Mahershala Ali toplines the upcoming third season of HBO’s “True Detective,” but he was originally only offered a supporting role as the lead actor was supposed to be white. Ali told John David Washington during Variety‘s Actors on Actors series that he had to convince show creator Nic Pizzolatto that he was the right choice for the lead.
“I could’ve played that second lead, that supporting career. But in my mind, I was like, ‘I’ve done this my entire career though. I’ve never done that,'” Ali said. “At that time, I’m 43 years old. If it don’t happen now, it really may not happen.”
To persuade Pizzolatto to cast him as the lead state detective, Ali texted him photos of his grandfather, who was a state police officer in real life.
“I was like, ‘See, we existed in this space. In the ’60s and the ’70s. State police officers,'” Ali recounts. “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 also told Pizzolatto that with a black lead, the show would be able to explore the ways a black detective in 1980 Arkansas experienced racism.
“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]'” Ali said. “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.”
Pizzolatto took a few days to mull the idea over, and got back to Ali.
“He was like, ‘Yo, let’s do this,'” Ali said.
Watch the full interview below: