SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from “Part 5,” the fifth episode of HBO’s “True Detective: Night Country,” now streaming on Max.
Poor, wrong-headed Hank — with his broken “90 Day Fiancé” heart, and his thwarted dreams of being police chief — is dead. And by the hand of his son, Peter, no less.
At the end of “Part 5″ — the penultimate episode of creator Issa López’s “True Detective: Night Country” — investigators Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) are about to defy direct orders. In the episode’s final moments, they’re heading off on a New Year’s Eve quest to find the caves where Annie Kowtok died — to try to solve her murder, as well as the mysterious deaths of the TSALAL scientists.
But the scene that preceded that coda was the most pivotal of the series so far.
Liz has checked the engineer Otis Heiss (Klaus Tange) out of the hospital, and taken him to her house for a illicit trade: She’ll give him drugs in exchange for him pinpointing on the map where exactly Annie was murdered. Earlier in the episode, Hank (John Hawkes) was ordered by Kate McKitterick (Dervla Kirwan), the head of Silver Sky Mining, to get rid of Otis. “Danvers is not gonna let this go,” Kate tells him. “She’s looking for the location of the Kotok murder. She can’t find that cave.” After Kate once again promises Hank he’ll be chief of police, he reluctantly agrees to follow Liz in order to find Otis, and dispense with him. (“Drug addicts get lost,” Kate says. “I don’t need to know the details.”)
All of which brings Hank to Liz’s house, just after she’s completed her transaction with Otis. What Hank doesn’t know is that Peter (Finn Bennett), the son with whom he yearns to connect, is now staying in Liz’s backyard shed. Peter moved from Hank’s house after becoming enraged with his father for sharing the information Peter had secretly dug up about Liz and Navarro’s likely murder of a serial abuser. Once Connelly (Christopher Eccleston) threatened to expose Liz and Navarro if they didn’t drop their inquiries, it didn’t take long for until a furious Liz figured out that her corrupt boss and former flame had received this damning information from Hank, who’d secretly peeked at Peter’s laptop.
The deadly events at Liz’s house — where Hank meets his doom — unfold in quick succession. After he talks his way in, saying he needs to bring Otis to Connelly because of an outstanding warrant, things immediately turn confrontational between them when Liz sees how suspicious Hank is acting. A clueless (and high) Otis comes out of the bathroom, and Hank ends up shooting him, seemingly out of reflex, as Otis attempts to leave. As the situation escalates between Liz and Hank, and he accuses her of turning Peter against him, Peter walks in and sees what’s happened. Hank tries to enlist Peter to help him cover up Otis’ death, but Peter is unmoved, and keeps his gun pointing squarely at Hank — who then turns his gun on Liz, inciting Peter to shoot his father to death in order to protect her.
It’s a complicated, agonizing scene for the audience, as it also was for the actors who played it. For Bennett, who delivers a breakthrough performance opposite Foster and Hawkes — acclaimed veterans, to say the least — it was the scene he’d been thinking about filming since he got the role. “The whole thing is a bit of a blur,” Bennett says. “It was a bit of a fever dream, just because there was so much weight on that day.”
In their only interview together, Hawkes and Bennett deconstruct how the scene evolved during a weekend rehearsal at López’s apartment in Reykjavík, Iceland, where “True Detective: Night Country” was filmed. They also delve into Hank and Peter’s stunted relationship, one that leads Peter to choose Liz over his father, with tragic consequences. And Hawkes also tells the story of “No Use,” the mournfully lovely song he sings as Hank during the episode — which he wrote and performed at López’s insistence.
That final scene between you is so intense. What it was like when you first read it in your scripts for Episode 5?
John Hawkes: I think Finn will back me up here — but when we first read the scene, it was quite different from what we ended up shooting. We got together as a group — Jodie and Finn and I, and Kali and Issa López — and we spent a day really working on that scene, and trying to figure out how to make it sing.
How was it different on the page?
Hawkes: It was subtler. That was the hardest scene, I think, for all of us to really try to figure out how to do.
Finn, what do you remember about that?
Finn Bennett: The bones of that scene were there. Everything that happened happens, but it did need work. We spent the day in Issa’s apartment, which was amazing for me, because I was watching Jodie and John — it was like being a kid in a sweet shop, just watching these two incredible actors work a scene.
Whereas Danvers appeals to his more rational moral compass, I think Hank is appealing to something more sentimental and emotional. Obviously, in that moment Peter decides blood is not thicker than water. The scene just became so much more subtle and nuanced than it originally was.
Earlier in the episode, Hank says to Kate, the head of the mining company, “I’m not a killer.” John, once he shoots Otis and violates this thing that he thought about himself — he didn’t kill Annie, he “just moved her body” — does something shift in him even before Peter walks in?
Hawkes: For certain. I mean, he doesn’t want to be doing this thing at all, but he’s trapped — Kate knows way too much about him and what he’s done, and could ruin his life. He certainly doesn’t plan to shoot Otis. He just wants to work things out and be chief of police, and have his son look up to him and admire him — and find some way to express his love for his kid at the same time.
Peter lowers his gun, and then he raises it again, pointing it straight at Hank. John, tell me about that moment for Hank when he realizes, “Oh, my son just chose Liz.”
Hawkes: That was something we worked toward, and wasn’t very clearly written.
There’s got to be a decision at some point, like, “If he’s against me, I’ve got nothing else.” So when Hank raises his gun to Danvers, he certainly doesn’t, in my mind, ever mean to shoot her. It’s a suicide-by-cop moment, but in an unusual way: “If my son’s not with me, that’s all I have left. The fiancé didn’t work out; I’m not going to end up chief of police; my kid chooses Danvers over me.” It’s all done at that point.
I literally have the phrase suicide-by-cop in my next question, but you answered it! Tell me about this rehearsing at Issa López’s apartment — was that in Iceland during production?
Hawkes: We’d had a couple of weeks of rehearsal, and the cast and Issa would just spend the day working on the scenes. We’d work on it together, and rewrite it and talk about what we’re aiming for in all those scenes.
But suddenly we were shooting, and that scene in Episode 5 had never quite come together. But there were several weekend rehearsals — weren’t they, Finn? Where we worked on things, or rewrote things?
Bennett: I guess time ran out. But working in Issa’s apartment felt very intimate, and like we really achieved things in there.
That scene — I mean, I’m so proud of it. It was the scene I’d been thinking about from the moment I got cast. And I remember the day was just around the corner, and then I got COVID and we couldn’t shoot it, so they had me on an iPad and they were moving me around the room to block the scene.
I had to wait another 10 days, and then we were being driven in the morning, and that whole day I just had this pit in my stomach. I was like, “It’s the day. It’s the big test. It all leads down to this.”
Hawkes: Even that day as we were beginning to shoot, we were still figuring things out. Jodie removing her weapon and setting it on the island, the kitchen area, and my taking her weapon — that was decided right before we shot how that would play out.
Doing this scene with the legend Jodie Foster — and a director herself, obviously. What was that like?
Hawkes: Yes, but Finn, wasn’t she just really amazing at not directing while she was acting? Certainly, she was an executive producer, and had a lot of say in things, and a lot of really important ideas to the story.
Bennett: John is completely correct in saying that Jodie didn’t approach it directorially. It’s hard, because obviously she’s deconstructing every scene. She’s looking at camera angles, and she can often be like, “This won’t work because you need this,” and that’s a helpful thing. But it was never combative. It was more just a suggestion. And Issa was able to pick and choose what she liked, but everybody was on the same team there. It was very democratic.
Stepping back a bit, your characters are so awkward around each other, and it’s palpable. We know some things about what’s led to when we first meet them in the story, but did you two work with Issa to come up with a backstory for their father-son relationship?
Bennett: John, correct me if I’m wrong here, but initially in the script, Hank was much less nuanced. He was maybe more — not like a Disney character villain — but he was more villainous. He hits Peter, sure, and it’s definitely not the first time.
There’s a sense of disappointment Peter has in his father, and that’s become an uncomfortable dynamic as he’s moved out of the house, and Peter has started his own family looking back in — and seeing that Hank has been sending money to this woman.
I don’t think it’s necessarily abusive. I think it’s much more complex and nuanced than that. It’s said in the script that Peter’s mother left, and I think there’s that gap in Peter’s life to fill, that I suppose you could say an element of that is he’s looking for Liz to fill that gap. John is much better at the backstory stuff than I.
Hawkes: Yes, you’re right, Finn, the character of Hank was pretty straight ahead, without a great deal of nuance or subtlety. I wanted to make him more than just a male chauvinist pig, violence-first kind of man. When I first began to speak to Issa, before we went to Iceland, we had a number of meetings, and that was really my first concern. And she was really open to the idea of making Hank a more complete human being, a more complex man.
I began to realize I’ve never really made a backstory with a director before, it’s always been a really private thing just to figure out the story. And it was really wonderful to have meetings and flesh Hank out, but I began to realize whatever I was saying as, “Well, maybe this…” she would send me a copy of the script and suddenly it would be in there. I began to think I have to be careful what I’d say!
I’m not wanting to really commit to anything in the character. I try to just float around in the water for a while rather than make immediate decisions. But it was really great. I mean things like literally, “You didn’t kill Annie.” “No, that was not me.” “But did you cut out her tongue? You didn’t do that, did you?” And I said, “Yes, I did. And yes, I moved her body and yes, I kicked her. She was already gone.”
The whole music side of Hank I was not comfortable with at the outset — when she began to talk about that possibility of him playing music. I always thought that if Hank had an artistic side, he wouldn’t be as screwed up as he is, probably. But as actors, we do ourselves a disservice to say, “my character wouldn’t do that,” because as David Milch on “Deadwood” would always remind us, we’re mysteries to ourselves, and we’ve all done things as humans that we’ve surprised ourselves.
It’s wonderful that Issa was so willing to collaborate.
Bennett: Sorry, I’ve been racking my brains to remind me who told me about that “we’re mysteries to ourselves” — now I know it was John Hawkes that taught me. I’ve been saying that in every interview like I’m some scholar!
One of my favorite scenes through the whole series is after Peter can hear Hank playing the music, and he calls, and Hank just says, “I was just doing some work on the truck.” Pete just lets the lie slide. It’s just such a telling moment about these two men — they’re so much happier living in an uncomfortable lie than addressing a deeper issue. I just think that’s such a chef’s kiss moment.
John, when I re-watched the episode, and you’re singing that song, I was frantically googling to figure out what it was — and couldn’t find it. I emailed HBO to ask whether it was original to the show, and the publicist wrote back, “John Hawkes wrote it!”
Bennett: It’s a John Hawkes original!
I know it’s not the first time you’ve contributed a song to a project that you’re in, but how did that come about here?
Hawkes: Again, when Issa broached it early on, Hank playing music, for the reason stated, I wasn’t comfortable. And then I thought, “Well, it’ll just be a guy sitting in his living room playing an instrumental,” which I wrote and played for her over the phone, and sent her a version or two. And she said, “That’s great.” So I thought, yeah, it’s not going to be performative. It’s just a guy sitting around playing the guitar, and it will end up, as the script described, scoring some work between Danvers and Navarro and the mine riot.
It became a wonderfully good-natured argument between Issa and I, because I played a show while I was there with my friend Nikki Lorenzo, a talented musician. Issa came, and then it became, “Well, now you should write words, and you should sing to it!” I dug in so hard. I mean, I love Issa! We never had any argument at all, ever. It was always spirited discussion, with laughter afterwards. But I thought suddenly it was just too performative. What words would I even begin to write? I came up with the words pretty last minute, actually.
Finn, you were working not only with Jodie Foster, but with John Hawkes. What are some things that you learned from him?
Bennett: I want to preface this by saying me and John did actually hang out a bunch in Reykjavík. We would go for dinner, he lended me a guitar. I still can’t play guitar, I’m so sorry, John — I haven’t tried since!
But I think one of the big things is how John approaches a scene and uses dialogue, and just really checks in with everyone around him. He gives everything to a scene, even when it’s not his coverage, when the camera is on me. He doesn’t have to do that; I mean, I guess everyone should, but people get lazy the bigger they grow on their careers. John did that for me every single time. That’s a brilliant lesson to learn for any young actor, and I’m incredibly glad that I had that experience with them. So thank you, John.
Hawkes: You’re welcome, Finn. I have to say, I have a lot of skeptical friends who are really hard on people, and unsolicited, many of them have said, “Man, the kid who plays your son is fantastic!”
I’ve got to agree. You’re just so good on the show. So good, man. Beautiful.
This interview has been edited and condensed.