Mahershala Ali Is the Talk of the True Detective Red Carpet
By Michael Gluckstadt
The Academy Award and Golden Globe-winning actor highlighted an evening celebrating the return of the crime drama.
Mahershala. Mahershala. Mahershala. If there was one thing everyone wanted to talk about at the premiere of True Detective at the DGA Theater in Los Angeles, it was Mahershala Ali’s standout performance in the new season of the acclaimed crime drama, which begins Sunday night at 10 p.m. on HBO.
“I would do anything with Mahershala,” said show creator and executive producer Nic Pizzolatto. “Collaborating with him is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
Ali stars as Detective Wayne Hays, a Vietnam veteran investigating the disappearance of two children in rural Arkansas in 1980. The season follows Hays over three distinct time periods, as he struggles with the investigation and his own deteriorating memory. “The performance he gives as a man who’s 35, 45 and 70,” Pizzolatto continued, “the little subtleties and nuance he brings to it is tremendous.”
Fresh off a Golden Globe win for his performance in Green Book, Ali was content to take in the moment. “We started over a year ago,” he said. “To be here now, it really is a dream come true.” Playing the same character over a multi-decade span was not without its challenges for the Academy Award-winning actor. “I had to be aware of where I was in the story at any given time. It was a joy to do something difficult and work together to figure it out on a day-to-day basis. Every night I would go home exhausted feeling like it was time well spent.”
Ali wasn’t alone in navigating that challenge. “I had a lot of help,” he said. “Whether it was other cast members, a voice and speech coach in Denise Woods, the makeup team. It was an immersive experience.”
But according to those other cast members, the story of the season, and of the night, was Ali. “Our two-step dance took me to places that I hadn’t gone before,” said Stephen Dorff, who plays Hays’ colleague, Detective Roland West. Carmen Ejogo, who co-stars as a teacher-turned-author and Hays’ wife, said, “He’s a great scene partner. He was so dedicated from the very beginning to bringing this life.”
Ali’s performance — and makeup — was so convincing, that some of the actors felt they only got to know the older version of him. Ray Fisher, who plays Wayne’s son Henry in the later years said, “They did such a great job with the prosthetics that I joked, I had only really met him at the table reads for the first few episodes. The rest of the time I was with Old Man Mahershala.” Sarah Gadon, who plays a documentary filmmaker interviewing the elder Hays, said, “I only worked with him when he was in full age makeup, so I have no idea what he really looks like.”