Kali Reis playing down the success of True Detective: Night Country

The stars of True Detective: Night Country on arctic temperatures, career pivots and “dropping in” to character.

Why do people love it? Well, it’s funny, it’s spooky, it checks all the boxes. It’s based in Alaska, which is a place we never see, and it has two really cool leads – just saying,” laughs Kali Reis. To say she is playing down the success of True Detective: Night Country is somewhat of an understatement – the series, the fourth season of the popular franchise, has averaged a total of 12.7 million viewers (more than any prior season) and has remained the top title on HBO Max since it debuted.

Reis and her co-star, Jodie Foster, play detectives Evangeline Navarro and Liz Danvers, who are investigating the grisly disappearance of eight men in the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska, during the ‘polar night’, a months-long winter period during which the sun never rises.

The fourth season of True Detective has been the most successful ever
“It’s only six episodes long, but it’s so convoluted,” says Reis. “I agree with that,” adds Foster, whose role as Danvers is her first on TV since 1975. “For me, streaming is the golden age. That’s where the best narrative is now, and for the most part, theatrical distributors have abandoned making real stories – they’re really in the superhero business. I wanted to get out there and find something and when I did, I knew immediately.”

Foster is, of course, an industry veteran; after shooting to fame as Iris in Taxi Driver in 1976, she went on to appear in The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs and has two Oscars, three BAFTAs and three Golden Globes to her name. Reis, however, is something of a new face: True Detective is only the third-ever acting role for the professional boxer. Has her sporting career given her a head start?

Jodie Foster (centre) opposite Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

Kali Reis in the ring in 2021
“I feel like I’ve been training for acting while I’ve been boxing,” she explains. “It’s way out of my territory, but I can navigate it pretty easily. With boxing, you can’t hesitate, you have to commit. You have to be completely grounded in your character, too – you have to think like them, speak like them. That’s not something I was taught, it’s just something that works for me: that ability to check all the way in, and all the way out.”

Foster agrees that the “dropping in” is a key element to acting well. “I always wonder what my life would have been like if I’d been to acting classes,” she says. “But I think that’s what training is about – giving you the tools to drop in, whether you need music, or humming, or a cup of coffee.”

“The show is funny, it’s spooky – it checks all the boxes”

She certainly needed to practise that art as Liz Danvers, the character she has referred to as an “Alaska Karen”, especially in the harsh climes of Iceland, where much of the series was filmed. “The most challenging thing was definitely the weather – it was cold,” she says. “I had a moment where I was supposed to fall through the ice, so they built a tank and I worked with a free diver to learn how to hold my breath for long enough to sink into the water. The problem was, I wear contact lenses, but I didn’t want to wear them in the water, so I couldn’t see. That was panicky! The first take was really bad – I was like, “Am I gonna die?”‘

There were, though, far more highs than lows for the pair. “We had heated socks, heated vests…” laughs Reis. “Though I didn’t try the heated underpants.” For Foster, the best on set memory was “being in the middle of shooting and looking up, and there are the Northern Lights. You’re surrounded by your friends, seeing this miracle, magical moment that’s only going to last ten minutes.”

Foster has had a long and distinguished acting career; this is her first TV role since 1975

For Reis, boxing has informed the way she acts: both require immense discipline
It’s clear that Foster and Reis have an easy, relaxed relationship with one another, perhaps born from the sometimes-fractious, sometimes-hilarious interactions between their two characters. “I laughed a lot at Danvers, and at Danvers’ relationship with Navarro,” says Foster. “I’m not even sure [those jokes] were on the page – I think they just happened in the moment.” Reis agrees: “Oh for sure, it wasn’t planned.”

The pair certainly make the job sound easy, but on screen, their chemistry translates to binge-watchable viewing. It all starts, they say, with collaboration. “That way, you start asking the right questions,” says Foster. “That’s how you deepen the process.”

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