Rustin Cohle’s mannerisms in True Detective came solely from Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey might have made some baffling choices of late, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s responsible for one of the most stunning performances in modern TV history.

His portrayal of tortured detective Rustin “Rust” Cohle in the inaugural season of “True Detective” not only went a long way towards cementing those eight episodes as some of the greatest TV ever produced but also helped usher in the so-called “golden age of TV,” clearing the way for big name stars to start showing up in premium small screen projects long before that was the norm.

Of course, he was aided by a thoughtful and densely-layered script from show creator Nic Pizzolatto, some confidently nuanced direction from Cary Fukunaga, and some outstanding performances from his co-stars, not least Woody Harrelson in the role of Rust’s detective partner Martin “Marty” Hart. But the sheer dedication McConaughey brought to his role, starting with his 450-page character analysis, resulted in a truly unforgettable performance that charted the evolution of a single character across 17 years in a powerfully affecting and believable way.

“True Detective” season 1 focused on Rust and Marty at three separate points in that 17-year span: 1995, 2002, and 2012. And McConaughey would design a performance that included subtle shifts between each era so that his Rust would evolve not just in terms of his physical appearance, but in terms of his speech patterns and mannerisms. The result wasn’t just a character who looked and sounded different across the three time periods, but one who felt different, too.

And while the writing, infused with complex philosophical ideas about the nature of space-time and Lovecraftian cosmic horror, no doubt helped the “Dazed and Confused” star deliver such a memorable performance, so much of Rust Cohle came directly from McConaughey himself.

Rust was mostly Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey in True Detective

Before everyone got excited about deep-fake and de-aging technology, Cary Fukunaga and his “True Detective” cast had to rely on good old makeup and, you know, acting to represent the passage of time. And no one lived up to that challenge more than Matthew McConaughey, who transformed from a chiseled young cop with a penchant for nihilism to a haunted, haggard old detective with a burgeoning sense that there might be more to life right before our eyes.

It was the little things that really made the performance so compelling. As a young Rust Cohle, McConaughey avoids eye contact to portray his character’s apparent misanthropy and his inner struggle with the death of his young daughter. He’s closed off and lost in his own head. But as the older Cole, he makes a point of catching people’s eye-line, as if he’s come to terms with who he is and is more direct and expressive as a result.

And it seems these choices about the way Rust’s mannerisms evolved all came from McConaughey. Speaking to Esquire, Cary Fukunaga explained how the actor came up with his character’s unique walk, before elaborating on his approach in general, saying:

“[T]he psychology of where he took Cohle’s mannerisms and then how he physically embodied them is all him. That’s not scripted, that’s Matthew McConaughey making decisions about the way he smokes, the way he walks, the way he drives, the way he does everything. There’s a lot of stuff where he doesn’t even look. Things are happening off his eyeline as if he is completely capable of doing everything without looking because his senses are so keen.”



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