Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson gave career best performances in HBO’s True Detective as Louisiana State Police homicide detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. The co-stars both garnered Emmy nominations for their roles on a show that came “close to perfection.”
The race between McConaughey and Harrelson for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series pits two longtime friends — nearly 20 years — against each other in a tough category that includes Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and previous winners Bryan Cranston and Jeff Daniels.
McConaughey and Harrelson first starred together in the 1999 comedy EDtv as brothers Ed and Ray. They reunited in 2008 for the stoner comedy Surfer, Dude. On the set of True Detective, the actors move away from the comedic give-and-take they shared on their previous projects, McConaughey told TV reporters in January:
When Woody and I get going on comedy, playing off each other, we can take it into the ether, but that’s when we’re doing comedy. It was very different here. This was not about two guys coming together. This is the first time we’ve played a relationship between our characters where there was opposition.
McConaughey was originally approached for the role of Hart, but cast himself as Cohle because he “wanted to get in that dude’s head,” he told Variety. He then suggested his friend Harrelson as Cohle’s partner, he told Deadline:
I’ve been told I was the one who said, ‘You got to go to Woody for this.’ I don’t know if that came out of my mouth first, but I know that if it didn’t, I agreed when I heard it and knew he was a great choice right away.
Now that they’re both up for nominations in the same category, Harrelson is repaying the favor by throwing his full weight behind a McConaughey win. He gave his endorsement in a statement to the Wrap:
It’s flattering to be nominated, but I have to throw my vote to Matthew, who I thought delivered the best performance of his life. Which is saying something.
Read why both friends deserve to walk away with Emmy gold on August 25, then give us your vote.
McConaughey began a career resurgence in recent years, starring in dramatic features like The Lincoln Lawyer and Mud. But his 2013 performances in The Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club, for which he won an Academy Award, were what solidified The McConaissance.
Before his successful second act, he regularly played the leading man in romantic comedies opposite beautiful actresses Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker. He first found success as the stoner townie David Wooderson in the 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused.
He came to the set of True Detective only four weeks after finishing work for Dallas Buyers Club, where he played the reluctant crusader Ron Woodruff who smuggled AIDS medication for patients who couldn’t gain easy access. An Emmy win would cap off an exceptional year of work for the 44-year-old actor.
McConaughey plays Rust Cohle on the HBO series. He’s an intelligent and dogged detective but struggles with depression, drug abuse, alcoholism and insomnia as a result of his young daughter’s death in a car accident. Before he requested to join the Criminal Investigations Division, Cohle was a deep undercover drug officer for four years so he could avoid prosecution for killing a meth dealer. The experience left him hospitalized in a psychiatric institution for killing three cartel members, and caused him to suffer hallucinations from time to time.
His character made a spiritual journey from start to finish as he was able to feel “evidence of something bigger in this world than an accident of evolution,” Alan Sepinwall wrote in his HitFix review for the show’s finale.
The critic praised McConaughey’s performance as deserving of “every award for which he is eligible”:
It’s not hyperbole to suggest that McConaughey will win every award for which he is eligible, both because he is a Movie Star stooping to work in television, and because he is jaw-droppingly great. … Even if nothing else about True Detective worked — and so much of it works spectacularly — McConaughey would be worth the price of admission.
McConaughey’s previous award wins and nominations include:
Harrelson won over America as the bumbling bartender with a heart of gold, Woody Boyd, in the TV comedy classic Cheers. The role earned him his only Emmy Award, in 1989, for Outstanding Supporting Actor. His movie career took off with starring roles in White Men Can’t Jump, Natural Born Killers and The People vs. Larry Flynt, which led to his first Academy Award nomination.
His most recent starring role is playing the mentor Haymitch Abernathy to Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games franchise.
His characters tend to skew toward psychotic and zany, so portraying the role of Detective Marty Hart was a “weird” change of pace for Harrelson. “I kinda liked playing the normal guy,” he told TV reporters in January. Hart enjoys a successful career as a homicide detective, although it doesn’t translate over to his family life. He cheats on his wife, has a tendency to ferociously lose his cool and also abuses alcohol. The serial murder case he and Cohle work eventually causes him to leave the force and become a private investigator.
The normality of Harrelson’s character may put him at a disadvantage compared with McConaughey, who had a little more character background to sink his teeth into. The Huffington Post doesn’t give the TV veteran as much hype as his Hollywood co-star:
Harrelson is an effective presence in his own right, but his role as a Louisiana detective is both less showy and occasionally prone to cliche.
Harrelson’s previous award wins and nominations include:
Primetime Emmy Awards
Both McConaughey and Harrelson are deserving of an Emmy win for their outstanding performances in True Detective. Will Harrelson bring home his second Emmy or will McConaughey nab another acting honor this year?