“To ask somebody to make that significant of a shift and totally rethink your story was the first thing to accomplish,” Oscar winner Mahershala Ali said when he pitched himself to True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto about taking on the lead role for Season 3 of the HBO anthology series.
“My only insecurity was if the story would be fundamentally changed by changing the race of the lead character,” said Pizzolatto, who was joined by Ali at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys event Sunday on the Paramount lot. “Mahershala assured me he didn’t want the story changed and he didn’t want the character defined by his race but to be, as he was on the page, something of a broader, more dimensional leading man than just someone whose defining characteristic would be race.”
Pizzolatto loved the idea and went back to rewrite the episodes to make sure to strike a balance to where race “wasn’t the overtext” but it was also not ignored.
Season 3 takes place within three different timelines: In 2015, retired detective Wayne Hays (Ali), his memory failing, looks back at the disappearance of 12-year-old Will and 10-year-old Julie Purcell, recalling the days and weeks immediately following the 1980 crime, as well as developments in 1990, when he and his former partner, Roland West, were subpoenaed after a major break in the case.
The finale aired February 24, the same night as the Oscars, where Ali took home his second Best Supporting Actor trophy for his performance in Green Book.
“I couldn’t watch the finale until about a week ago, because this was my first lead and I’ve been acting since 1993,” Ali said. “For that to align with the Oscar night, it was a lot for me to take in. I felt too attached to it. I found that I had to give myself some time so that I can watch as objectively as possible and with less emotion and less stakes involved. … It started out very intimate, the whole process was intimate and difficult in the healthiest way possible.
“So to come to the end like that I just needed a moment,” he added. “It’s beyond gratitude. There’s a lot to take in.”