The Spoils of 'True Detective': Casting Season Two, Our Way

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in ‘True Detective’/Image © Michele K. Short/HBO

Ever since the season one finale of "True Detective," HBO's Louisiana occult mystery series, aired last month, tongues have been wagging about what season two will entail - even though, to date, a second season has yet to be confirmed. (Show creator Nic Pizzolatto reports he is writing one now but that HBO has yet to pick it up.) And ever since it was announced that season one stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson would not be returning, even more tongues have been wagging about who should take their place when it comes to "True Detective" casting for the potential second season.

So far, all Pizzolatto has revealed about next season is that it focuses on "hard women, bad men, and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system." Rumors abound that Brad Pitt will join the cast but the series creator has only said "who we cast and what their schedule is will likely determine at least some part of scheduling, and scheduling will determine at least some part of casting." (Such labyrinthine answers makes us wonder if Pizzolatto used himself as the model for McConaughey's philosopher-detective Rust Cohle.)

If history is any predictor, chances are good that the new True Detectives will be men, but a quickly deleted tweet from the show runner suggests at least one lead might be a woman. One thing is for sure: Intriguing possibilities abound.

I'm always a fan of character actors Richard Jenkins and Alan Arkin, though they're now rather long in the tooth to be plausible police officers. Any cast member from HBO's "The Wire" has already proven his or her crime series chops: Imagine how ecstatic millions of women (and many men) would be if Idris Elba, who played that show's drug lord Stringer Bell, stepped up to the plate. Even if his star has been rising since "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," the casting of McConaughey, Harrelson, and possibly Pitt suggests that no actor's britches could be too big for this gig.

Elba's big drawback would be his British background. All UK actors seem to believe they excel at American accents though, in reality, about as many Brits master the American accent as American actors master English accents (i.e., very few). To be fair, Elba did sport a decent Baltimore accent as Bell but this gig really requires an American actor, ideally one rooted in some way in the South; New Orleans-born Pizzolatto's Southern Gothic sensibility is core to his work. Which leads to Wendell Pierce. A proud New Orleans resident, he was waggish as Detective "Bunk" Moreland on "The Wire" and both haunting and haunted in the indie drama "Four." Such versatility is essential, since the tone of "True Detective" shifts radically even within the same episode. Along the same lines, John Goodman would be an outstanding True Detective. Another New Orleans denizen, the Coen Brothers favorite and former "Roseanne" costar can pretty much rock any role - especially one requiring a baroque darkness.

To be absolutely fair, Pitt himself might be great. He is Southern-born; he played a mean detective in David Fincher's "Seven"; he is droll as all get out in the "Ocean" movies; and he is at his best when portraying someone far afield. (As the animal rights activist in 1995's sci-fi "Twelve Monkeys," Angelina Jolie's life partner proved amazing.) It's almost an ideal resume for whatever Pizzolatto might next conjure up.

Let's pull back for a second, though, and envision a "True Detective" peopled by grown women. (A girl can dream, can't she?) I love Helen Mirren to bits, but while she's never been finer than she was as Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in "Prime Suspect," in this case it's really "Go American or go bust." Sandra Bullock nailed it as a serial killer hunter in the underrated Gosling vehicle "Murder By Numbers" as well as her role as a Southern magnolia with ovaries of steel in "The Blind Side," but (to her credit) she might have a hard time keeping a straight face during some of the show's more metaphysical monologues. Somewhere along the line, Julia Roberts, who does hail from Georgia, grew into a terrific actress rather than an, ahem, mere mega-mega-movie star, but that trademark cackle of hers would prove a disaster in this context. Jennifer Lawrence always shines but I tire of really young women in roles better suited to more mature actresses. (Lawrence's roles in both "American Hustle" and "The Silver Linings Playbook" were originally intended for far older actors.) With their deadpan expressions and penchant for oddball material, Holly Hunter, Chloë Sevigny, Amy Ryan, and Angela Bassett all would undeniably kick some serious ass on this show.

But, my picks are Viola Davis and Patricia Clarkson. Both are Southern-born - Clarkson's New Orleans roots run so deep that her mother was a local city politician - and both can do dry-eyed like nobody's business. Clarkson is always terrific, whether it is as a German-accented, heroin-addicted lesbian actress in "High Art," as a hippie wannabe in "Six Feet Under," or as a magazine writer in indie romance "Cairo Time." Davis ratchets everything she appears in to a far more intense level - whether it's as a heartbroken parent in "Prisoners," a subversive maid in "The Help," or a whacked-out artist in "United States of Tara." More, the absurdist sensibilities of Clarkson will provide a great, "True Detective"-style contrapunto to the dramatic heft Davis brings to the table. Ultimately, my pick is just plain selfish: For a while now, I've been keen to see these two women sink their fangs into truly chewy roles - and nobody writes chewy roles like Nic Pizzolatto does. So come on, already, HBO. Let the filming begin!

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