HBO's 'True Detective' detects a truly dark tale
This image released by HBO shows Woody Harrelson, left, and Matthew McConaughey from the HBO series "True Detective," premiering Jan. 12, at 9 p.m. EST. (AP Photo/HBO, Jim Bridges)
NEW YORK (AP) — A number of things set "True Detective" apart.
For starters, this new HBO drama series (which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. EST) stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, a pair of actors known not for TV but for features (Harrelson's "Cheers" run ended 21 years ago). And they tackle, in effect, not one but two roles apiece: Former Louisiana State Police detectives interrogated in 2012 about a homicide case we see them working, in flashback, in 1995.
The series was written in its entirety by its creator, Nic Pizzolatto, a novelist whose only prior TV credit was a brief turn on AMC's "The Killing."
One other thing distinguishes "True Detective." Not only does the writing draw upon a singular vision, but so does its fulfillment: The entire eight-episode season was stewarded by just one director.
Such a solo act is virtually unprecedented for a TV drama series. But it made sense for "True Detective," says Cary Joji Fukunaga, who landed the job.
"When you have one person guiding the vision all the way through, and gaining the trust of the actors, the chain isn't broken from one episode to another," he says. "It all just flows."
While fans of series like "Breaking Bad," ''The Sopranos," ''Downton Abbey" and "Game of Thrones" might argue that rotating directors don't disrupt the flow, there's a certain logic to one person conceiving, and conveying, the Big Picture.
On the other hand, there are excellent reasons for sharing the wealth.
"It's an incredible amount of work for just one team," says Fukunaga, who toiled in concert with his cinematographer, first assistant director and other key associates. "Those guys were right there with me the whole way through, so, as impossible as it felt sometimes, at least I wasn't alone."
Fukunaga, 36, made the 2011 film "Jane Eyre," and wrote as well as directed "Sin Nombre," which won the 2009 directing prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
Not bad for someone who calls filmmaking his "backup plan" and whose dream, instead, was to be a pro snowboarder.
"But filming tests a lot of the same skills," he reasons. "There's a fear factor. You have to scare yourself every day. Then, once you're flying off a cliff, it's over: You've just got to land."
He faced the cliff's edge of "True Detective" back in August 2012 as he began gearing up for what would be 101 breakneck days of shooting.
He hasn't landed yet.
"We've been in postproduction since the beginning of July, and I still have four more weeks before I'm done," he reports. "I've been running on fumes for over a year."
Even so, he looks jazzed during an interview this week at a Japanese restaurant in Greenwich Village, on a lunchtime break from a nearby dubbing session.
At least, the recording studio is out of the elements. By contrast, much of the series was shot in remote forests, fields and flood plains of Southern Louisiana.
"You were constantly trying to find locations that were desolate but still had access to a road, because you had all this equipment to roll in and roll out," he says.
The tale stems from a ritualistic murder of a woman found nude, mutilated and crowned with deer antlers in the middle of nowhere in 1995. This ghoulish crime, the handiwork of a serial killer, is eventually solved by Detectives Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson).