Let’s get this out of the way: Season two of True Detective was bad—like, almost single-handedly killed one of television’s most promising franchises level-bad. But there’s a swirl of optimism surrounding the show’s high-profile third season, and for good reason. After a steady trickle of promising trailers helped quell fears, early reviews suggest a return to form for the groundbreaking crime series, which comes back to HBO on Sunday after a nearly four-year hiatus.
When HBO announced that Mahershala Ali would play one half of the show’s titular gumshoes, you could feel the sense of relief spread across the internet like wildfire. Since winning an Oscar in 2016 for his performance as a drug dealer with a heart of gold in Moonlight, Ali has established himself as one of today’s most electrifying performers. Who better to help restore one of HBO’s marquee shows to its past glory?
I’ve made choices for money that sometimes didn’t end up being movies I wanted to make. Those movies are the ones I despise looking at when they come on cable late at night.
And it was good work! After leaning into his James Dean looks and rock-star charisma in films like The Power of One, Backbeat and especially as the smoldering bad boy opposite Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith’s “Cryin'” video, Dorff took a sharp left turn by actively railing against his heartthrob persona with oddball turns in films like John Waters’ Cecil B. Demented, in which he plays against type as the transgender cult leader Candy Darling.
“It’s still a movie I get recognized from and that’s talked about all the time,” he admits. The 45-year-old actor explains that, as he’s gotten older, he’s become pickier in terms of the roles he chooses. “I think I’m just bored by the amount of content that’s out and the fact that sometimes movies are just regenerated over and over again. I’m looking for movies that stand out and last for future generations. I don’t want to make an action movie just to make another action movie.”
Blade came out in an era when comic book movies were still seen as frivolous pieces of pop entertainment, and while his over-the-top performance as Frost has since achieved cult status, it nearly sunk his career at the time. Over the next decade, Dorff was stuck in Hollywood purgatory, taking thankless roles in bargain-bin films like Deuces Wild, Feardotcom and Wolf Creek Manor. “Occasionally with my filmography, I’ve had to make money because I like to spend money, so I’ve made choices for money that sometimes didn’t end up being movies that I wanted to make,” he says without a hint of sarcasm. “Those movies are the ones that I despise looking at when they come on cable late at night.”
After the untimely death of his brother in 2016, he even considered quitting acting altogether to pursue other passions like playing music. It’s a good thing he didn’t. “I’m busier than ever acting, so you never really know what’s going to happen,” he says. “Frankly, the parts I’m playing right now are some of the richest parts I’ve ever played.” Over the course of our conversation, Dorff has the jaded disposition of an actor who’s seen the darkest corners of the industry and lived to talk about it, and admits that he’s “kinda bored” of acting unless it challenges him. That’s where True Detective comes in.
I don’t want to follow one particular plan—I just kind of do what I want, and that’s how I’ll always be.
It remains to be seen whether True Detective reignites Dorff’s career, but he seems open to what might come next, even if that means reteaming with Marvel 20 years later. “I’m not against comic book movies,” he says. “I would do a badass character in one of those movies, but it has to be the right character, and it has to be the right director. I’m not really interested in jumping into anything just to put a funny costume on. The right one really hasn’t come my way, but it is such a phenomenon now, I’m sure I’ll end up doing one of them at one point. I want to do something gnarly for the kids.”