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Why True Detective Vet Woody Harrelson Wanted 'To F-ing Slap' BFF Matthew McConaughey While Filming Season 1

cohle and hart arguing in true detective
(Image credit: HBO Max)

Woody Harrelson is one of those actors that always delivers amazing performances, no matter what the project is, and there have been many projects since he got his game-changing start on Cheers. In his most high-profile TV role since that iconic bar-set sitcom, Harrelson joined fellow Texan and best buddy Matthew McConaughey for the first season of HBO’s True Detective, in a role that earned him an Emmy nomination. The murder mystery’s intensity was palpable, in part due to McConaughey’s methodical performance as Rust Cohle, which apparently got under Harrelson’s skin during filming.

With their decades-long friendship having been sparked by co-starring in EDtv, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey made for charismatic co-stars within their respectively haunted roles, and Rust Cohle became a meme machine when the performance meshed up perfectly with Nic Pizzolatto’s dialogue. It was SUCH an effective portrayal that Woody Harrelson immediately brought up how much it irked him when asked about it on the podcast Smartless by Jason Bateman. Here’s what he said, with much stress on the second F-bomb:

Yeah. I mean, you know, there were times I would get kinda angry with Matthew. And he’s one of my best buddies, so it felt weird. But he was in character and that fucking character just made me want to fucking slap him. [Laughs.] He’s so good. But he’d stay in character. You know, not after work, but while we were at work. It wasn’t like ‘Heyyy, buddy!’ None of that. So that was a little… But, anyway, it turned out good.

What a bizarre situation to work on a project with a friend like Matthew McConaughey, whose laid-back personality becomes something entirely different within a memorable role like Rust Cohle. (Not that there have been a ton of roles like that.) But similar to how most of the people who dealt with Cohle on a regular basis likely wanted to bop him one at a time or twelve, Woody Harrelson clearly harbored many desires to smack the character right out of his co-star. I love it.

Once those barely shrouded feelings were shared, Jason Bateman asked Harrelson was asked if he had a sense of how great the star-stacked thriller would be as they were making it, and while poking fun at the podcast co-host, the True Detective star said:

I thought it was gonna be good, but it’s rare you find a thing that hits the zeitgeist like that. I mean you have it already. You got Ozark, you got Arrested Development. You’re Mr. Zeitgest, Jason. But for the rest of us, it’s very rare. [Laughs.] So yeah, it was wild. I had no idea that it would be that kind of thing. And I thought it did turn out really good.

Woody Harrelson did get into a physical altercation in a Washington D.C. bar back in October, so it’s clearly not impossible to tick the esteemed actor off. But that was, of course, a completely different situation. And it only would have been escalated had a Rust Cohle-esque officer shown up to take a report.

For those who want to relive all the “time is a flat circle” philosophy that True Detective’s first season has to offer, you can find it and the following two seasons (along with lots of other gritty HBO originals) streaming on HBO Max. To see what new murder mysteries are on the horizon, head to our 2022 TV premiere schedule!

Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.