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True detective

Jodie Foster and Kali Reis headline the Alaska-set fourth season of acclaimed crime anthology True Detective

Although she is an award-winning director, Issa López will come as a new discovery for many. The Mexican-born filmmaker got raves for her horror movie Tigers Are Not Afraid, setting her on the path to helm the eerie fourth instalment of gothic thriller series True Detective. “When HBO approached me with the idea, I thought, ‘What was it about that first season of True Detective that hit us all so hard?’ It was the atmosphere. There was something about that Southern gothic that stayed with us,” says López. “This world was, in itself, a third character — this endless landscape where anything can happen. So, I kept the characters. I kept the landscape. I kept that corner of America that we don’t often see.”

True Detective on HBO Canada. Pictured: Deadwood alum John Hawkes is Hank Prior a cop with old grudges hiding beneath a quiet surface.
HBO Canada

The latest season — subtitled Night Country — is set in Alaska during the darkest period of the year. Jodie Foster (in her first starring role on television since 1975) stars as Chief of Police Liz Danvers, a hardened cop who teams up with state trooper Evangeline Navarro, played by Kali Reis. The two have a contentious relationship stemming from a past case, but the circumstance of eight men suddenly disappearing from the Tsalal Arctic Research Station forces them to reluctantly put their past aside to solve the crime.

Though Foster was ready to make her entry into the world of peak television — in this case both as the series’ star and exec producer — it did not mean that the Oscar winner immediately took to López’s vision. “The two characters that I had written originally, one was an absolute badass and the other one was a woman on the verge of breaking down, because she’s been trying too hard for too long to keep it together. They were perfect opposites,” explains López. “I sat down with Jodie and she had really loved the script. [Then she said,] ‘I don’t see myself in this, though.’ She started speaking of a character so full of flaws. When I finished listening, I looked at her and I said, ‘So you want her to be an a**hole?’ She laughed and said, ‘Yeah.’” López went on to write the far more abrasive character viewers see in the final product. “It was just amazing to see a brand-new character emerge that was more than I could have ever hoped for or anticipated,” says Foster. “And that I think really helps the dynamic between Danvers and Navarro.”

True Detective on HBO Canada. Pictured: Isabella Star LeBlanc is Leah, stepdaughter of Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster), described as "a young woman fighting for her voice and her identity."
HBO Canada

López concedes that Foster’s revision requests made her script better. “This is what I’ve learned throughout the entire process: Every time that you receive a good note, is an opportunity to completely overhaul and take the story to the next level,” says López, who also welcomed Foster’s input as a director. “It was absolutely wonderful. It’s terrifying at the beginning, when week one you’re going into that and she says, ‘Maybe this is not the best way to do it,’ and so many times she’s right. It was for me an absolute joy, because my way of working is in a team. We would create something together, it was alive and it was so much better because of that.”

True Detective on HBO Canada. Pictured: Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers.
HBO Canada

Though most people came to the series with years of experience, for Reis this is only her third project since her transition from professional boxing to acting. “You would think it’s two totally different worlds, but it’s actually one and the same,” says Reis. “The parallel is, Issa created this story like a coach creating a gameplan. You can make adjustments, but you practice. The repetition, my love for perfection, the love to get feedback and understand what I can do better is something that I’ve been doing for over 20 years.”

Where Reis was able to provide indispensable insight was as an Indigenous actor and producer in a series in which the Indigenous community played a vital part. “I’m not the spokeswoman for all Iñupiat people, but I am proudly Indigenous,” says Reis. “Our stories do not [often] get told by us, but, also, our land, our people, even our stories, our creation stories, it’s not all sad and dreary. So, to be an indigenous Cape Verdean woman, able to represent an underrepresented group of people, it was really important to understand the perception of how the Iñupiat people want to see themselves.”

True Detective on HBO Canada. Kali Reis is police detective Evangeline Navarro.
HBO Canada

Although the series was shot in Iceland, the two lead actresses took a trip to Alaska to better embody their roles. “Alaska is a beautiful, magical place, where you really do feel the nature, everybody’s connection to nature, and the kind of pain that comes along with that,” says Foster. “You can imagine how many hundreds of thousands of people died because they just couldn’t survive it.” That part of their culture also ties into the greater themes of the True Detective franchise. “I think that’s true of the Alaskans that we’ve met, that they feel like they live with the dead as part of their culture and lives every day,” says Foster. “They walk among us. And that strength or that eeriness contributes to the depth of the show.”

True Detective airs Sunday, January 21, on HBO Canada

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