‘True Detective’ puts Colin Farrell, a true actor, on duty

In this image released by HBO, Colin Farrell portrays Detective Ray Velcoro in the second season of the HBO original series "True Detective," airing Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT. (Lacey Terrell/HBO via AP)
In this image released by HBO, Colin Farrell portrays Detective Ray Velcoro in the second season of the HBO original series "True Detective," airing Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT. (Lacey Terrell/HBO via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — The second season of “True Detective” kicked off last week, and it got right down to business: The bizarre murder of a city boss in the wicked wasteland of Vinci, California, has put responding law officers in a turf war escalated by their shared antipathy.

Prime among them is Vinci Police Detective Ray Velcoro (played by Colin Farrell, who co-stars with Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch, plus Vince Vaughn as the city’s reigning mobster). Ray is a lawman who has lost his moral compass, his marriage and his son. He hasn’t signaled defeat, but seems close, the kind of guy who responds to the taunt, “You used to be a hard man,” by growling, “I’m tired.”

With the season’s second episode premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO, Farrell, sporting his Dublin-born bonhomie, is game to talk about the series and being a true actor.

“Ray is not the kind of guy I would find myself wanting to spend too much time with,” he allows. “But I had a fairly deep sympathy for him from the first time I met him. He can’t find his way back to that place where life still held some potential to be noble.”

As before, this season’s “True Detective” springs from a homicide that mainly serves as a narrative hook, says Farrell, “to draw viewers in, and to force the characters into each other’s lives in ways they never imagined at the outset.”

At 39, Farrell has had a freewheeling film career that includes the smash thriller “Minority Report,” the buddy hit-men masterpiece “In Bruges,” the edgy “Phone Booth,” and “Pride and Glory,” ”Cassandra’s Dream” and “Alexander.” But when “True Detective” beckoned, he detected risk in following last season’s dream team of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, who rocketed their show into the stratosphere.

“Still, I read the script and loved it,” says Farrell. “I couldn’t pass on it out of a fear of comparison.”

At the same time, he dismisses any idea that he imagined this new round of “True Detective” might ignite a second act for his career, such as how Season 1 blessed its pair of leading men (inspiring the term “McConaissance”).

“I’d be a fool if I thought that,” Farrell laughs.

Simply put, his decision to say yes is due to Nic Pizzolatto, who created “True Detective” and has written every episode. Pizzolatto — not the cast or any overarching premise — is the series’ sole throughline.

“He’s the showrunner as well as the writer,” marvels Farrell. “He’s an animal! He’s so ambitious, so driven, and willing to go to a dark place, I think, to render these characters.”

From that dark place, Pizzolatto introduced Ray Velcoro (along with his fellow characters) to the page. Then it was up to Farrell to bring Ray to life.

He began with the dialect, working with the noted coach Jessica Drake.

“For Ray, we decided to have a little bit of Okie, a little bit of Pacific Northwest, a bit of California, a bit of Arizona — and I listened to a lot of Sam Shepard. I would drive over to Jessica’s, stopping on the way to pick up her Earl Grey tea and my chai latte, and then we’d sit in her back garden and have our Starbucks. We drilled for six or eight weeks. It was a great kind of gentle easing into the character.”

Then cameras rolled.

“The birthplace of a character is the writer’s mind and heart. But there should come a point where, as an actor, you arrive at the doorstep of more knowledge than the writer. By episode three or four, I felt I understood Ray. But it wasn’t like I was ever going to get to tell Nic, ‘He’s mine now.’ Ray, and all the characters, lived within Nic, too, while we were shooting the show.”

As any “True Detective” viewer knows, each character’s state is like a single color fractured on an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. For order to be restored to any one of the colors, it must be restored to them all. That’s an outcome as unlikely in the “True Detective” universe as mastering the Rubik’s Cube.

Or is it? “There is some kind of (screwed)-up hope on the show that never flat-lines,” says Farrell. “I don’t know that the characters are aware that it’s there. But there is an inherent grace to Nic’s writing, and the gods want these people to find their way back home. Hope hovers above the story, telling the viewer: It isn’t as over as you think it is.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore

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