This interview contains spoilers for True Detective: Night Country episode five. For an equally spoilerrific chat about this episode with John Hawkes, click here.
This week, in the penultimate episode of HBO’s True Detective: Night Country, police officer Peter Prior (Finn Bennett) shoots and kills his father, Hank Prior (John Hawkes) in the home of police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster). It’s an act of protection on Peter’s part: Hank is threatening Liz, who has been a mother figure to Peter. It’s also a shockingly violent act of patricide.
The East London-raised Bennett knew this scene was a big one for his developing career. Not only was it a pivotal beat for his character, but it would find him tested opposite the likes of Foster and Hawkes. Bennett had spent a long time psyching himself up for the performance—prematurely, as it turns out.
“I’d been gearing myself up for months and then weeks and then it was in the next five days and I got COVID again,” he says. “Just a disclaimer, I’m fully vaccinated, I’ve had three shots. I’m just weak. I just get it all the time. I couldn’t shoot it. I’d geared myself up for nothing.”
The actor spent the next 10 days in isolation, where he had to block the scene via an iPad that showed him where he was supposed to be. When he was finally free from quarantine and it was time to actually shoot, the nerves came up again. Only once it was done and he got kudos from his illustrious scene partners was he able to relax. “It was a relief,” he says. “It was a beast of a scene.”
Bennett had a habit of getting COVID during crucial moments in his Night Country journey. After his first meeting with showrunner and director Issa López he came down with the virus. (He cheekily swears López gave it to him, but adds that she will say the opposite if you ask her.) But even though he couldn’t do the second audition in person, he knew López, who he had auditioned for previously, was vying for him. “She said, ‘Your face kept coming to mind while I was writing,'” he says.
Peter marks Bennett’s biggest role to date, and a chance for the 24-year-old to play a bunch of scenes opposite Jodie Foster, since the role turns on the younger officer’s almost too-close relationship with Foster’s Danvers, the detective in the fictional, freezing Alaskan town investigating why a group of frozen scientists ended up in the middle of the ice. Peter’s willingness to do her bidding at every moment jeopardizes his relationship with his wife Kayla (Anna Lambe), an indigenous woman.