GQ: So how did True Detective come your way?
John Hawkes: Issa López was interested in me playing one of the parts. She and I began to speak via video chat. And I hadn’t worked in a long time and wasn’t sure I wanted to work, but I knew that I loved HBO, and Issa just seemed like a really smart, interesting human being. And so that was intriguing.
It took a couple of meetings before I accepted, mainly because I knew that it would be a very long shoot in a very dark, cold place, and playing a character that was going to be difficult to live in for a long time. But I watched Issa’s film, Tigers Are Not Afraid, and that sealed the deal.
Were you a fan of the previous seasons at all?
I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t seen any of them. I should lie about that, but yeah, I don’t watch a lot of stuff. I just really don’t. I read a lot and watch a lot of nature programming.
Playing a tragic guy in a cold place is very much your specialty. That being said, how did you prepare to play Hank Prior? In a show when everyone’s very much carrying their past with them, what sort of backstory did you make up for him?
I’m an over-preparer by nature. I certainly made up a very extensive backstory for Hank, and part of that was done with Issa. I normally would do that kind of prep work alone, but because the Hank that I first read when I was offered the show, one of my concerns was…Issa is an incredible writer. But I just felt like he could be a lot more shaded and subtle and nuanced and more of a complex human being. And she agreed. And so we began to speak about that and I realized quickly that I would just muse about an idea sometimes to her, and the next draft of the script, that would be there.
What were certain things that were changed?
I mean, just the musical angle I was mistrustful of at first. When Issa suggested maybe Hank played the guitar, I just thought Hank would be a very different person if he had a creative outlet. I fought that early on, long before we’d even started shooting. But we thought, Well, maybe he was in a band before. And wouldn’t that be interesting? Actors are fond of saying, “My character wouldn’t do that.” It’s a real disservice to yourself and to those around you to say that.
Your character meets a dramatic end in this episode. What did you think when you first encountered his death in the script?
It was a very different scene. It was the problem scene out of the five episodes that I was in, and Issa agreed. We met—Jodie and Kali Reis and Isabella Star LaBlanc and Finn Bennett and I. We had a couple of weeks to have all-day meetings where we would read the episodes, discuss, rewrite together. We rewrote that scene piece by piece to try to make it more believable, more subtle, and just more in service to the story as a whole.