8:00pm PT by Rick Porter
'True Detective,' Mahershala Ali Mark Time in Moody Premiere
True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto is the primary creative force on the show. Fellow executive producer Scott Stephens is the guy who makes sure the vision for the show makes it onto the screen.
So when Pizzolatto set the third season in rural Arkansas, Stephens secured locations and helped build out the show's production facilities in a former candle factory in Fayetteville.
Similar to the show's Louisiana-set first season, the Arkansas locations help set a tone for the new episodes, in which a state police detective (Mahershala Ali) is haunted by a case involving two kids over 35 years of his life.
Stephens, who has worked on all three seasons of True Detective, told The Hollywood Reporter he and Pizzolatto have forged a strong working relationship in part because "we don't have a lot of overlap in our duties."
"I don't pretend to be a writer and try to dictate content that should be written into or out of the script, and he trusts me a lot with a lot of the execution of the written vision he presents to us," he said.
"The joy for me in this creative process is, for instance, location is very important to Nic, and it's always a character in the pieces that he writes. I get to be the guy to go out and find those — we approach locations like we do casting, and … I get to shape the look of the show just through how we find things. And invariably, Nic is such a descriptive writer, we're able to find things that are exactly as written or that even amplify what is written."
Stephens talked about how the on-location shooting helps bring the show to life, the central relationship between Ali's Wayne Hays and Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo), who goes from a person tangentially connected to the case to his wife, and the way Ali helps sell the movement back and forth in time.
What was it about this region of Arkansas that appealed to you?
Nic had lived there when he was going to graduate school, so he was very familiar with the terrain and the people. He just felt it would be a compelling location for the story. The Ozarks are a very unique landscape, and they're always shrouded in this kind of low fog, this iridescent blue haze that hang throughout the Ozarks. It lends itself without being cartoonish or macabre to a dynamic environment to tell this story. For the most part, it's been untouched, certainly from a filmmaking standpoint.
The way the show weaves the different times together is somewhat different because of the older Wayne's dementia. How did you discuss integrating that into the storytelling?
First and foremost is how do you age somebody that drastically? We did an extensive search for the right makeup artist who understood what we were trying to achieve. It was important to age him and make him look like the appropriate amount of years had passed, but we also couldn't hide the actor under silicone and latex and hide all the emotion. It was finding that balance, and we feel in Mike Marino we found the best makeup artist to pull it off.
Once that heavy lifting is done, it's really up to the actors to take it the rest of the way. If you pay attention and start to study Mahershala's performance, he's playing the same character many years later, but there's a lot of nuance to it. His speech patterns are different, the timbre of his voice is different, the way he carries himself is different. He really kind of puts on the mantle of a 70-year-old man. It's pretty astounding. Once we saw him in full makeup and in character, we all knew this was going to work really well. It just has that feel of authenticity to it, and you could still see all the emotion in his performance.
What's behind the decision to center the relationship between Wayne and Amelia so much this season?
I think part of what Nic tried to do by telling Wayne's story is there's a big aspect of his life that's a love story, and it's all intertwined with the case. …. He wanted to write that love story that couldn't really be separated from the investigation. One drove the other. What we see in 1980 is when they fall in love, and in 1990 they've been married [almost] 10 years and it's a little more difficult balancing all the things you balance in a marriage with kids and careers.
There's a lot in the scripts that implies what happens in the times in between the three points on film. Did you discuss those missing years with the actors a lot, or did you leave it for them to fill in the blanks?
Nic is very good at backstory. As a producer that's very handy, because you can always ask questions and Nic has the ability to tell you — deep, deep, deep down the list of questions you have about characters, he has answers for you. Actors love that, and he's able to convey these intricate stories about all parts of their lives that give them something to sink their teeth into and base their performances on.
So when we're talking about Wayne and Amelia, they know all the story of what happened to them in the interim years from 1990 to 2015. There's a whole story I could tell you — it's an entire story. We get bits and pieces of it [in scripts], but all that is conveyed to the actors, mostly through discussions with Nic. There's a lot of discussion about tone and character on set, and it most of it comes out of that process.
Mahershala's character was originally written as a white man, but he lobbied to play Wayne. What did changing Wayne's race do for the show in terms of other avenues you could explore?
After he read the script, he came in and met with us, and he pitched Nic hard that he loves this story and wanted to play the Wayne Hays character. Nic's concern was always that he didn't feel he could write the story about race, and was writing a different story about this man and about time and memory. Mahershala's answer was perfect, which was that's exactly what I want to do. I don't want to tell a story about race; I just want to tell this man's story. It resonated, and Nic rewrote a couple of the drafts, and it worked really well. It really wasn't more complicated than that. Mahershala read those drafts, and everyone was very happy — we were kind of off to the races at that point. It made a lot of sense.
From my standpoint, knowing both sides of the story, I think it's a much richer experience now. And certainly having him play this character is just a gift that continues for eight episodes. I've been in editorial for months. I watch him for hours a day, and I'm still astounded by the nuance of his performance. It keeps revealing itself, and it astounds me, it really does.