It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Matthew McConaughey playing nihilistic detective Rust Cohle, but when he originally got offered a part on ‘True Detective’ it was for the other cop in the series…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
For eight weeks earlier this year, True Detective became the cult show everybody had to watch for the incredible story, amazing dialogue and tour-de-force performances by lead actors Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
‘True Detective’ wasn’t necessarily a new concept in terms of an anthology series on a major cable network — American Horror Story had already conquered that terrain — but what this show did differently was set up two huge movie stars in TV roles with every script written by the same man and every episode directed by the same person. For eight straight hours we were enthralled. For eight straight hours we were amazed.
‘True Detective’ wrapped up and following the show’s finale, Matthew McConaughey began his tour of the awards circuit to wrap up as many gold statues as he could carry for his role in the film ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. The whole whirlwind ended with McConaughey standing on the stage at the Academy Awards accepting the Oscar for his performance.
Later this year, McConaughey will go back to the award circuit, this time for his part playing Rust Cohle — the agnostic, philosophy seeking cop from his role in ‘True Detective’ — and the general consensus believe he’s a lock to win everything once again, including the Emmy for best actor in a drama series.
McConaughey played his role to perfection while going opposite Harrelson’s more straight forward alpha male character named Marty Hart. But could you imagine if those roles were reversed? Better yet imagine McConaughey playing Marty Hart because when he was originally approached to play a part in ‘True Detective’ that’s who he was supposed to portray.
“They wanted me for the Marty Hart part, and I liked the Rust Cohle part,” McConaughey told Deadline recently. “The director, Cary Fukunaga, well I was a big fan of Sin Nombre. The fact that it was going to be those two, Nic (Pizzolatto) and Cary, through all eight episodes? I would have been more scared if I was going to do something on TV with different directors and writers coming in.
“One director, one showrunner for a finite series made it feel like I was making a 450-page movie. As for TV, you don’t feel you are walking the plank anymore. The quality of drama on the small screen often surpasses the quality on the big screen now. I wasn’t approaching this thinking, “What is my image going to be and how might it change?” It was, “Let me find quality, and then go and do quality.”
Looking back at the casting process, McConaughey understands why he was first thought of as the perfect actor to play Marty Hart. For most of his acting career, McConaughey has been the lead, type-A personality on screen. His roles in ‘A Time to Kill’ and ‘Two for the Money’ stick out as the kind of part that could eventually mold into a Marty Hart type character, but in the last couple of years McConaughey really reinvented his career and the parts he was willing to take.
Instead of the romantic comedies he was associated with for so long, McConaughey started taking much edgier roles like the film ‘Magic Mike’, ‘Mud’ and then eventually ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. By the time ‘True Detective’ came around, McConaughey was much more prepared for the dark, nihilistic tendencies of Rust Cohle than he would have been playing someone like Marty Hart.
“I understood why they wanted me for the Marty role. I think from my past work, someone would think that I would be more right for that,” McConaughey said. “I said, the guy on the page who I cannot wait to hear what’s going to come out of his mouth, and who I agreed with in so many ways, or at least I understood his mind and his character, was Rustin Cohle.”
The creator and director ultimately sided with McConaughey and he got the Rust Cohle part instead before they eventually cast Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart. Now a year after filming and months after the show aired, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than these two playing the roles that they played.