MEXICO CITY (AP) — For filmmaker Issa López, the first question was where?
“The moment I understood it was the Arctic, everything started falling into place,” the director of “True Detective: Night Country” told reporters in Mexico City ahead of Sunday's premiere on HBO and HBO Max. All six episodes were written and directed by López.
The Mexican director was looking for a region of the United States that had a totally different physical feel from the previous three “True Detective” installments, which were set in Louisiana, Los Angeles and Arkansas, respectively. And that’s how Ennis, a fictional and remote town in Alaska, came to be.
López conceived the season “in the darkest time of the pandemic,” infusing the story with a sense of loneliness and loss. Jodie Foster plays Liz Danvers, a detective who suffered the death of her son and husband. Kali Reis stars as Evangeline Navarro, a detective who lost her mother to mental illness and worries about the same fate befalling her sister. Both seek to shed light on the disappearance of eight scientists from an isolated research station, and also face the unsolved murder of an Inuit woman who was an environmental activist and midwife.
López, who grew up in the Mexico City neighborhood of Tlatelolco “without money and in a crazy situation and barely surviving,” had a special interest in portraying violence against women and the disappearances of Indigenous people that are not investigated in the United States.
“It’s an absolutely terrifying situation among the Indigenous population, almost as what’s happening in Mexico,” she said. “The color of your skin is tied to your financial possibilities, your education, and your expectations in life and your expectations in death, apparently.”
Navarro is a woman of Dominican and Inuit descent; Danvers has an Inuit stepdaughter: “Maybe the biggest difference between our ‘True Detective,’ Season 4, and ‘True Detective’ 1, 2 and 3 is that the two main detectives can relate to the victims,” Foster said.
For Reis, developing Navarro's character was a complex process that required her to step into the shoes of a police officer — and reckon with police brutality.
“I being a woman and of color, and I also faced police brutality myself, I have been on the other end of playing Evangeline Navarro. So to jump right into the very thing that put a little bit of trauma in my own personal life was very interesting and kind of flipping it on its head,” said Reis, who in her career as a boxer won two world titles and has Indigenous origins on her mother’s side.
The series is executive produced by Foster, López, Barry Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey and “True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto.
It was filmed in subzero conditions in Iceland and in its opening credits feature Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend.” López constantly listened to the artist while writing the plot — “but I don’t want to give writing credit to Billie Eilish,” joked the director. The song, she said, has several “clues” to what transpires in the series.
Another Mexican influence on the plot is the relationship with the dead and the supernatural, similar to the Day of the Dead. Rose Aguineau, played by Fiona Shaw, is not scared of communicating with her deceased husband.
“There’s no way not to make it Mexican, it’s not an intention, it’s not that I said I’m going to make a Mexican series, it’s that I can’t not do it,” López said. “What issues are there about Mexicanity? The absolute certainty that all Mexicans have that the dead are with us, we invite them to dine with us once a year, that’s what we are.”