy 2011-2012, Gosling decided to take some time off, and he’s been incredibly selective about his roles. At the moment, he only has one Terrence Malick project in the works, and he’s already finished filming. He basically limits himself to arty, gritty indie roles, and True Detective certainly fits the bill.
Joaquin Phoenix — Phoenix has three Oscar nominations, and he’s exactly the kind of serious actor — it seems to me — that would befit the writing of Nic Pizzolatto. He has tremendous credibility, and hasn’t yet made the transition to television. His schedule would work (he has only a Woody Allen project on the horizon), but I’m not sure there’d be a ton of excitement about that casting choice, or if Phoenix is ready to move to television. “Psychosphere ambience” and Joaquin Phoenix, however, make a nice fit.
Mark Ruffalo — One of my favorite actors, Ruffalo has an Oscar nomination, has played cops in the past (he was terrific in Zodiac) and has a relationship with HBO, thanks to his recent movie, The Normal Heart. He’d be an exciting choice (thanks to a recent upsurge in popularity due to The Avengers), and his schedule has only Avengers: Age of Ultron ahead of him, which should be wrapping soon, and Now You See Me 2, which probably won’t begin filming until at least next summer, leaving Ruffalo with a nice little window from October to February to make the series. Plus, he’s got the Northern California thing down pat.
Ben Foster — Foster would not attract huge audience interest because he’s not as well known as many of the other actors on this list, but he is one of the best pure actors in Hollywood. He’s wrapped shooting on an untitled Lance Armstrong biopic, and according to IMDB, his Warcraft film with Duncan Jones is in post-production. Either one of those movies could make him a bigger star, but in the meantime, True Detective would help elevate his stature ahead of those movies’ releases. Plus, if you’ve seen the guy work, you know he’s a helluva actor, incredibly intense, and would be a perfect fit for the True Detective world.
Tom Hanks — Another guy who seems like a long shot because Tom Hanks is one of the most recognized actors on the planet. But, he hasn’t had a box-office hit in years, he started his career in television, he has the Oscar-winning talent, and most importantly, he has a very strong relationship with HBO, thanks to his Band of Brothers and The Pacific mini-series. The rub here is, Hanks doesn’t seem like guy that’d fit particularly well in Nic Pizzolatto world, although I could see him in a smaller scene stealing role as an authority figure in a police department.
Sean Penn — He may not be a fan-favorite, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better actor than Sean Penn (who has two Oscars and three more nominations). His movie career has faded, but he’s still got the prestige. He’s the kind of guy that would easily fit in Pizzolatto’s world and his schedule is wide open because Sean Penn barely does sh*t anymore. This would be an ideal role for him, his career, and HBO.
Brad Pitt — Look: I’m including him here not because I think he’s likely to take it, but because he’s the guy that would create the most excitement. He’s the guy that’s been rumored. He seems like a logical progression for the series from Matthew McConaughey, and he hasn’t publicly dismissed the idea. According to IMDB, the only movie he has ahead of him is Fury, which he’s already finished shooting. Pre-production might have to work around his promotion schedule, but he would be the ultimate choice. Still, is one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office stars really ready to make that transition to television? If so, it would completely establish that television dominance as the medium of choice for serious actors.
Casey Affleck — To me, for some reason, Casey Affleck almost feels like the inevitable choice. He has an Oscar nomination. He played a great morally ambiguous cop in Gone Baby Gone. He fits the Pizzolotto profile. Matthew McConaughey, whose working with Affleck on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, can talk him into it, and while he’s not as popular as his brother, he’s very well recognized. It’s not a hugely sexy choice, but it seems like the right kind of fit for True Detective. He’s finished filming Interstellar, and currently filming another movie (Triple Nine), but beyond that, there’s nothing but an announced TV movie really very early in development in which he’d play Lewis in Lewis and Clark (thus showing that he’s willing to do TV). I have a weird hunch that Affleck ends up with the role. If you’ve seen the The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, you also know he f**king incredible an actor this guy is.
Bonus — Aaron Paul. I don’t think he could fit it into his upcoming schedule and I’m not sure that he would fit into Pizzolatto’s world, but the Internet would explode.