Over the course of these early episodes, we learn a lot about Cohle, and he has been through an awful lot in his life and as a result has come out the other side as a very strange character. How did you come up with him and how did you know what was the line which you couldn't push him past in terms of either the things in his history or the things that he says and believes in?

Nic Pizzolatto: I was never conscious of an ethical line. I just knew what Cohle's boundaries were, so to speak. He told me his boundaries, in the sense that, imaginatively, he never tried to do anything. The ethical lines weren’t built around an audience’s perception, they're built around Cohle's personal sense of honor. Everything is character me character to me so what decides how far Cohle goes is Cohle's character. And he has a very black and white perception of right and wrong that in some ways –I find his spirit, his character, although very harsh, also quite noble. And he's uncompromising. And at least courageous enough to legitimately try to see himself and his life without illusion, even though that itself is an illusion. And the way it came about is early summer of 2010, I was just writing and working on some stuff and thinking about what my next book would be. I don't read much fiction anymore. I tend to read philosophy and non-fiction more lately. And I was writing longhand in a moleskine, and Cohle's voice started coming out right away. And he was telling the story of a date, and this was the voice it was going to be in a novel, and you didn't hear the interrogators, and Cohle just started telling the story of catching this body, and it was the same day as his daughter's birthday. And he described some things, and was instantly describing these existential and metaphysical concerns that completely captivated me. I found that notebook a couple of months ago, and I was looking through it, and some of those very first things I wrote down, almost three years later made their way into Matthew's mouth. So I guess what appealed to me about Cohle was that voice. It captured something that is very personal to me. Here was a character who could actually articulate a lot of my own obsessions, while not being me in any way. He just had the outlook and the disposition to do it. 
And then it's almost like, 'Well, if you care to, if you want to make something for populist consumption, it would be good to have a story to attach it to, right?' If I just had two guys driving around in a car all day talking about shit I don't think that would get us very far. So then, if my fundamental concern is an investigation of character, and I want to sell this in such a way that it has a chance to find a widescale audience, what better genre for an investigation into character than a genre whose narrative structure is itself investigation. The two things just seem to fit really well. And then when we took it out, HBO has a really good track record for reinventing typical American genres in new lights. If you think of “The Sopranos” as the American family soap opera, or “Deadwood” as a reconfiguration of a Western, “The Wire” as a reconfiguration of an urban procedural.
In terms of the period in which the initial investigation was set, was there something you particularly liked about the mid-'90s or was it simply you wanted this to be roughly this many years ago and so this was when the story would have to happen?

Nic Pizzolatto: I think it was a combination of those things. I wanted it to be about 17 years, because I wanted to give it a look at a long expanse of characters' lives and be able to watch the various arcs and nuances and how they change or don't change, but also in the mid-90s, I was still in Louisiana in 95, so I felt very at home in the landscape, in the time period there, and it also practically served the purpose of giving us this 17-year timespan in which we can look at these major and sometimes minor-seeming events in these characters' lives. It gives you more space to actually walk around the various rooms of a character’s house, so to speak.
How many ideas do you have at this point for what the second season would be, assuming HBO wants to do more?

Nic Pizzolatto: If they let us do another one, I'm already working on stuff. I've been told not to talk about that very much. But I'll tell you what I would plan in a vague way. I see the show, if it got to continue, it being set in a different place every year with new characters, I would see it owning its landscape as an integral part of the show, and I believe I would continue to make use of the narrative conceit of a story being told, at least for some part of a season. Again, for all the reasons I’ve talked about: you get a great actor and you just let ‘em talk and you just keep the camera on him. But also, the dissonance between the story being told and what really happened. You'll see that the voices telling the story may lie, but the image never will. . So I think you can be very effective juxtaposition of things happening that are not what is being described. And there's all kinds of reasons why people may not be telling the truth. It may not be intentional at all. And those things don't have to take the form of a police interrogation. , if you think about all the various possibilities it could be somebody laying down a confession, it could be somebody taking over a radio station, I don't know, it's kind of endless. So I think those things would remain the consistent branding of the show.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com


Prev 1 2 3 Next
Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "TV (The Book)" about the 100 greatest shows of all time, is available now. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com