The True Detective star is a fan of Downton Abbey – and stumbled into acting after a fateful Elvis impression.
You have a television background, beginning with Cheers, but moved into films. What drew you back to the small screen for True Detective?
I had already worked with HBO on the film Game Change and there’s just no finer organisation out there making more amazing stuff than HBO. The writing of this show is just extraordinary. Nic Pizzolatto, the creator, really has a chance of being the heir apparent to David Milch [writer of NYPD Blue and Deadwood] – which is a big thing to say but his writing is superlative. The other factor was the people involved. I love Matthew McConaughey, he’s like a brother to me. I honestly wouldn’t have done it, except that Matthew was doing it. He jumped into it and said ‘yes’ before any other actors were involved. He related to the writing and knew how good it was from just the two episodes he’d read.
Was it difficult to get into more ‘serious’ acting after being in a comedy for so long early in your career?
I was on Cheers for eight years and I couldn’t get another job. I thought: ‘I’m going to be Woody Boyd forever.’ That was OK but I thought I was capable of more. It was really White Men Can’t Jump that changed things. I guess I probably would’ve just been Woody Boyd but for the fact that Keanu Reeves [who was initially up for the role] didn’t play great basketball. That was the only thing that saved me.
How does making True Detective compare to previous TV shows you’ve been part of?
This is so different to working on Cheers. With Cheers, the show went out on a Tuesday, so we started our working week on a Wednesday. We would come in, read the script and go home. And then the next day, we would come in, work for a few hours and go home. With True Detective, 16-hour days were normal, for six months, on location. We filmed 27 pages of script one day, which is unheard of. They were the craziest hours anybody had ever spent on set; no one on the crew had ever experienced those kind of hours in their lives. But we brought our families with us and that definitely helped.
How has making television changed in the intervening years?
It’s not the same as it used to be, with people saying you shouldn’t do television. Now, everyone is doing it and there are some great shows on. I love Downton Abbey, Homeland, Breaking Bad… I like House Of Cards. And what’s the one with Emily Mortimer? The Newsroom.
You and Matthew have worked together on projects before; was working on True Detective different?
We usually have a shorthand in the way we work together but on this project a lot of what would be our shorthand didn’t apply. Usually, we finish each other’s sentences but with this, Matthew was an island. He is one of the most gregarious guys I know but he is a little more method than me, and with this, he was fully in character and stayed in it.
True Detective spans 17 years; how did you demonstrate that passing of time in your character?
I just took off my wig.
You’re into meditation and yoga – would you say you are spiritual?
I was very religious growing up. We went to church all the time, we even did Bible study at my house and I went to a Presbyterian college. These days, I try to make sure I do yoga and meditation every day.
You’re also a committed vegan. Why?
I used to eat burgers and steak but I would just feel knocked out afterward; I had to give them up. Dairy was first, though. I was on a bus when I was about 24 and this girl saw me blow my nose – and I had acne all over my face. She told me I was obviously lactose intolerant and that if I gave up dairy my symptoms would disappear in a matter of days. She was right.
What made you decide you wanted to be an actor?
In high school, I realised that if you were a terrific athlete, you could attract girls. I wasn’t, so I had to look into some other possibilities. I got into theatre because a girl I liked saw me do an Elvis impersonation in the library and said I should be in the theatre. And I was like: ‘If she wants me to be in theatre, I’m going to be in theatre.’ Later on, I realised that most of us are never going to be rock stars, which is probably everybody’s real dream. So theatre is really our only chance to get up in front of a live audience.
This talented bamf duo thank you for your time!
I want to know who Woody's favourite Downton character is!!!!