12/16/2013 10:26 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson On 'True Detective,' Real Life Friendship & Knocking It Out Of The Park

With promo ads plastered around cities with the words “man is the cruelest animal” written on them, HBO’s new drama “True Detective” stars two men who know what the hell they’re doing: Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

In case you haven’t gotten enough with “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Hunger Games,” “Out Of The Furnace” or the upcoming “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” in January, these two real-life friends play clashing Louisiana detectives chasing an eerie, bizarre murder. Set in 1995 and 2012, we see the pair change drastically as the details of the case unfold over the 17-year hunt.

If the scenes seem particularly eye-catching, it’s because they are directed by the talented Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre,” “Jane Eyre”). The show is also written and created by award-winning novelist and short-story writer Nic Pizzolatto (who wrote two episodes of a similarly-themed show, “The Killing”).

The Huffington Post met McConaughey and Harrelson –- both in their socks, by the way –- at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles to talk about false modesty, knocking it out of the park and why you should always trust an asshole.

Without giving too much away, do you believe your characters are good men?
Matthew McConaughey: I think Rust Cohle’s a great man.

Woody Harrelson: A great man?

MM: Yeah, a great man.

WH: He’s a bit of a butthole sometimes.

MM: Yeah, you might call him an asshole, but talk about a constitution! Look, as I always say, I don’t mind assholes. It’s the dork I don’t trust. The dork is the one who’s trying to be whatever he thinks you want him to be. I trust the asshole cause you know where he’s gonna stand.

WH: He’s not much for social graces.

MM: He has enough going on in his mind to entertain himself. He speaks the truth. It may be dark, but he’s not trying to share and he’s not trying to win over the masses. He’s not trying to gather an army. He’s got a pretty harrowing view of life being a shit storm, but he’s got a constitution and I can respect that guy.

WH: He’s not a guy you want to come over and hang out with you, pop a beer and watch the game. He’s not that guy. My character is a wonderful, awesome guy.

Martin Hart’s got some shit going on, too…
WH: Well, everybody has their Achilles heel [laughs]. He has some issues at home. But there’s a warmth to him that, for example, Cohle lacks.

We’re gonna see some warmth from Cohle, I think. Eventually.
MM: Is that right? Some real warm cuddly stuff? Listen, don’t take off your parka. Because I don’t think the temperature gauge is going to move up too much for ya.

Can you imagine switching roles?
MM: Yeah. I originally got the script to look at Martin Hart.

WH: At the time, I envied the Rust Cohle role. But I can’t imagine playing it nearly as good as he played it. And that’s not just some false modesty. I couldn’t have played it that well. He just played the shit out of that character.

Matthew, how did it end up that you took the part of Rust Cohle?
MM: I read it and I felt like I understood why they came to me for the Martin Hart role. I kind of understood who that guy was. But the guy who I couldn’t wait to hear what came out of his mouth was Rust Cohle. And I really identified with him in a hardcore way. I found myself leaving the script thinking about things he’d said.

I love philosophy. I don’t live his existence. I’m not that guy. I mean I’d hate to be in the guy’s head. Shit. But he can’t help it. That’s the thing with him. He was a very identified character.

He doesn’t seem like he’s looking for validation from anybody.
MM: In the 2012 scenes we see him come back in the interrogation room and he’s kind of throwing in his cards, basically saying I’m around a lot longer then I thought I’d be. Shit. So let’s deal with this. Would I like to off myself and get out of this shit storm? Yeah. But that’d be the wuss thing to do and that goes against my constitution. While I’m here in this jail called life, let’s let ‘em lay. There’s a respect I have for Cohle.

Woody, what do you identify most with your character of Martin Hart?
WH: I think he passionately loves his family. I think he’s just a very gregarious person. He really loves people.

What sets this show apart from other homicide or detective dramas? The Louisiana setting stands out.
MM: Louisiana is a character in it, for sure. The clues of the “who-done-it?” and how and why is almost a sub-story to finding out who these two men are. Who they became, how, who they aren’t, who they may be saying they are -- but they’re not.

It’s great how the show plays with time. We watch scenes from the original investigation in 1995 and then flash forward to current time in 2012, and we start to see that what’s being said in current time isn’t exactly lining up with the flashbacks.
MM: The intrigue of the whole piece is you meet us in 1995. And then you see Rust Cohle and Martin Hart in 2012 and you see what they look like, what they’re saying and what they’ve become. I’m just going, well, I got to get to the next episode because I want to see what happens in between these years. How they became that. What water went under the bridge here? And you just know it was not a smooth, rolling stream.

You two have worked together before on “EDtv” and “Surfer Dude.” What do you like best about working with each other?
MM: We’ve hung out more as real life friends then we have worked together. But it’s our first time doing a drama, and our first time really doing something where our characters are at real odds -- in opposition with one another.

WH: It’s nice to be able to be 100% confident that what the other actor is doing is fully within the integrity of the script and that he’s not phoning it in. In fact, he’s knocking it out of the park. I love working with him. He’s got a tremendous work ethic.

MM: I always come away from any time spent with Woody feeling younger. I always come away feeling lighter. Not only do I enjoy it in my real life, but I’ve found it to be really advantageous in my career because there’s a child-like innocence and purity that you get from him that’s inherently good for the craft. It’s the same thing that I get from my kids. I’m pretty much a free spirit but I like to think about things, measure them out, form a structure, get into the logic of situations. And as much as Woody can do all that, while some of us are trying to work out the logic of it, Woody is gone. He’s already doing it. There’s a freedom to that.

This is one thing I know for sure -- and he can’t help it if he tried. No mater how mad he could get at me, I know he has my best interest in mind. He really sincerely loves it when I do something really well or when I succeed. It purely makes him happy. It’s inspiring how much happiness I see him get from me succeeding [laughs].

WH: You can imagine how much happiness I’ve been having lately!

MM: You can’t ask someone to be like that. It comes from who he is. He’s as pure of a guy as I know.

"True Detective" airs on Jan. 12, 2014 at 9PM EST on HBO.



HBO's "True Detective"