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Nic Pizzolatto, the brooding poet behind 'True Detective'

Nic Pizzolatto tried academia and writing before swaggering into Hollywood. That brashness paid off in HBO's 'True Detective,' where his singular vision — and obsession with death — define the series.

January 08, 2014|By Steven Zeitchik

There is a level of self-sufficiency to Pizzolatto that might strike some as, well, swagger. He waves aside the idea of working with others in a writers room — he shows heavily marked-up index cards at his Ojai home and says that "this is my writers room" instead — and adds that the idea of writing primarily for film, where a director often has the final say, makes him shudder. "I didn't come to Hollywood to be subservient to anyone else's vision," he said.

Some of this would seem unearned but for his track record. His desire to write a remake of "The Magnificent Seven" led to Pizzolatto, a virtual unknown, landing the job and developing the script for months with Tom Cruise after producers and the star were sold on his talent.

Then there's "Detective," which is earning strong advance buzz for its rich characters and philosophical underpinnings. One of several scripts Pizzolatto wrote simply to get in the game, "True Detective" sparked a bidding war when it first was circulated in Hollywood and had executives salivating when he made his full pitch.

He penned it, he said, because the set-up allowed him to explore his preoccupations. "To achieve a personal vision that deeply investigates character, it makes sense to choose as a delivery vehicle a genre where an investigation is already underway," he said.

Befitting a man who created McConaughey's morbidly poetic Rustin Cohle, Pizzolatto acknowledges being drawn "to people with extremes" and may have more than a whiff of it himself. He recalled that during the writing of "True Detective," his wife returned from a weekend with her mother to find him passed out on the floor, "shirtless and surrounded by empty whiskey bottles." (He clarified later that he didn't write while drinking; he had just "bombed out" the last few scripts in succession and was releasing steam.)

While not explicitly basing some of the show's more morose musings — they often cover men struggling with loyalty, duty, faith and mortality — on his own life, he certainly drew from his own moody philosophy. The series continues his early preoccupation with death (he calls it one of his "governing obsessions as an artist") not just the procedural but also the characters' own deaths, literal and figurative.

"You can probably tell I don't give a ... about serial killers, and I certainly don't care to engage in some sort of creative cultural competition for who can invent the most disgusting kind of serial killer," he said. "This is just a vehicle. You could have engaged the same obsessions in a doughnut shop. But the show probably wouldn't have sold." 


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