'True Detective': Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson want to be cowboys

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In the hinterlands of Louisiana, a naked young woman has been murdered and bound, kneeling, near a tree, with antlers tied to her head. The only thing stranger than the crime may be the investigation -- and the investigators.

Written by novelist Nic Pizzolatto ( "The Killing"), HBO's eight-episode "True Detective," premiering Sunday, Jan. 12, measures the cost of two men's obsession with justice. Also starring are Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Dunn, Shea Whigham, Clarke Peters and Jay O. Sanders.

It's 1995, and two mismatched Louisiana State Police detectives -- conflicted family man Martin Hart ( Woody Harrelson) and nihilistic Rust Cohle ( Matthew McConaughey) -- are called to the crime scene.

In 2012, the two now-former detectives, whose lives have taken dark turns, are brought back together to revisit the case when a similar crime occurs. As they narrate the strands of their original investigation, Hart and Cohle are drawn back into a maelstrom they thought they'd escaped by solving the crime.

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Sitting side by side on a couch in a Beverly Hills hotel, the two movie stars -- Harrelson was in the TV series "Cheers" but hasn't done television since; McConaughey has never done television before -- tell  Zap2it about their roles, each other's performances and what may come next.

Here are some excerpts:

McConaughey on learning the ropes of gradual character development on television:

"It just took more patience. The writing was great, so every week, I was continuously working on 'What is the source intent of these words Nic wrote?' The first time I read it, I couldn't wait to hear what came out of Rust Cohle's mouth. I loved what he said. I loved the honesty he had and his point of view.

"You usually don't get that in a movie. It's harder to get much of that."

The two on whether McConaughey may appear in another detective tale (some scripts have come his way lately):

Harrelson: "Would you consider doing another detective-type thing?"

McConaughey: "Yeah."

Harrelson: "You would? I've got something for you."

McConaughey: "Great. So far, [the scripts] just kind of polish the turds. Anyone can play that, and that's a detective coming up with interesting clues. This is not a story of detectives coming up with the interesting clue. It's about what happens to them, between them, who they are and who they aren't, what has happened in the 17 years in between. That, you'll see as you keep watching them."

On the characters' endlessly prickly and combative relationship:

Harrelson: "It's great. I've never seen anything where they never find this moment. They never have a beer, have a hug, anything."

McConaughey: "What you said earlier was right on the money. In our real life, in tennis, he hits it, and I'm going to hit it back with more steam, and he's going to hit it back with more steam. We affirm each other.

"This was, he said, 'I hit to him, and he'd just stand there. The ball would go by, hit the wall, bounce down and just come to a rest.' Maybe I'd walk over and go pick it up, or maybe I'd look around and say, 'Is there a ball boy around?' "

Harrelson: "Boy, that's true. It's so wild."

Harrelson on why he loved what McConaughey did:

"That part is so different from who Matthew is, Rust Cohle, because he's an island; you can't find a way in. (McConaughey is) the most sociable, fun, brilliant, communicator maybe that I know. Incredible. Him playing this part is great, because it is so different from him, and I loved the performance. He's at the absolute pinnacle of his abilities right now, and he's doing phenomenal work. I love this Rust Cohle, man, what a fascinating character."

McConaughey on why he loved what Harrelson did (after some turmoil in his character's life):

"My favorite stuff ... begins in [episodes] four, five and six, after Rust and Marty split up. We've come back together, and you measure me, and you're like, 'f... you, man' ... the weight that you came in with. I love it when Woody's fighting for something that is that meaningful. All of a sudden, you see him feel it in his heels. His walk's different; his talk's different, and the look in his eyes.

"It's not evil. It's just like, then, you became an island."

Harrelson on the comedy that comes from Hart's exasperation:

"The thing about the Rust Cohle character, he creates exasperation every direction, every direction, whether he's talking to a witness or someone trying to help with the case or talking to the other guys in the station."

On being told they should do a Western:

Harrelson: "It's funny you say that."

McConaughey: "Got ideas?"

Harrelson: "That's great you said that. I never get a Western. It would be so natural -- cowboys, perfect."
Photo/Video credit: HBO