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Matthew McConaughey talks his new HBO series 'True Detective'

It is hard to imagine a more disparate pairing than the odd couple of Louisiana detectives played by Matthew McConaughey (Detective Rust Cohle) and Woody Harrelson (Detective Martin Hart) as the two are teamed up to solve a heinous, ritualistic murder on the new HBO series "True Detective," premiering tonight.

Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in "True Detective"
HBO/Michele K. Short

The eight-episode anthology series flashes between 1995 when the partners in Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division are assigned to a macabre murder by a killer with disturbing occult leanings to 2012 when a similar case leads to an investigation of the original ’95 murder by two new detectives.

Viewers get a look back into what happened in 1995 as both men separately tell the story of both the investigation and their lives, including why Cohle, who has a nihilistic view of the world, left CID in 2002, as they try to impart some information which may or may not help solve the current killing.

At the Television Critics Association press tour, McConaughey answered the following questions about the HBO series:

Your character has to change over a 17-year period. How did you achieve that?

It was clear in the writing. One of the great things about this is that the identities of the men at these times were very clear. So I didn't have to do a lot of creative wandering in my head. One of my favorite things that I got to do with Cohle is go: "Who is he in '95?' Here's a guy who is coming on to a case, just barely hanging onto the rails. He needs a case to keep his shit together, literally. In 2012, he's off the rails. He's cashed in. He's fallen prey to his own beliefs. And every day that he's alive is another day of penance in this indentured servitude he calls life.

A lot of what's fun about this show and entertaining is when you cut to 17 years later, the first thing when we cut to 2012, I go, 'Whoa, what happened in the 17‑year interim to these two men?' Then you're going to slowly find out what happened. You're going to find out is what I'm telling the truth? Is what he's telling the truth? Where are our stories the same? Where do they veer from what really happened?

Can you talk about how you two work together? Obviously, one of the big draws is to see you and Woody come together in this project. Do you guys have a shorthand with each other? Is it different working with each other than it is with other actors?

Part of why we're friends and part of why, I think, what we do the different times we worked together, worked in comedy, is that we get on each other's frequency, and we add on, and we affirm each other, and we one‑up each other. It can turn into an improvisation, but it can go and go, I mean, into the ether and then some.

But this was something different. There was opposition here. This is the first time we worked together where there's real opposition. Woody and I, as people, don't work together, and our relationship is not built on opposition. We have our own thoughts about things, but we work on: How are they affirmative? Where do they become like this? Where do we agree? Where do we find where they come together? This was not about us coming together.

Early on I remember we said, "Boy, man, we gotta put a place in this to put some kind of fun in. This thing can be a lead weight." And I remember going, "Mm‑hmm." Now, that ends up, for my money, part of what becomes the humor, that we remain on these two opposite sides of the gulf that's between us for so long. And it becomes frustrating for Marty, and it becomes almost obtuse or almost four‑dimensionally, like, "What does that mean, Cohle?"

I found myself laughing, starting around episode 3, because the opposition out-endured me as a viewer. And that's where I started to find the humor in it, in our relationship. And we found a new sort of comedy, but it was not the comedy of the two‑hander: I pass it to him; he passes it back. We were not playing catch back and forth.

We've seen enough big stars do television that it almost feels like old‑hat, but you are at the top of your game in film, and here you are doing a television show. So tell us a little bit about what it was about this project that made you say, "I'm doing it. I don't care if it's movies or TV or whatever this is. This is a great project."

As we all know, it's a different time in television… All I knew is I read the first two episodes, and I was in. And I was at the time, looking for quality. And so it wasn't something that said, "I'm in, but wait a minute. It's TV." That transition is much more seamless, in reality and perception, more now than ever. So it was ‑‑ to me, it was, "Television? Great. Let's go to the right place to do it." Some of the best drama going on has been on television in comparison to some films. So it was a 450‑page film, is what it was. It was also finite. It didn't mean we had to come back this year, next year if we were under contract.

True Detective,” which premieres at 9 p.m. tonight on HBO, is only eight episodes long. It is considered an anthology series, so if it gets a Season 2 pickup, it would have a new story and a new cast.