Mahershala Ali's Role In 'True Detective' Was Originally Meant For A White Actor

The awards season is once again a busy time for Mahershala Ali, as the Oscar-winning Moonlight star has an acclaimed performance in Green Book that's likely to have him vying for gold. He also voices Prowler in Sony's animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  It's been quite the meteoric rise for Ali, who also has the lead in HBO's third season of True Detective, although he says that role was never meant to go to him or any African-American for that matter. 

Speaking with BlackKklansman star John David Washington as part of Variety's fascinating Actors On Actors series, Ali says he was initially offered a supporting part in True Detective as the lead was envisioned for a white actor. But Ali saw this as his moment to break out of the supporting roles that have defined his career, and to show creator Nic Pizzolatto that casting him in the lead would open up a new to explore racism in Arkansas, which is one of the season's major themes...

“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.”

Ali said he sent Pizzolatto images of his grandfather who was an actual state police officer in the '60s and '70s...

“I was like, ‘See, we existed in this space. In the ’60s and the ’70s. State police officers.’ I was like, ‘I think your story would be served, I think the story would be improved in this case, if this lead character was black."

Ali continued, “You’re asking someone questions, and [you’re] the lead detective. If [they’re] white, they might not look at me. When I ask them a question, they’re addressing [the white detective]’. Racism is not experienced as the n-word, all the time. It’s more like, ‘Yo, you wouldn’t even look me in the eye.’ Or I said thank you and he just brushed me off. He was like, ‘Yo, let’s do this.’”

This is already shaping up to be a return to form for True Detective, which had what many consider to be a down season. The series returns to HBO next year on January 13th, so we won't have to wait long.