Woody Harrelson, left, and Matthew McConaughey will star in the HBO eight-part series “True Detective” written by Nic Pizzolatto. The series centers on two detectives, McConaughey and Harrelson, while they hunt a serial killer in Louisiana. (Special to the American Press)
(Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, August 20, 2012 12:57 PM
Nic Pizzolatto was born in New Orleans and grew up in Lake Charles. His first novel, “Galveston,” was published in 2010 by Scribner, and screen rights have been purchased by Paramount.
He taught writing and literature at several universities before moving with his wife and daughter to Los Angeles.
After writing the scripts for two episodes of the AMC series “The Killing,” his own original series “True Detective” has been picked up for two seasons on HBO, and production is about to begin. Stars for the first season are Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Pizzolatto is producer and sole teleplay writer. At this writing he was scouting filming locations in and around New Orleans.
MGM just announced that Pizzolatto has been selected to write the script for “The Magnificent Seven” with Tom Cruise as the star. The 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven” starring Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson, was an Americanization of the Japanese film “Seven Samurai.”
The following is from an e-interview with Pizzolatto.
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American Press: How do you feel about being chosen to write “The Magnificent Seven?”
Pizzolatto: I feel great about it. At this point I’m generally interested in working on my own original material, but I love a great Western, and “Seven Samurai” is my favorite movie, so I’m hoping to do something really special with it. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Variety’s headline on the “Magnificent Seven” story referred to you as a “tyro,” Variety-speak for “first-timer.” Your reaction?
Everybody thought that was stupid. It makes me sound like some kind of newcomer. This isn’t my first feature script. I wrote the script of my novel ‘‘Galveston’’, and I wrote “The Snakehead” for Stephen Gaghan, which should go into production next year. In entertainment news, I think the mandate is that it’s better to be first and wrong than second and right. Variety’s the worst. But a couple magazines out here will be doing much more detailed stories on me; that Variety article was more of an MGM/Tom Cruise story.
What were the earliest influences that set you on a path to writing?
A defiance toward the inadequacy of the reality surrounding me, and a corresponding desire to create a finer analogue. I was a visual artist all my life, until about age 21, when I said I was going to be a writer.
How did your family feel about your change of direction?
I was always a visual artist, from my earliest years. Always had a pad and pencil with me, constantly drawing. I later realized that I had used art to escape my surroundings, to create a personal center of peace within chaos. No matter where I was, I could draw. I was able to attend college because I received a visual arts scholarship from LSU. During college I drifted more intensely into literature and philosophy. I’ve more or less been on my own since I left home at 17 — my parents never seemed particularly concerned about how I was progressing in the world, so I don’t imagine they had any feelings about me changing my major.
What in particular about Louisiana and South Louisiana follow you in your work?
What happens in your youth tends to stay most indelible because your senses are so raw and the boundaries between your ego and the world around it are much thinner, so in that way it’s a matter of firsts. I was born and raised and lived in South Louisiana until I was 22 years old, and even then I used to come back a lot. It’s your youth that haunts you. Every aspect of it haunts me, the way emotions haunt you even once they’ve ceased. You remember the intensity of the feeling, the vividness of your emotions, the branding of your senses by these surroundings, these events, your life.
In “True Detectives,” will you interact with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey? Why do you think they were cast in the series?
Absolutely I interact with them. My role on “True Detective” is as show-runner. I am creator, sole writer and executive producer. I own it, along with my producing partners. In television that means it’s your ship to captain, more or less.
No one could get cast without my approval. A director couldn’t be hired without my approval. Which is only to say that I have a hand in all parts of the show. I’m on set, I’m in the boardroom, everywhere. Creatively, particularly in very complex roles like the two Woody and Matthew are set to play, I think you want the actors and the creator-writer to have a dialogue, at least enough of one that the actors feel secure in the places they have to take themselves.
I always thought Matthew was a tremendous actor and a bona fide, first-rate leading man of the old-school manner, though for a long while his career was somewhat isolated to romantic comedies. But he’s been turning in great performance after great performance over the last year, and I believe the role of Rust Cohle (in “True Detectives”) is going to be some kind of zenith for him in terms of this renaissance he’s enjoying with his craft.
Matthew liked the material and wanted to do it, and as producers we’d all already talked about Woody, who between “Rampart” and “Game Change” may have had the best year of any American actor in 2011. Matthew wanted Woody, and they were already friends who want to work together when they can, so that was lucky. Very, very lucky. And it’s perfect. I’m looking at all 445 pages of script for the show right now and imagining what these guys are going to do with it, and I keep thinking, the world has no idea what it’s about to see.
Besides their skills and considerable reputations, I think with Matthew and Woody you also get two men, whereas a lot of casting in entertainment seems to revolve around overly pretty boys. They’re both earthy, down-to-the-ground men, with families and worldly experience and the wisdom it takes to maintain where they are. This fundamentally masculine aspect was actually the most important thing in the casting, to me. A lot of younger stars were suggested for the roles, and I’d veto them right away just because the guys didn’t look like actual men to me.
Are you involved with location selection? What places are being considered?
I am involved in literally every piece of “True Detective.” Right now we’re looking at basing out of New Orleans and filming in surrounding environs and along the coast. It’s not locked in yet.
What does Cary Fukunaga, the director and coproducer, bring to the project?
Again, besides his considerable skills and reputation, I think Cary brings a directorial vision that will define the series in many of its most important terms, which are visual. And if you’ve seen either of his movies (“Jane Eyre” and “Sin Nombre”) you know that Cary is adept at capturing the silent, mercurial transitions of character emotions, letting the quiet, intimate space of a human being extend into dramatic movement. This story demands that kind of attention. And I think he’s going to ensure that True Detective looks like nothing else on television, and that visually it doesn’t feel like television, or cinema, but a new hybrid we’re trying to create.
Details about your deal with HBO?
It’s for two seasons of “True Detective” and the general development of new stuff. That’s about it. I’m focused on getting “True Detective” Season One done properly right now. I’ll push other ideas later.
“Southern writers” is almost a genre unto itself. How would you classify yourself — a southern writer, a writer about the South or “other?”
I’m a writer who grew up in the South. That’s it. There’s this almost papal idea of ‘Southern Writers” (as if the South were one gigantic place and not a myriad of separate parts with infinite mutability). I can say that within the pantheon of “Southern writers” there are lot of “Great American Treasures” I think are quite mediocre. Definitely no writer has meant more to me, in total, than William Faulkner. Not even close. I don’t think I’d even be out in the world if it wasn’t for his work.
That said, we should remember that “southern writer” was basically a term New Yorkers created in order to begin to understand the new literature coming from somewhere under Connecticut, and we begin to understand first by classifying.
Your favorite memories of south Louisiana?
Food and football. I think the rest all involve heavy drinking, and so are favorite half-memories.
What about Louisiana’s reputation and future in the film industry?
You know, I really couldn’t comment on that, as I’m not sure what either is. I know what Louisiana means to me, and what its reputation means to me, and why I’m worried about its children, but I don’t have much sense for the way it’s viewed in the industry or world. I just got to the industry myself.
The main character in your first story in The Atlantic, “Ghost Birds,” is a park ranger at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis who regularly and surreptitiously BASE (building, antenna, span and earth) jumps from the top of the arch. The fine details you describe, are they from experience or research?
I actually BASE jumped once, but after I’d already written that story. When I sold my first two stories to The Atlantic I sent myself to Europe for two months, and in Switzerland there was this place that let you BASE jump. You just had to sign something waiving all liability. They did a 45-minute training spiel. Then you jump off a mountain with a parachute in your hand. Incredibly terrifying.