'True Detective': Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson tease the show's big mystery

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Exploring one crime over the course of a television season is a familiar concept for TV viewers. "The Killing," "Broadchurch" and "Twin Peaks," among others, have all engaged viewers with season-long mysteries.

HBO's new series "True Detective," premiering Sunday (Jan. 12), will offer a new twist on the  format by featuring dual timelines that  reveal what happened in the show's central case in both the past and present.

It's the story take took place during that gap in time that has stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson the most engaged. They tell Zap2it that they think the biggest mystery of the show is what happened between the 1995 murder investigation and the 2012 present-day where their characters, Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart, are questioned about their solved case.

"I think what's fun to be exposed and the reason I'm wanting to see the next episode is, after we've met our guys in 1995 and we cut to 2012 and see them, I want to see what water went under the bridge in those 17 years," McConaughey says. "What happened to those two individually? What happened to them between each other? And what story are they telling now? That's what I'm primarily interested in when I'm watching."

Harrelson adds, "It's really a cool way that this whole thing has been laid out. The structure of it, to get these glimpses 17 years hence -- you're thinking, how did they get there? And you get other little indicators. We call it like a slow burn. It just slowly builds. It's mysteries within mysteries, in a way."

Don't expect the mystery to be left unresolved at the end of the season. Unlike "The Killing" and "Twin Peaks," "True Detective" will have a conclusive ending before venturing into new territory in Season 2.

"['True Detective' creator Nic Pizzolatto is] happy with [the ending], and he's not a guy who'd be happy with it if he wasn't really happy with it," McConaughey says. "I think you get the closure you're looking for. I don't think you come out of it without scars and some blood on your shirt, but you get your closure. There's no pink ribbon that wraps everything up. There might be a chain link, barbed wire fence that wraps everything up."

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The anthology nature of "True Detective" is what won McConaughey and Harrelson over to the project. McConaughey says, "When they sold it as a finite series ... "

"... That helped," Harrelson finishes.

"I wouldn't have been ready to go 'Yeah, I'll sign up for this and if it works I'll be there and readily available,'" says McConaughey.

The pair jokes about ways that they would have tried to write themselves out of the show if they had signed onto a regular series instead of just one season of an anthology. The best idea McConaughey comes up with is simply having his character walk out of the frame.

"'OK, so listen, I'm going to walk around the corner in this shot ... and I'm never coming back,'" he pitches to an imaginary version of Pizzolatto. "Just go, 'Rust? Rust?' And Nic, I'd say you should just roll credits at that time. And then get in there and say, 'Well, that's the ambiguous ending we want. We want the viewers to say, What do you think happened in the shadows? And to come up with some bulls*** answer.'"

That means McConaughey and Harrelson likely won't be returning in future seasons of "True Detective" as different characters, a la "American Horror Story." According to McConaughey, that wouldn't feel true to their story.

"I honestly think it would feel like an amendment and an aberration, because the identification of who we are in this one is so clear, and it does have a beginning, a middle and an end. To come back would almost be like a gimmick, I feel like. To come back unsolicited would be like, 'Oh, eff you.' What's the trick?" McConaughey says.

"On the other hand ... " Harrelson jokes, implying they could be swayed in that stance.

Just because McConaughey and Harrelson don't want to return to "True Detective" doesn't mean they're turning down TV shows for good. McConaughey admits he would be open to potentially taking another television role.

"I'm open to any [medium], whether it's stage, TV or film or some other version," he says. "Character, story and a single-minded director; I need something I can get turned on by. Something that I want to get out of bed every morning of the week and early, I got butterflies about going to work. Something that I come home with and want to check out of, but before I go to bed I want to look at tomorrow's work and go 'oooh, this is good.' That's what I'm looking for."

That's what he found in Christopher Nolan's new movie "Interstellar." The trailer for that film was released the day before this interview, but McConaughey was staying mum on the details of that project. Though he wouldn't share anything about the plot of the movie, he did reveal what he says to stump inquisitive interviewers.

"I say this one; this one really locks people up," he explains. "It's fifth-dimensional stuff, man. And people [gape]. And I go, 'Wormholes and s***.' And then I go 'Eh' and walk off."

"True Detective" premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Photo/Video credit: HBO