Jodie Foster on True Detective Season 4

Nearly 35 years after her Oscar-winning turn as FBI trainee Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster is back to her crime-solving ways in True Detective: Night Country.

Premiering Jan. 14, the long-awaited fourth season of HBO’s acclaimed anthology series opens in Ennis, Alaska, as the remote fictional town is plunged into polar night, a period of prolonged winter darkness that occurs annually north of the Arctic Circle. As Ennis police chief Liz Danvers, Foster stars opposite Kali Reis’ state trooper Evangeline Navarro—a duo with a complicated history who come together to investigate the mysterious disappearance of eight scientists working at the nearby Tsalal Arctic Research Station. Naturally, a web of dark secrets soon begins to unravel.

Following a near-universally beloved first season starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as a seemingly mismatched pair of homicide detectives in pursuit of a serial killer responsible for a string of sadistic, ritualistic murders in the Louisiana bayou, the show’s second and third entries failed to reach the heights of their predecessor. But ahead of its debut, True Detective Season 4, which Foster also produced, has been drawing high praise from critics.

“[Showrunner Issa] López’s gorgeously realized story grounds its hardboiled mystery in multidimensional characters, believably immerses viewers in a unique community, and makes a strong case for the continuation of the franchise,” wrote TIME TV critic Judy Berman. “In contrast to the gold-hued desert heat and white machismo that defined True Detective’s iconic first season, Night Country is cold, blue, female, attuned to the perspectives of Native women. Where True Detective could be heady to the point of pretension, Night Country is humanistic.”

Foster is also fresh off a scene-stealing performance in Nyad, a 2023 biopic about history-making long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad (Annette Bening) in which Foster plays Nyad’s coach and best friend Bonnie Stoll.

TIME spoke with Foster about her relationship to true crime, the satisfaction of a supporting role, and the hard-won rise of female directors.

TIME: Your performance as Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs paved the way for a new generation of on-screen female detectives. How has that role evolved in pop culture?

Foster: I didn’t realize I was doing anything special at the time. I just wanted to go on the hero’s journey. And the classic hero’s journey was reserved for men. Silence of the Lambs was revolutionary in that it posited that the hero’s journey could be a female journey. It’s been wonderful over the last 30 years to see different voices come into the picture—women protagonists and antiheroes that are complex and complicated and messy.

How did it feel to once again take up the mantle of lead detective in a crime drama 30+ years after Silence of the Lambs became a defining film in your career?

It feels great to be back in this horror, eerie, crime puzzle-solving genre. [Silence] was truly a wonderful movie. It’s like the great-grandmother to True Detective Season 4 in some ways. Silence inspired Seven which inspired True Detective Season 1 which inspired True Detective Season 4. So it’s a little chain of events. And I feel like I have a direct emotional connection to telling that kind of story.

True Detective has traditionally been a show with a lot of masculine energy and characters. This season flips that dynamic. How does that switch add new dimensions to the series?

These are more complicated humans and we need more complicated humans for our culture to grow and evolve. The first season [of True Detective] was extraordinary. But when you look back on it, you’re like, “Wow, that’s a lot of masculinity.” It was a lot of questions about masculine identity and masculine suffering. That’s a valuable story to tell. But we were interested in telling a story about the feminine world. So it’s a different path. We look at misogyny through different eyes, instead of through the eyes of the misogynist.

True Detective: Night Country was shot in Iceland to double for Alaska. What was it like filming in those extreme winter weather conditions? 

There is an inherent survival instinct and a smallness in the face of nature when you live somewhere that could just snap you like a twig. And that really is true of living above the Arctic Circle. At any moment, you could go. So there’s an appreciation of and a humility about living. One of our characters talks about Alaska as the end of the world. It’s a place where the seams are splitting open and the old world is revealing itself. When you live in an extreme place, the damage human beings have done to the earth is starting to show itself.

Showrunner Issa López has said she’s fascinated with true-crime mysteries, including the stories that inspired this season. Are you a true crime person?

I’m much more interested in cinema than the weird, awful things people do to each other in real life. So I love when we as an audience are drawn through the darkest of psyches. There’s something healing about watching the good guy swim through this horrible darkness and emerge in the light. That’s very transformative, and it’s as old as the hills in terms of narrative structure.

There’s a good amount of pretty graphic imagery in the show. As someone who’s starred in things like Silence of the Lambs, do scenes like that ever still get to you?

It’s funny because when you’re acting and you interact with the special effects, it doesn’t affect you because you can see the spaghetti behind the curtain. But it’s wonderful seeing the magic once it gets on screen and still feeling the chill and still not seeing the denouement coming. If you go back to Silence of the Lambs, it’s a particularly bloodless movie. There really isn’t a lot of violence in it. It’s actually the insinuation that’s worse. That’s what makes that movie so creepy. I think that’s true with this, too. It’s really more the allusion to angst and anxieties that we already have that’s scary.

Your True Detective partner this season is Kali Reis, a relatively untested actor. As someone who has been acting since they were very young, what was that experience like?

Kali is an extraordinary actress. She’s a world champion boxer, so she brings that fierceness and completely disciplined presence. You just can’t stop watching her. But she is also so sensitive and spiritual and instinctual, and all of that comes through too. It’s nice to see a combination of those things. Her character of Navarro is really special. She is the central journey of True Detective: Night Country. My job was to support that journey and to allow that central Indigenous voice to shape the show.

In both True Detective and Nyad, you play one half of two very different partners in crime. How does that compare to the more singular leads you’ve done?

When I was younger, I was more interested in a singular journey. I didn’t trust that I would still be able to find my center in partnership. Now I’m in my 60s and finally realize how satisfying it is to be part of a team. I didn’t know how content it would make me to play the role of supporting the person whose journey is central.

Nyad is about the unbreakable friendship between swimmer Diana Nyad and her friend and coach Bonnie Stoll. What attracted you to that story?

There are two reasons I wanted to do Nyad. One was Bonnie and Diana, who I know and who are extraordinary. Diana’s feat of swimming 110 miles at 64 in shark- and jellyfish-infested Gulf Stream currents is amazing. And then, of course, the great Annette Bening. I’ve loved every minute of working with her. It’s a real treat to work with somebody you respect so much.

The film does a great job depicting how women, particularly older women, are more than capable of breaking out of the boxes they’re too often placed in. What about Nyad made it such an effective vehicle to convey that message?

People really connect to feeling like, “Wait, I’m not done just because I’m a certain age.” If you have a mission in life but people keep telling you that opportunity is over—who says? And for women of a certain generation who sometimes had to choose between having a full life and being partnered and having children, there’s also this story of deciding to link arms and say, “You’re my best friend, you’re my family, and we will be together till the day we die.” It’s really hard to explain how deep that kind of friendship is.

In a 1991 TIME cover story, you said directing isn’t a business that’s kind to women, and you hoped someday there could be an “old-girl network” in Hollywood. How do you look back on those sentiments today?

Sometimes I read things I said in my 20s and I’m like, really? But that’s a pretty good one. When I was young, there were really no American women directors, maybe a few. I didn’t think I was allowed to be a director. And that’s not true anymore. I couldn’t be prouder to have watched Greta Gerwig this year with Barbie. Not only was this wonderful director recognized, but it was because there were people behind her saying, “You’re not a risk.” I never thought that was going to happen. So there’s just a big smile on my face.

What have you learned as an actor that you could only have learned after doing this for decades?

Jodie Foster on True Detective Season 4

You don’t have to worry so much and try so hard. It’s all about relaxing. So much of being excellent is just not getting in your own way. So that just means you can take naps and drink coffee and show up.

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