Press Tour Live-Blog: HBO’s ‘True Detective’

I think that a Television Critics Association press tour appearance by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson to to discuss the year’s best new show [so far] is reason enough for a live-blog, eh?


Click through for Thursday (January 9) afternoon’s full panel as quickly as my little fingers can type.

3:00 p.m. HBO’s panels are scheduled to start at 3 p.m. It’s pretty clear that things are gonna be late.

3:10 p.m. Yup. Late. In addition to McConaughey and Harrelson, the panel includes Michelle Monaghan, series creator Nic Pizzolatto and series director Cary Kukunaga.

3:15 p.m. We’re about to go! Clips. I described “True Detective” and “Zodiac” meets “Hannibal” on the Bayou. I stand by that.

3:17 p.m. The first question is for Pizzolatto. It makes reference to “The Killing,” which he worked on. “Any of the ambitions and plans that I had for this show were gestated before I joined ‘The Killing’ or came out here,” Pizzolatto says. “My idea about mystery and how to handle these sorts of these just came out of my own ethos as a write,” he says. “I like stories with endings. I like a good third act,” he says, noting that that’s what drew him to the anthology format. This will be self-contained.

3:19 p.m. McConaughey is asked if there was a point he thought he might not have a year this good. “I’m still in the present tense of the year that’s going on. I’m not retro yet,” he says. “Other things I’ve done maybe had a shelf-life quicker, these things are feeling more relevant, they’re piquing some people’s interest,” he says. He says he hasn’t been looking in the rear-view and he’s not in a retrospective mode.

3:21 p.m. How did McConaughey and Harrelson make their characters change and stay the same over 17 years. “I just took off my wig,” Harrelson cracks. “I just put on my wig,” McConaughey says. “It was clear in the writing,” McConaughey says. “I didn’t have to do a lot of creative wandering in my head,” McConaughey adds. McConaughey says that 17 years later, his character is in penance. He says the fun of the gap is figuring out what happened in those 17 years, who’s telling the truth, who’s lying, who has changed, who has stayed the same.

3:23 p.m. How did the writer and director create the sense of place in Louisiana. Fukunaga says that the original setting was in the Ozarks, but “the realities of production” led them to Louisiana. Fukunaga was captivated by chemical plans and Vietnamese restaurants and whatnot. “I had a person relationship to it all, because these are the areas of the country where I grew up,” Pizzolatto says. When it comes to the show’s treatment of religion, Pizzolatto says that sometimes McConaughey’s character says some dark things about religion, but that’s not the show’s POV. “Pessimism and romanticism are two sides of the same illusion, so to speak,” he says. Dude. “My hope is that you’re honoring both the culture and the people involved in it,” Pizzolatto says.

3:26 p.m. The genesis was work on Pizzolatto’s next novel. It was going to be two partners, told entirely in two different POVs. He said he started with McConaughey’s character and decided to follow him and that that character emerged fully formed. He’s been hoping to break in to TV and thought that the visual signifiers of TV would help people get the time split. “It was actually better suited to this than to a novel,” he notes.

3:27 p.m. Harrelson and McConaughey agree that they have a shorthand when they work together, but Harrelson says they didn’t use a lot of it on this project. “He was an island and he is one of the most gregarious, awesome guys I know, but in this he was fully in character,” Harrelson says. “Part of that complication helped,” Woody adds. McConaughey says they often work together best in comedy because they play off of each other and it builds. “This is the first time we’ve worked together when there’s opposition,” McConaughey says, noting this is different from how they normally come together. They thought about trying to insert comedy into the this project and McConaughey says he still sees that comedy in their opposition. “I found myself laughing starting in Episode 3, because the opposition out-endured me as a viewer,” McConaughey says. Off-screen? “I didn’t talk to him the whole time,” Harrelson says. “That’s not true at all,” Monaghan protests. 

3:31 p.m. “I kinda liked it. It’s weird,” Harrelson says of getting to play the more “normal” role, praising how well McConaughey played his against-type role.

3:32 p.m. McConaughey recalls one day that they shot 29 pages in a single day in the 17-years-later sequence. That’s insane, by the way. They got near the end of the day and others wanted to call it a day and he insisted they push through. “I remember that. The wine tasted really good that night,” he says.

3:33 p.m. Finally the “Why do TV?” question. Woody already worked with HBO on “Game Change.” “It’s a privilege to work with them,” Woody says of HBO. “I love Matthew. He’s my brother. Phenomenal, amazing person. I love Michelle. I’ve known her many many years. Cary’s a terrific director and Nic wrote this amazing script I couldn’t put down,” Woody says. “It’s a different time in television,” McConaughey says. He signed on without knowing where it would be. “That transition is much more seamless in reality and perception now more than ever,” he says. “It was a 450 page film is what it was. It was also finite. It didn’t mean we’d have to come back this year, next year if we were under contract,” McConaughey adds.

3:35 p.m. “I think I read three different episodes and they were over the course of the series, so I had a very good idea of where the character went,” Monaghan says.  She says that while she develops a relationship with both characters, but both male characters make the mistake of underestimating her character. Monaghan says she had a good time working with Harrelson because of his boyish charm. She calls Matthew “equally talented.” “Equal?” Harrelson says incredulously. “You were really in the zone and flowing, so to speak, so it was really a pleasure to be opposite that,” Monaghan says to McConaughey.

3:37 p.m. “It’s contained,” McConaughey says clearly of whether the story might continue and they might come back.

3:40 p.m. Fukunaga says McConaughey had his entire role mapped out before he arrived in Louisiana. He praises his stars as consummate professions, who he only needed to steer a little. “I sure like to be directed, but I know when I’m flying and on fire,” McConaughey says. “If you’re got an actor who’s flying and they’re telling the truth, just sit over there and put wind under their wings,” he says of the directing style he prefers. He says a good director finds the vernacular of how the actor is working. “I know I want to hear a director come up with other options and different directions… so I don’t get locked into one thing,” McConaughey says.

3:40 p.m. McConaughey is asked about reports that he originally read for Harrelson’s role.  “Matthew doesn’t come in and read. He’s past the audition stage,” Harrelson clarifies. McConaughey says they original asked him to read the Hart character and he understood why. But he liked the other character’s fire, his mind and he asked if he could do that.

3:42 p.m. How will a second season work? “If you got to do it again, the setting would be a major character along with our leads,” Pizzolatto says, adding that it would be in settings we haven’t seen as much. “I think in some form the story would always maintain some aspect of a story being told,” Pizzolatto says, which plays into the idea of an investigation. He loves theater and monologues. “This an idea of an objective truth versus a spoken truth is something that provides a great deal of tension and is one of my governing tendencies,” Pizzolato adds. He said another season could be more of a conspiracy thriller or a small town murder mystery or a master criminal versus a master detective. “As long as there’s some crime in there, I think the series format could approach it,” he says, claiming that “Absalom, Absalom” could hypothetically be a season. Unclear if he means that literally.

3:45 p.m. What about the noir ties to the title? “I think that part of the title is that there’s a pulp element to it,” he admits. “These are just the things I’m interested in,” he says. He says that in rural America, there’s a post-industrial end-of-empire thing going on and he’s more interested in that than in setting a story in the city.

“True Detective” premieres this Sunday on HBO.