As detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are the grim, beating heart of HBO’s “True Detective,” and have deservedly earned no shortage of acclaim for their smoldering performances as they wrestle personal demons, while pursuing the monster behind a string of ritual murders. Their partnership is one that is professionally solid, but personally fraught, and between them is Martin’s wife Maggie, played by Michelle Monaghan. And the actress’ work is equally deserving of attention as her co-stars in the show.
With her home life coming apart at the seams as Martin turns to booze and women to take the edge off a case that is eating him up in ways he doesn’t quite understand, all while trying to be a parent to two young girls, and hoping that Martin’s new partner Rust is someone she can rely on to keep her husband safe, Monaghan’s Maggie is one whose vulnerabilities are turned into a resolve of strength. And speaking last week with the actress over the phone, she explained Maggie’s conflicted feelings about Martin and why the characters in the show, and the audience, shouldn’t undervalue her.
Certainly, unlike the riddle speaking Rust and deceitful Martin, when we first meet Maggie she’s straightforward about her feelings and objectives when it comes to everything that’s happening under her roof. “…they have a family, and she desperately wants to keep her family intact, and as the series progresses you see the frustration mount for her,” Monaghan explains about Maggie. “And she clearly gives Martin an out, on a couple of different occasions. I think as a result of his disillusionment, he underestimates her. And that’s really upsetting to her…”
And yet, they have a history, and Maggie does still see the man she fell for somewhere within Martin and as we saw in this past weekend’s “The Secret Fate Of All Life” there is some reconciliation—but how can you save someone who isn’t trying to save themselves? “She loves him dearly. She’s seeing a man who’s completely tortured and doesn’t want to help himself, doesn’t want to help the marriage, and is becoming increasingly detached from her and from the family,” she said. “And I think she loves him desperately and wants things to work but it takes two to tango, so to speak.”
“I think the idea is that he’s not able to communicate, not able to connect with the children in any respect, and it’s apparent in the writing that there’s a lot of lost female souls within the whole scope of the script. And you sort of see how that starts. You look at these young pure innocent children, as she does, and she doesn’t want them to be victims. And I think that he’s out trying to find perpetrators and finding killers and finding all the bad people but yet he’s not trying to be an example within the home,” Monaghan continues. ”I sort of look at him as being a very brave man at work, but a coward at home.”
It’s a complex web of emotions, one made even knottier by Rust who, if not quite becoming a point in the triangle, is reluctantly drawn into Martin’s personal affairs, something he wants no part of. And some of that has to do with the resentment he feels at seeing his partner, with the sort of domestic life Rust used to have, and taking it for granted. It’s a richness in character rarely seen in a weekly dramatic series, and or even many films. But for Monaghan, “True Detective” never really felt like a traditional TV show.
“This actually felt like a really long movie, to be honest,” Monaghan stated. “And in part because Cary Fukunaga directed all the episodes, and Nic Pizzolatto had written all these episodes, and their presence on set was completely invaluable in terms of the process just being a really creative, cohesive unit. If there were any questions, the writer was there every single day, and he had biographies for all of us. And if we wanted to specifically know the motivations of a scene and what was really going on, he would sit down with us for as long as we needed. It was such a blessing to be able to have him there. ”
Indeed, the actress notes that the “incredible material” drew her into signing up for the show in the first place, and while Maggie has been somewhat in the background the last couple of episodes, she intriguingly comes to the foreground as “True Detective” heads toward the finale. So what can we expect?
“We continue to see as the series progresses more of Maggie’s strength unveiled, episode after episode,” Monaghan teased. “You really kind of discover ultimately how cunning and devastating she is and both of the men truly make the mistake of underestimating her.”
“True Detective” airs Sundays at 9 PM on HBO.