Not Second Best: Mahershala Ali’s Character in ‘True Detective’ Was Written For A White Actor, Until He Spoke Up

by Brianna Williams

December 5, 2018

Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for MVD Inc.

Ahead of its season three premiere, Mahershala Ali is opening up about how he got the lead role in “True Detective.” Believe it or not, he had to convince show creator, Nic Pizzolatto that the role was meant for him.

Ali sat down with John David Washington during Variety‘s Actors on Actors series where he talked about how the lead role of the HBO show was originally supposed to be white, and how he was only offered a supporting role.

“I could’ve played that second lead, that supporting character. But in my mind, I was like, ‘I’ve done this my entire career though. I’ve never done that.’ At that time, I’m 43 years old. If it don’t happen now, it really may not happen.”

Season three of the series focuses on two Arkansas state troopers. The lead character, Wayne Hays, was originally created for a white actor, and the other state trooper role by a black actor, which was supposed to be the “Moonlight” star.

As the 2017 Oscar winner for best supporting actor, Mahershala wanted to prove that he deserved that star role. He took things into his own hands and texted Pizzolatto to show him that Black people existed as state police officers in the ’60s and ’70s. He texted him photos of his grandfather, who was a state police officer in real life during that time.

“And I was like, ’I think your story would be served. I think the story would improve in this case if this lead character is black. We don’t have to beat them over the head with the race element, but let’s write it.’ I’m encouraging him to think of it from the standpoint of how it’s experienced. Racism is not experienced as the N-word all the time, right? It’s more like, he wouldn’t even look me in the eye. Or like I said, thank you — he just brushed me off. And so I came back to [Nic] and I was like, ‘I want to play that part.’”

You better let them know!

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 30: (L-R) Actors Mahershala Ali, Shameik Moore and Brian Tyree Henry attend a photo call for Sony Pictures Releasing’s “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on November 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

After thinking about it for a few days, the showrunner caved and cast Ali in the role.

Previously, the actor has starred in Green Book, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and the Netflix original film, Roxanne Roxanne.

Here’s to more lead roles coming your way, Mahershala!

TELL US: Do you think more actors should make bold moves like this?

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