Mahershala Ali Reveals His True Detective Character Was Originally Written as White

Mahershala Ali stops by DIRECTV House presented by AT&T during Toronto International Film Festival 2018 at Momofuku Toronto
Mahershala Ali stops by DIRECTV House presented by AT&T during Toronto International Film Festival 2018 at Momofuku Toronto
Photo: Charley Gallay (Getty Images for AT&T and DIRECTV)

Looks like the (rare) tradition of colorblind casting wins again. Mahershala Ali’s casting news reinvigorated interest in HBO’s anthology series, True Detective—and his recent reveal makes the news that much sweeter.


Variety dropped their Actors on Actors series Tuesday and I’ve had my eyes on Mahershala Ali interviewing John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), and vice versa. (For reasons.) In the sit-down chat, Ali revealed his True Detective character, state police detective Wayne Hays, was originally slated to be portrayed by a white actor.

Ali was done with the supporting life and knew he was ready to take on the lead, so he had some convincing to do. He eventually persuaded show creator Nic Pizzolatto by showing him pictures of his grandfather, who was a state police officer. With this gesture, he was able to give Pizzolatto visual inspiration, showing that black officers existed in that setting in real life.

“I could’ve played that second lead, that supporting career. But in my mind, I was like, ‘I’ve done this my entire career though. I’ve never done that,’” Ali noted. “At that time, I’m 43 years old. If it don’t happen now, it really may not happen.”

Thankfully, Pizzolatto was receptive, putting Ali in the position to be able to tell the leading character’s story this season instead of serving as the device of a white male character. Bloop.

The Green Book co-star also revealed that he threw Carmen Ejogo’s name into the ring (as schoolteacher Amelia Reardon); making his move even more significant, by bringing along a black woman co-star to an HBO drama.

Ali also touched on the importance of having a black man lead and how it could lend to larger discussions of racism. This season, Ali will portray a black detective in Arkansas in 1980, which makes way for chances to show the many microaggressions a black lead detective would experience during that time period (and today, to be honest).


“You’re asking someone questions, and [you’re] the lead detective. If [they’re] white, they might not look at me. When I ask them a question, they’re addressing [the white detective],’” he said. “Racism is not experienced as the n-word, all the time. It’s more like, ‘Yo, you wouldn’t even look me in the eye.’ Or, I said thank you and he just brushed me off.”

Season 3 of True Detective premieres on HBO on Jan. 13, 2019.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.



Why should he have to fight for parts? He’s an Oscar winner who has done consistent work and they’re still trying to throw “second leads” at him for TV shows???? Colin Ferrel has had a very mediocre career and I’m pretty sure he was the lead when he starred in  True Detective and how many times did he get to fail before they stopped throwing movies with HUGE budgets at him? Go get yours Mahershala!