‘True Detective’: Mahershala Ali’s Lead Role Was Originally Written for a White Actor

     December 4, 2018

true-detective-season-3-mahershala-ali-slicePerhaps the most major takeaway, for viewers, between the quality of True Detective Season 1 and Season 2 was that creator Nic Pizzolatto works best when challenged. The Season 1 set was reportedly very contentious, as director Cary Fukunaga pushed back on a lot of Pizzolatto’s ideas, and vice versa. That honed the story, and the way it was told, into something really excellent, which was not repeated when Fukunaga left before Season 2. It’s a common problem in auteur-driven TV series, but one that fans were hoping might be rectified for a potential True Detective Season 3.

The initial casting of Mahershala Ali was already a positive, but in a recent Actors on Actors Variety interview with John David Washington, Ali revealed that he was the one to challenge Pizzolatto’s initial conception of the story, and press for the lead character to not be white, as written, but black — and played by Ali. “I could’ve played that second lead, that supporting career. But in my mind, I was like, ‘I’ve done this my entire career though. I’ve never done that,’” he said. “At that time, I’m 43 years old. If it don’t happen now, it really may not happen.”


Image via HBO

As Ali explains in the clip below, he actually texted Pizzolatto pictures of his grandfather, who was a state police officer in the 60s and 70s. “I was like, ‘See, we existed in this space. In the ’60s and the ’70s. State police officers […] ‘I think your story would be served, I think the story would be improved in this case, if this lead character was black.’”

That’s a potent story to be told about racism in 1980s Arkansas, and from a different perspective than we’ve seen before. “You’re asking someone questions, and [you’re] the lead detective. If [they’re] white, they might not look at me. When I ask them a question, they’re addressing [the white detective]. Racism is not experienced as the n-word, all the time. It’s more like, ‘Yo, you wouldn’t even look me in the eye.’ Or I said thank you and he just brushed me off.”

Ultimately, Pizzolatto agreed, for the best. Ali, now the star, leads a story that searches for  two missing children in the Ozarks, with Stephen Dorf playing his partner. Like Season 1, the new season will also take place over three time periods, with Ali’s character looking back on the case.

True Detective Season 3 returns to HBO on January 13, 2019 and also stars Carmen EjogoMamie GummerRay Fisher, and Scoot McNairy. Check out the video clip of Ali’s interview below: