Last night, for the first time in several months, Matthew McConaughey wasn't at home watching his favorite show on TV: HBO's True Detective, in which he stars as the brilliant but deeply troubled homicide cop Rustin "Rust" Cohle. "I'm doing what the public's doing," he says. "I received all eight episodes, but I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna check them out each Sunday night and then sit on each episode for a week.' I've found myself going back and watching each one of them about three times during the week and fucking really enjoying it."
He had a pretty good reason for missing the seventh episode: McConaughey was at the Academy Awards, where he got called "dirty-pretty" by Ellen DeGeneres, flirted with Kim Novak as they presented the animated movie awards and, ultimately, scored the Best Actor statue himself for Dallas Buyers Club. Congratulations! McConaughey has confirmed he won't return to the show for Season Two, but gamely answered our questions about Season One:
How does Rustin Cohle fit into the great, acclaimed work you've been doing for the last couple of years?
Oh yeah. Russtiiiinnn Cohhhhlllle. Ha ha! You know, I've been able to find such clearly identifiable characters, whether it's Mark Hanna in Wolf of Wall Street or Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club. Look at Dallas in Magic Mike and Joe in Killer Joe – these are characters with such clear obsessions. I've said this before, but that's what I've been choosing: Somebody who I could get drunk on their obsessions. Characters that live on the fringe — they're all a little bit on the outskirts of civilization. I find a certain ownership and freedom in that.
How's True Detective spinning out for you? Does it feel different than it felt when you were shooting it?
No, I'm very impressed with it. What did I know going in? I loved the writing. I read the first two episodes, and I said, "If you guys will let me be Cohle, I'm in." I was like, "Jeez, I can't wait to hear what comes out of this fucking guy's mouth on the page." Plus I was a fan of [True Detective director] Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre. And the fact that we'd be shooting film – boy, that really shows.
Maybe even more than in Dallas Buyers Club, your body language and your cadences feel so transformed – from the very deliberate, sober Cohle of 1995 to the shattered Cohle of 2012 and this wild, undercover narcotics officer that Cohle plays, who goes by the name "Crash."
I remember making some choices about how to play 1995 Cohle – to really underplay it and keep things boiling underneath. And I remember at about week five or six, getting a little anxious. "Wooh, do I need to do more? Do I need to do something different? Is this gonna be boring?" But I was like, "Trust the 2012 Cohle. Trust that "Crash" is coming and allow there to be a dynamic in there, McConaughey." Looking at the work now, I'm glad I didn't try to give Cohle more colors in '95.
How much Cohle is there in showrunner/creator Nic Pizzolatto, or vice versa?
Well… I don't know. Nic's not Cohle — but Nic sure as hell knows Cohle, probably the best out of all the characters. There's also parts of me in there, I think. What I love about Cohle is everything he says is true. Like it or not. He can't suffer fools, and to get through everyday life, you have to suffer fools. Cohle can't do that. No illusions. Absolutely not.
You need illusions to get through life.
Most people need them to get by. But Nic doesn't suffer fools either; that's one of the reasons I really like the guy. It's not about manners and grace. That's part of where he and I get along, because we can be brutally honest, and we don't think it's brutal. You know what I mean? We're just like, "Oh thanks, I know where you stand, you know where I stand."
Do you see yourself working with Nic in the future?
Yeah. I sure do. Nic and I have certain similar sensibilities. The way he writes roles that I would like, with singular voices and perspectives and their own personal politics. I want to do more with him. I'm absolutely sure.
When they first approached you about the show, Nic was thinking of you for the part of Cohle's partner, Martin Hart. But once you were cast as Cohle, you suggested Woody Harrelson for that part. What was it like having him as the guy that you went through this thing with?
Woody and I have always done comedy together. As Woody puts it: He hits the ball to me, I hit it back harder, he hits it back harder than I hit it to him, and we volley back and forth. That's part of the beauty of us, and that's part of the beauty of our friendship. But this is about opposition. This is about not being on each other's frequency.
But even though it's such a dark show, the odd couple nature of your relationship produces some very funny moments.
I didn't know we were going to get that much humor out of it. Some people go, "What's so damn funny?" I go, "I don't know, man. Maybe it's my sense of humor." I find how these two go back and forth with each other hilarious.
You guys were all together down there, living in New Orleans and shooting along the coast for almost six months. What was it like?
It was an endurance test. It was long. We shot 450 pages in six months. And I'm not the biggest, everyone-go-hook-up-after-work guy. I don't go out on school nights.
So it wasn't Fast Times with Woody and Matthew in New Orleans?
I'm not much into that. I've got a family; Woody's got a family.
But Nic did mention one heavy tequila night you guys had early on….
Well, that's what I was saying earlier about Nic, about how he and I could share the brutal truth. We said some things to each other that night that most people would wake up the next day and go, "I think I completely severed my relationship with that other person." But I was like, "What a great night!" And he was the same way. We flipped off into the fourth dimension and then let off a lot of steam, let out a lot of things.
Have you done it again since?
Yeah, we've done it a couple of times since. I always like a good night with Nic, and even Woody sometimes, where you want to make sure you don't really have anything to do the next day. Or maybe even the next day after.