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True Detective : Night Country / Press Conference with Jodie Foster

True Detective : Night Country /Law enforcement officers navigate a web of conspiracy to deal with a bizarre murder.

Series showrunner, writer, director, executive producer, Issa López

Star and executive producer, Jodie Foster

Cast includes: Jodie Foster, Kali Reis, Finn Bennett, Fiona Shaw, with Christopher Eccleston, Isabella Star LaBlanc, and John Hawkes. Guest stars include Anna Lambe, Aka Niviâna, June Thiele, Diane Benson, and Joel D. Montgrand.

True Detective : Night Country, Jodie Foster @Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

 

Press Conference with Actresses Jodie Foster, Kali Reis and Director Issa López

 

Q : How True Detective: Night Country fits in the series tradition and what’s new compared to the previous seasons?

Issa López : Well, we surely kept the tone. When HBO approached me with ideas, I went to my bedroom, sat down, and thought about what was about that first season of True Detective that hit us all so hard. I think it was the atmosphere. There was something about that goth, Southern gothic that stayed with us. Something about these two characters that are so different, in this world that was in itself a third character. These goths of America, this endless landscape where anything can happen. So I decided to keep the characters, keep the landscape. I wanted to show another corner of America that we don’t often see. I created these two female characters who are so different, trying to solve this very, very eerie crime in the backdrop of this endless landscape, a character in itself. And True Detective Night Country was born.

Q : Jodie and Kali, were you fans of the previous seasons of True Detective?

Kali Reis: Absolutely, I was a huge fan. So to even be part of the True Detective, just the entity that it is, it is amazing.

Jodie Foster : I love that series. Maybe, it was the beginning of my addiction to streaming. It was just one of those things that I just binge watched and loved and always returned to.

Q : What sort of attracted you to joining this show? 

Jodie Foster : This is the time that real narrative is really on streaming. I think that’s where some of the best work is being done. And it gives you an opportunity to explore characters without necessarily having it be a slave to the genre. Also having six episodes allows you to bring in other voices than the traditional ones we might see and that we have seen in features.

Kali Reis : It was just the story. Being a fan of just film and cinema and being a fan of the show, and then being able to read the story that Issa created is just really – I wanted to know what happened next. And if I enjoy it as a fan, if I have a chance to be a part of it, why not? And I kind of met Navarro, not created Navarro. Because Issa has created both Denvers and Navarro that are such intriguing characters, with so many layers, that it was great to see on paper and then imagine in my head and then be a part of the creation. My character basically revealed to me.

Q : Issa, can you talk about crafting this narrative with two strong women at the lead?

Issa López : I’d heard that people just write themselves over and over. It might be true. These are women that on one hand I wish I was, owning strength and resilience and complexity. These are also the women that I fear I am. They have flaws that I see in myself and the people I love around me. So you use all of that, you put it in a pot and you let it either brew or rot. Or both. In the end they will bubble to the surface and speak to you. And these are my characters.

Q : Jodie, in addition to starring, you’re also an Executive Producer on the series. What was it like to work with Issa in this double role?

Jodie Foster : It was a blessing. After working with so many people you finally find a person that understands how you can do your best. She was able to bring that out in me. I gotta see her do it with all the other people in different ways and that was the great draw of the collaboration. That happened from the beginning. When we first met, I’d seen one movie by Issa’s and I wasn’t really convinced, so we met up and I think I said some scary things. And it was just amazing to see a brand-new character emerge that was more than I could have ever hoped for or anticipated, and that I think really helped the dynamic between Danvers and Navarro.

Q : So you actually went and rewrote based on this conversation?

Issa López : Well, 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, not holding it together. Because she’s been trying too hard for too long to keep it together. They were perfect opposites. When I sat down in front of Jodie she really loved the script, but she absolutely doesn’t bullshit you which I learned very fast. Because she said: “I don’t see myself in this though. I just like strong women.

And we started speaking of who this Danvers could be. Jodie 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 asshole?” And she laughed and she said yeah. So I went and I made Danvers an asshole. A beautiful asshole with a lot of hope in her heart. And then in turn, Navarro had to change, becoming deeper and more soulful. And the script just became better. And this is what I’ve learned throughout the entire process: working with Jodie and Kali, every time that you receive a good note, is an opportunity to completely overhaul and take the story to a next level.

True Detective : Night Country, Kali Reis @Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

Q : Kali, what are the biggest challenges and differences in transitioning from boxing to acting? 

Kali Reis : There are actually a lot of similarities. There’s so many parallels. Boxing is such an entertainment sport, an entertainment industry itself. The ring is a stage and we have to perform, put on a show. Issa creating this story it’s like a coach creating a game plan and you trust that it. You can make some adjustments but in the end you practice, you rehearse and then perform.

And it just  works. I found a home. You have a good coach, good eyes, a good dance partner, and a good opponent to create a good story. 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. Also the fact that there are so many people in the room, but you’re focused on one task at hand. You just kind of block everything out. So there weren’t really any challenges. Just like Jodie says, Issa has the ability to get exactly what she wants and needs from different people and different strategies. That makes for a perfect coach.

Q : And Jodie, what impressed you the most about working with Kali?

Jodie Foster : Everything. Her tenacity of spirit, that doesn’t come from boxing. It’s a discipline that’s within you. She’s not afraid of doing it over and over again and trying it again in a different way. Kali owns full disciplined awareness. I’ve had this experience of making really long movies but I’ve never had the experience of making a TV show where that felt so much like a family, all of us in Reykjavík and the snow in this brand-new city, hanging out with each other. It was a great team.

Q : How did shooting in Iceland add to the feel of the show?

Issa López : It was beautiful. I fell in love with it. It’s an incredible country and the absolute presence of nature in everything you do informed the story we were telling. This way it turned completely different than if we had shot it in a soundstage with the volume as things are shot now. We were actually there on the ice. And it affected the story we were telling in the best possible way. And I knew very little about Alaska, at that point. So I made it my mission to understand that place before speaking for it.

Jodie Foster : There have been huge challenges, as you can imagine: first of all working at night and trying to light at nighttime and in the snow with all the elements. But we kind of had the gods on our side, when we needed all this snow we got all the snow. And right when we needed it to be calm, it was calm. Kali and I had a little summer vacation and we went to Alaska, the real Alaska.

We loved working in Iceland, but Alaska is a whole another absolutely beautiful magical place, where you really do feel nature and you feel everybody’s connection to nature. And the survival element to that, the kind of pain that comes along with that: you can feel in places like the Arctic or northern Alaska, or Greenland, for example, how many hundreds of thousands people died because they just couldn’t survive it. I think a part of the reason why people are so drawn to it. And of course, the extraordinary people that we met there.

Kali Reis : Iceland was a magical place. There is so much nature over there, you can breathe it.. And then getting a chance to go to Alaska and actually bringing the people from Alaska to Iceland, it all made the perfect environment for this story to be told. I was really blessed to be able to go to Alaska, visit the land, thank the people who were telling their stories, and visit them. But shooting in Iceland was just such a blessing. It was a nice atmosphere. The dark, I mean, again, we’re shooting and I’m looking at Northern Lights. And I’m like: “I have to pay attention”. It was a great experience shooting there.

Q : What were some of the most impressive locations you used?

Kali Reis : I think Aquaterra, where we spent four weeks up north in Iceland. That’s when we needed a massive amount of snow. It was so beautiful. The people are built differently there. They like to swim outside in pools in freezing weather. So that was fun to experience too.

Issa López : We had one huge quarry during summer, completely covered in ice, where we created a crime scene. And we shot a lot in it. Some nights the temperatures dropped to minus 23 Celsius when we were shooting there and let me tell you: the whole performance of these characters, going to a crime scene in those temperatures by night, are real. And around them, everything you see is ice to the horizon and the night sky. It absolutely changes the narratives. So many beautiful locations.

Q : Kali, your character’s background as an indigenous woman is a big part of her self-discovery. Can you elaborate on what that meant to you?

Kali Reis : She comes from two different worlds. She has a Dominican background and an indigenous Inupiat background, which is something I can personally relate to, being Wampanoag and Cape Verdean and having to not be enough for either side. She has this journey that she has to go on, also being part of law enforcement and military. She wants to help her people, but she wants to help herself and her family.

But she also wants to be part of these people, it ends up she has no idea what she is. She needs to go through her own journey, where she didn’t even know what she was looking for. And it has a lot to do with the dark and the cold. It has a lot to do with Alaska itself, something she’s been trying to run away from, tryings to avoid. It’s a back and forth battle that she has to deal with all the time, on top of dealing with Danvers who is an asshole. 

True Detective : Night Country, John Hawkins@Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

Q : Issa, how does the anthology style format of True Detective benefit the story you’re telling?

Issa López : For me it’s just a perfect way to tell a story. Because up until this point I had made only movies. And though I subscribe to the church of cinema, this was such a gorgeous discovery in the sense of the size of the canvas, with the depths that you can go with the characters when you have the space. The understanding of the world, the details. I could not imagine myself doing 10 episodes, especially because I tend to direct everyone and I’m a control freak.

But I would definitely love to repeat the experience. True Detective: Night Country is not a long movie: the structure of TV, good TV, is very specific and very different. Truth is, cinema comes from fierce and from the need to come together for a spectacle, TV comes from a very humble origin of selling a product. Telling your story has evolved into an artform and now it’s really truly acquiring the title it deserves, because incredible art is being made by respecting, loving and inhabiting the form of TV.

Q : Jodie, you could work on anything you want to do in your career at this point, and you have. What do you keep in mind when considering a new project?

Jodie Foster : I’ve worked for 58 years in the film business. Some things I already did I don’t want to repeat. There’s some stories I’ve already told. I’m really surprised that at 60 I think I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Something about recognizing that it isn’t my time, that it’s someone else’s time and being there to support them and bringing whatever knowledge or wisdom that I’ve accrued over the years, being able to apply that and help a team.

It’s just so much more fun. And being so proud of a team and watching other actors that have different strengths than you have. Also, having enough experiences technically in the film industry to be able to be supportive and have something to give. I think now I’ve accomplished so many of the goals that I had, I can kind of put those aside and now it’s really about doing what gets me excited.

Q : As a director yourself, did you also give tips to Issa Lopez?

Jodie Foster : Tips are always none of my business. As a director, I really love it when other actors are directors, because I feel like I’ve got other eyes on the table and they’re looking out for how something’s going to cut together. People should be able to be creative and to explore new ways of doing things that aren’t the old ways.

Issa López : She immediately was like: “Your way is going to work”. And it was for me an absolute joy, because my way of working is in a team. I try to surround myself with people that are smarter than me and then take the credit for their intelligence. So my DP, I always pick them with a storytelling eye, and in this case we have Florian Hoffmeister who is incredible. Sometimes shooting was very straightforward and sometimes we would truly throw the scene away and rewrite it right there and re-decide how to shoot it. We would create something together. It was alive and it was so much better because of that.

Q : Can you talk about how intrigued you became about the indigenous spiritually and mythology so prevalently immersed throughout this story? 

Jodie Foster :  That was my draw, to really have the opportunity to learn about and for the audience to learn about the genuinely centered indigenous story, as opposed to some of the lip service that we get in films that are out, that come out. I just wanted to know more. It’s not my voice, it’s their voice and I wanted to support and make sure that their stories were the center.

Kali Reis : I’m not the spokeswoman for all Inupiat people, but I am proudly indigenous; and it’s really important for me in everything I do, especially getting to the film industry, being such an unfamiliar face we see on screens now. That’s how we get our knowledge, especially some people like the Inupiat people who lived in such rural areas and have so much darkness. What else do they have to do but create stories, create traditions, their culture, their songs.

To be able to represent an underrepresented group of people, especially being in Alaska, it was really important for me to get the perception of how the Inupiat people want to see themselves. Because although I’m indigenous, I can’t be the one Native American person that speaks for all natives. Because there’s over 600 tribes in the entire United States of America. So I just speak for the Wampanoag nation and who I am.  Having Executive Producers on our project was hugely important to me just to have the right representation. Because my traditions and what I have are completely different, I didn’t grow up in the Arctic.

So it was really important for me just to ask, how do you want to see yourself on screen? Tell me some stories, tell me some family stories. It was really intriguing and refreshing to see the care that you guys took on the approach of this, even going to Alaska and sitting down, breaking bread with these people and having this experience.

So it wasn’t something that we thought it might be like what we thought happened, which is how most of this Country is built on. But to actually really do the best we could to get the representation right was really important for me.  Being someone new in this industry, that is at the top of my list.

Issa López : I created a fictional town that is a mix of three towns in Northwestern Alaska. And the more I understood of these towns, the more I understood that the presence of Yupik, Inupiat voices was central to the experience and identity of these towns. Once the first pass of the script was ready, we got in two producers that came on board and went through everything with us.

This is after I had been in Alaska and I had met the people and I had made friends there. They came onboard, went through everything and changed a bunch of things, for the best, no doubt. Then they came to Iceland with us and they looked at the wardrobe, at the food that we were serving. When the Alaskans that are in the show came, they ate the food on set.

We put them together with the Inuit that we brought from Greenland. The language is not exactly the same, but they could understand each other. And in the space of a couple of weeks working together, they were so close to each other that when they parted there were tears. And they are still darling friends of ours and they love the show. It’s just such an honor to be able to do something that has their faces and their stories in it. They feel that they can see themselves in it.

Check out more of Adriano’s articles. 

Here’s the trailer of the series. 

Adriano Ercolani
Adriano Ercolani
Adriano Ercolani Profile Italian Film Critic and TV Author living in New York since 2011. Critics Choice Association member. Graduated in History of Cinema in Rome, he works as a freelance correspondent for some of the most important Italian outlets like Hollywood Reporter Italy, Comingsoon.it, Cinefilos.it and Ciak Magazine. He started working as a film critic almost thirty years ago: in his career he attended the most important Film Festivals (Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto, New York Film Festival, Tribeca) and conventions (San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic-Con, Disney D23). All over the years he has interviewed some of the most important contemporary authors like Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson, Alexander Payne, Joel and Ethan Coen, Kathryn Bigelow, Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, Jane Campion). In 2009 he interviewed Christiane Kubrick and Ian Harlan inside Stanley Kubrick’s private office. Other than movies he is fond of American literature and basketball. Los Angeles Lakers fanatic. He lives in New York with his wife and his bossy 3-year -old daughter.

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