“Make It Female”: Jodie Foster, Kali Reis and Issa López on Expanding the ‘True Detective’ Universe with ‘Night Country’

True Detective

Jodie Foster and Kali Reis star in 'True Detective: Night Country' – the fourth season of the anthology series and the first to feature two female detectives in the lead roles. Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO

Issa López had a simple response for HBO when asked what she would do with the True Detective franchise: Make it female.”

The Mexican writer and director, 52, notes that, The whole trilogy did a really good job of representing the male experience, male obsessions, and the male view of the inner workings of the universe,” when discussing the franchise that began in 2014 with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson starring as detectives hovering over acts of cruel violence targeting women. The wildly popular first season, which brought the serial killer whodunnit into the prestige TV fold, also tended to exhibit the worst traits from its genre, from sensationalism to voyeurism. 

The fourth season, while just as chilling and absorbing, feels like the polar opposite, and not just because its practically set in the North Pole – a far cry from the Louisiana, California and Arkansas settings of the first three seasons.If there was a need to revisit that universe,” says López, it needed to expand. It needed to visit places and situations and characters that we hadn’t seen in it before.”

Lópezs True Detective: Night Country, which premieres on Crave in Canada this Sunday (January 14), pairs Oscar-winner Jodie Foster, 61, with world champion boxer-turned-actor Kali Reis, 37. They play two Alaskan detectives connecting the mysterious disappearance of an arctic crew of scientists to the murder of an Iñupiaq activist years before. As far as expanding the purview of True Detective, the new season flipped the gender dynamics with the first pairing of two female detectives, brought the series from the Bayou to the arctic and folded the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis into its narrative.

In terms of violence against women, I don’t think that’s as much a theme in those shows as it is in the world,” says Foster, whose iconic roles include playing a victim of child sex trafficking in Taxi Driver, a rape victim fighting against a patriarchal system for justice in The Accused and Clarice Starling, the iconic detective trying to save a young woman from a serial killers captivity in The Silence of the Lambs. If you really look at the statistics, it has been a reality in our lives since the beginning of time; especially violence against Native women, murdered Indigenous women. That’s a real problem that exists that we really wanted to talk about, as difficult as it is to talk about it and address it.”

We fight for those who can’t fight, dance for those who can’t dance,” adds Reis, who is of Cape Verdean and Indigenous descent. Shes enrolled in the Seaconke Wampanoag tribe with Cherokee and Nipmuc ancestry, and has been raising awareness about MMIW violence from her boxing career to her breakout role in the 2021 thriller Catch The Fair One. Every opportunity that I have, I will scream it loud until we make an important issue because it is an important issue. It’s an epidemic.”


True Detective
Jodie Foster and Kali Reis star as two Alaskan detectives connecting the mysterious disappearance of an arctic crew of scientists to the murder of an Iñupiaq activist years before in True Detective: Night Country. Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO


López, Reis and Foster join us over separate virtual roundtables from Los Angeles to discuss their approach in the new season, which is set in a fictional Alaskan town called Ennis but shot in Reykjavík, where the arctic conditions were so frigid they would make the actors slur their speech. López explains that she had been toying with the idea of a whodunnit in the arctic completely separate from True Detective before HBO came knocking.

The director, whose breakout feature Tigers Are Not Afraid set a ghost story against Mexican cartel violence, is doing a similar thing here. Night Country is also a ghost story in ways we wont spoil, set against the myriad harm caused by extractive industries in Alaska. The series specifically deals with issues ranging from a mining company poisoning the water to the fostering of conditions that make patterns of violence against Indigenous women possible. 

Approaching the subject as a settler, much like Martin Scorsese did with Killers of the Flower Moon, López sought out input from Yupik and Iñupiaq producers. They combed through the script, making sure it honoured the culture and didnt position the community as victims waiting for white saviours but instead as the agent of change and the protagonists of the story.” 

López also collaborated with Tanya Tagaq, the iconic Inuk throat singer, composer and poet from Canada, who can be heard across the sound design and score and glimpsed in a small on-camera role. Tanya Tagaq is one of the most beautiful, intense, insane, powerful performers, artists and composers that I’ve ever met,” says López. The moment that Tanya was on set, everything was on fire. She united all those Inuit voices. It became a party everywhere.”

True Detective
Of this new season, writer and director Issa López told Zoomer that True Detective: Night Countryneeded to visit places and situations and characters that we hadn’t seen in [the anthology series] before.” Photo: Photo: Lilja Jons/HBO


López also explains how she decided to lure Jodie Foster back to playing a detective for the first time in three decades after her turn as Clarice Starling. In revisiting the original season of True Detective, the director realized it was influenced by David Finchers Seven. So López rewatched that, only to realize that Finchers grisly artistry was indebted to The Silence of The Lambs, the Sistine Chapel of the genre. Wouldn’t it be interesting,” she says, “to get a central piece of why its such an extraordinary movie and put it in the series?”  

I don’t know why I stayed away from [the detective genre],” says Foster, whose conversation with us about rediscovering herself in her sixties can be found in Zoomers upcoming February/March 2024 print issue. I do like to mix it up. I like to play different things.”

Foster compares Starling, the rookie FBI agent from Silence of the Lambs, to Liz Danvers, the cynical veteran police captain she plays in True Detective: Night Country, and recognizes the overlap between the two in that both are women in a mans world who put up barriers to survive while coping with loss and trauma. However, they deal with it in completely different ways.

True Detective
Foster says the characters of detectives Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs and Liz Danvers in True Detective: Night Country have some similarities, but that the young Starling would never grow up to be a person like Danvers. Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO


Clarice is kind of composure, normativity, being a good girl, a good student in that very soft voice, almost a whisper,” says Foster, adding that she doesnt see a universe where Starling grows up to become Danvers. She’s on a different path.”

Foster describes Danvers as a mess, someone attempting to bury her pain. She is constantly distracting herself, whether it’s with Tinder, fantasy football games, white noise.” (The fantasy football element is actually lifted from Foster, who says she plays regularly with other women in their sixties. We all compete against each other with funny names.”)

The series also explores Danversself-destructive side through sex. Thats one of the remarkable elements in Night Country, the female lens applied to flings that are layered and complicated. Foster plays a woman who dominates men through sex in a way that rides a fine line between escape and self-harm. Alternatively, Reisagent Evangeline Navarro enjoys casual sex with a guy she keeps at a distance as a sort of healing. 

We dont normally see a woman portrayed as in control of their sexual choices,” says Reis. She contrasts what they do in Night Country to sex scenes on other shows and movies that may be consensual but often dont empower women with choosing when, where and how they have sex. I really commend Issa for such well-written characters that are in control of their out-of-control lives.”


True Detective
Photo: Courtesy of HBO


Like Reis, Navarro is Afro-Indigenous (the character is Dominican and Iñupiaq). Shes walking in two worlds, which Reis describes as feeling not Black enough or Indigenous enough. Navarro is also caught between being a detective, seeking justice as part of an institution that is complicit in the harm towards Indigenous communities, and being a member of the local community trying to protect her own family from such failed institutions. 

We’re living with one shoe and one moccasin on,” says Reis, about herself and her character. [Navarro] is balancing these two worlds. She’s very layered. She just uses [sex] as almost a safe space for her.

We also see a woman having sex being portrayed on TV and film as such a big deal,” Reis adds. She finds something empowering about the casualness of it all, of seeing female characters, through a female lens, in control of their sexual circumstances and not raising it above what quick release, satisfaction or healing it gives them. 

I commend Issa for that. I know it was a very conscious choice.” 

True Detective: Night Country premieres Sunday January 14 on Crave. For more of our conversation with Jodie Foster, check out the February/March 2024 issue of Zoomer Magazine.


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