HBO’s eight-episode drama series True Detective tells the story of detectives Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), whose lives entwine during a 17-year hunt for a killer that started with the original investigation of a bizarre murder in 1995 and continues into the re-opening of the case in 2012. The show is as intriguing as it is unsettling, expertly acted and compellingly brought to life. It’s dark, brutal and volatile, and having now seen through Episode 7, I can promise you that you are in for quite a ride.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Michelle Monaghan (who plays Martin’s wife, Maggie Hart) talked about how she came to be a part of True Detective, what attracted her to this story and character, who Martin and Maggie were when they first met, as opposed to now, how she views the relationship between Maggie and Rust, what it was like to work with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, why it made a difference to have the same writer (Nic Pizzolatto) and same director (Cary Fukunaga) for all eight episodes, how the mood on set managed to stay pretty light, and how excited she is to see what comes next from Nic Pizzolatto. She also talked about shooting the pilot for Ryan Murphy’s new HBO series Open, which is a modern, provocative exploration of human sexuality and relationships that centers on five lead characters, shooting the Nicholas Sparks film The Best of Me once that’s done, and how cool it was to voice Wonder Woman for Justice League: War. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
MICHELLE MONAGHAN: Cary [Fukunaga] and Nic [Pizzolatto] sent it to me. I read it, and the writing just totally stuck with me. It took me for a ride and I thought, “I haven’t read anything like this, maybe ever.” It was really thought-provoking and smart, and the characters were so rich. They sent me three episodes, but it was Episodes 1, 3 and 6. I was so desperate, at that point, to get them on the phone because I wanted to fill in the blanks. After I had a chat with them, and really saw where these characters went and, in particular, Maggie’s story arc, it was without any shadow of a doubt that I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
This story is so compelling and addicting. Did it feel that way, just reading the scripts?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, absolutely! There are true cliffhangers with every episode. It was the kind of writing that was very existential, so I would read it, and then I would read it again. There are a lot of things that Rust said that were very provocative and very thought-provoking, and that I really wanted to contemplate myself. I just thought, “Gosh, I have not come across anything like that, ever.” It was so interesting to see where these characters went. It spans 17 years, and what I found to be really fascinating is how people change, over the course of 17 years. And then, in the backdrop is this ongoing investigation, and how it changes them and how their relationship with each other changes, throughout that whole entire process. That’s what really intriguing.
It seems as though Martin and Maggie just keep getting further and further away from being on the same page.
MONAGHAN: Martin is full of contradictions. He’s brave at work, but he’s a coward at home. He’s vulnerable. He’s deceitful, even though he has a big heart. He’s a very smart man, but he’s also a fool. Maggie is really struggling to keep this family intact. She’ll essentially do anything to protect that. I think we’ll see her strength unveiled, in episode after episode. As the series progresses, you’ll find out how cunning and ruthless Maggie can be.
Who would you say Martin and Maggie were, when they met? How would you say their relationship was, in the beginning, compared to where they are when we first meet them?
MONAGHAN: I think they both probably had very big dreams. I think that he was the jock, and he always had the girls falling all over him. She was maybe the popular girl in school. They fell in love, and they went to college together. She pursued nursing. At some point, he was doing rodeo. He always won. He was this big guy in their county. But, he never got to be as big as thinks he is, in his head. I think he never really grew up. He’s always looked for validation from other women. He always drank a little too much. As a result, fidelity is a huge issue in their marriage. I think she’s always really been the stable one. She’s always been there for him. But, when you’ve been with somebody for such a long period of time, you know when they’re not being who they are. You have to grow up change and evolve, and I just think that he’s never been able to do that. He lives a life of contradiction. He’s a real tortured soul. He’s truly deluded. I think he really believes that he’s pulling the wool over Maggie’s eyes, and he’s really not. She’s a very wise woman.
How did you view the relationship between Maggie and Rust?
MONAGHAN: Maggie is a very curious person. She’s very smart. And as difficult as it is for Martin to be open and honest with her, she develops this relationship with Rust because he is very open. Maggie is a nurturer. In her eyes, Rust is a little lost, and she really deeply cares about his well-being and wants for him to settle down. I think she wants him to find a good woman. She actually becomes a bit of a match-maker for him. He ultimately becomes a confidant for her, in her struggles and her own relationship with Martin.
What was it like to both work with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and watch them work together?
MONAGHAN: I really feel like Woody and Matthew just bring out the best in each other, in this. It’s just incredible. After just the first episode, they were so in tune with these characters, and it only got better. They’re both so gifted. Matthew had just come off of Dallas Buyers Club. He had put on maybe a couple of pounds. He was really working on his diet to put everything back on really safely and slowly, and take care of his health. I thought to myself, “Wow, you’re incredible! You’re about to dive into this character, which is another dark and haunting role.” And he was so committed and focused on the material. As an actor working with him, he’s really generous. He’s very sensitive to his fellow actors’ needs. He’s a real true scene partner. He’s very patient. I have a lot of respect for him.
And I knew Woody. Oddly enough, we worked together on a movie, years ago, called North Country. We actually had a really friendly rapport with each other then, and I was so excited to get to work with him again. We do have some pretty explosive scenes, and as the series progresses, they become even more so. So, it was nice to have that really nice, friendly rapport with him. Also, in intimate scenes, when you know that you can just laugh with somebody, it’s very helpful. There’s just something about Woody. He has this real boyish charm that makes you feel completely at ease, and he brought that to this role.
With a project like this, do you feel like it really made a difference to have the same writer and same director for every episode?
MONAGHAN: Completely! I think that’s what distinguishes this from anything else of this format. As you know, you typically have a different director for every episode. I wonder how other actors feel about it on other television series. I don’t think it lacks anything, creatively. If you look at Breaking Bad, nothing lacks. But as an actor, if you create a character, it’s very near and dear to your heart, and then somebody comes in and maybe tries to have you think in a completely new way. Not that it’s the wrong thing to do, but I don’t know how you trust somebody like that. So, it was a blessing, as an actor, to be able to have their input and direction for the entire creative process. I have to tip my hat to Cary and Nic, both. It was a massive undertaking. I don’t think they had a day off. Their weekends were filled with location scouting. They didn’t have any prep time. It was amazing how Cary kept it all together. And the cinematography was beautiful. The Louisiana that they depict, with the landscape, the culture, the religion and all of those things, are utilized in such an invaluable way that you can really feel it.
Just how creepy, dark and unsettling with things continue to get, before all is said and done?
MONAGHAN: Even more so. It’s really one of the most haunting adult dramas that I’ve ever seen. It goes pretty dark.
Is this one of those projects that you needed some time to decompress from and shake off, at the end of the day, or were things kept pretty light on set?
MONAGHAN: Things were able to stay pretty light. Nobody was really method, which is very helpful when you’re faced with such dark material. Fortunately, for me, I was able to get in and out of town with each episode.
Was there any disappointment to learn that this story would be wrapped up by the end of the season, and if there was going to be another season, it would be an entirely different cast?
MONAGHAN: I have to be honest, it excites me. I want to be inside Nic Pizzolatto’s brain. This was a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, and I won’t be a part of it again, unfortunately, because Nic is someone I would work with, time and time again. But, I look forward to seeing what he’ll do next. As somebody who truly appreciates what he does, as an audience, I look forward to whatever he comes with next.
And you’re sticking with HBO to do Ryan Murphy’s series, Open?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, I am. I’m really excited for that. Ryan Murphy knows his audience and his tone, and his projects are all so very unique. And I’ve had such a positive experience working with HBO. I sat down with Ryan and was really excited about what he wanted to do with this project. Also, the fact that he wants it to go for one season, possibly two, really appealed to me. It wasn’t a huge creative commitment.
What attracted you to that story?
MONAGHAN: It’s completely different from anything I’ve ever done, which is what I’m drawn to. As much as I can and am able to, with the projects that are presented to me, I try to just really choose things that are challenging and are something I haven’t tackled before. And this is incredibly provocative material that is somewhat timely, in a way. I like the idea of doing a role that feels completely unexpected.
What do you enjoy about getting to develop characters over a longer period of time, like you do with a TV show?
MONAGHAN: It’s an interesting opportunity to do a long-form character and really have the time to find the nuance, over an extended period of time. You can really dig deep. You have the opportunity to work closely with writers, as opposed to getting something that’s already said and done. Of course, you can work with the writer then, but as the writers and creators see you develop a character, you have an opportunity to really change course or have that character be more meaningful, in conjunction with what the creator wants, as well.
You’re also doing the Nicholas Sparks film, The Best of Me?
MONAGHAN: Yes! True Detective is quite dark, and Open will be very provocative. This felt like a 180 from that, which I’m looking forward to. It’s well written and Michael Hoffman is directing it, who I love. So, I’m really looking forward to that. I think we’re going to shoot that after I shoot the pilot for Open, so we’ll do that in the spring.
How did you end up voicing Wonder Woman for Justice League: War?
MONAGHAN: I have been wanting to do some voice-over work for awhile. This opportunity came to me and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, what woman doesn’t want to voice this role! That would be so cool!” So, I had a great time doing that.
The only disappointment of voicing a character as cool as Wonder Woman has to be not getting to do it all live-action.
MONAGHAN: It’s so true! I love to do stunts and action, and all of that. But, it was a great process, and it’s something that my daughter can actually watch. I think it’s the first thing I’ve done that’s actually appropriate for her.
True Detective airs on Sunday nights on HBO.