Jodie Foster on filming 'True Detective: Night Country' in Iceland
Acclaimed actor Jodie Foster dealt with the darkness and harshness of Icelandic winter weather while shooting True Detective: Night Country. But the California native loved every minute of it.
Jodie spoke about her experiences with Tina Jøhnk Christensen for Icelandair.
Jodie Foster stars as police chief Elizabeth Danvers in the fourth season of hit HBO series True Detective. The series is set in the small fictional town of Ennis in Alaska, but the filming took place in Iceland, parts of which were transformed to look like the ‘Last Frontier’ US state. Check out the official trailer.
True Detective: Night Country premieres on January 14, 2024. Watch it on Stöð 2 in Iceland, Sky Atlantic and Now in the UK, and HBO and Max in the US.
The story takes place in the middle of the Alaskan winter. From mid-December, the sun sets and won’t rise again until after the New Year. Thus, the crew had to work not only in the cold but also in the dark.
“There were huge challenges, as you can imagine,” says Jodie about filming in the cold Icelandic environment. “First of all, we were working at night, trying to light at nighttime and in the snow. But we kind of had the gods on our side. When we needed all the snow, we got the snow, and when we needed it to be calm, we got the calm.”
“There’s something weird about doing so many nights, but I've done that so many times as an actor,” explains Jodie, who in reality did see the sun in Iceland, if only briefly: “You get that little bit of sunlight between 11am and 3pm, and even though the sun doesn’t really get up very high on the horizon, you still get the ambient light, so it’s not like there’s no daylight.”
Iceland as Alaska
The crew shot the series in and around Reykjavík, and in the North Iceland towns Akureyri and Dalvík, where the production team built the whole fictional village of Ennis. They set up American traffic signs, store facades such as a liquor store and gas station, and American-styled Christmas decorations to make it look like Alaska.
It may have resembled the US, but the film crew was mainly Icelandic and skilled at understanding the weather conditions they were dealing with.
“We were very blessed. The Icelandic crew was amazing. Not only accomplished and skilled, but also very calm and fun. It's all ‘já, já’ (yes, yes). They managed to get through everything, and nothing is a problem. I have some people there now that I really love and I cannot wait to get back there and give them big kisses and see their kids and do some singing, which I know is a big part of Icelandic culture.”
Fine food and landscapes
Jodie and the rest of the actors fell in love with Iceland while they were there shooting True Detective: Night Country. They were particularly impressed with the quality of Reykjavík's restaurants, and they’ve made it a mission to make the world aware of how excellent the culinary experience was.
“The food is delicious,” says Jodie, who has stressed this in several interviews about her stay in Iceland. “There’s great music in Reykjavik, and just 15 minutes outside of Reykjavik it’s like you’re in the absolute middle of nowhere. I don’t think there’s another landscape that’s like that.”
Production of the series began in December 2022, and Iceland was cold but not yet covered in snow, so initially they had to bring in snow to make snow banks and snow in the streets. But by January 2023 they had more than enough snow at every location, and then they had to deal with more complicated weather conditions.
“You get your warm coats, your gloves and warm boots and you get ready for that,” says Jodie about coping with the harsh weather. “You’re so close to nature in all of its beauty and grandeur and all its harshness.”
While the team was busy shooting the series, they also had the opportunity to enjoy the magic of Iceland.
“What was really great was when we were shooting outside...and then suddenly the northern lights start happening and we all just stop... and start looking at the northern lights. That was pretty great.”
An eerie energy
True Detective: Night Country is a six-episode mystery series written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Issa López (pictured below).
Jodie Foster plays police chief Elizabeth Danvers, who's affected by a personal tragedy that she's not fully recovered from and it has made her rather cynical. She hesitatingly partners with detective Evangeline Navarro, played by actor and boxer Kali Ries, to find the truth of what happened when eight men vanish from an Arctic research station. At the research station, scientists (one played by Icelandic actor Þorsteinn Bachmann) have been investigating arctic biology and geology as well as the impacts of climate change.
“I think that’s why the show is so beautifully written, because of all the relevant topics and also the deep anxiety that we’re living in today vis-à-vis nature: the human relationship with nature and what we’ve done, and how we’ve served and not served it. I think those are important things and all of that anxiety is what makes horror film, right? Horror films are made from anxiety, as is science fiction.”
When six of the men’s naked bodies are found frozen into a huge mass, the detectives try to figure out how this crime might connect to the case of a murdered Native woman that’s been haunting the town of Ennis and the detectives for years. The two detectives are also forced to confront the darkness they carry within themselves, and the dark, raw location reflects the psychological state of the characters.
“I feel that the place, and that eerie messed-up horror quality of the place, mirrors the internal psyche of the detectives,” says Jodie about the dark, cold setting. “It’s so much about grief and how the dead walk among us, and the toll on nature that human activity has taken on it, and the idea that that nature could rise up and wake up and fight back in some ways. I thought that was just beautiful.”
The female element
True Detective’s first season premiered in January 2014 with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the leading roles (with Icelandic actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as one of the suspects in the story). For Jodie, who is now 61 and has been working as an actor since she was three years old, being part of a six-episode series was completely new.
“I’ve had the experience of making really long movies, but I’ve never had the experience of making a TV show where it felt so much like a family, with all of us in Reykjavík in the snow, in this brand new city hanging out with each other.”
In contrast to the previous seasons, season 4’s storyline is female-driven and focuses not only on the female detectives solving the case, but also on the Native women of Alaska, with an added element of mystery, the supernatural and ghosts. The fact that it was an indigenous-centered story, where the women’s voices were heard, attracted Jodie.
“What was so powerful about this cold Arctic landscape that is older than life itself and has a connection not only to the eeriness but also to the spiritual cosmogonic myths that you find in native cultures. That to me was very potent. And this idea of a female-centered and female-natured quality, and how that works into the horror elements of those two characters, was really fun.”
The actor also had fun observing indigenous cultures from different parts of the world come together during the shoot.
“We brought Alaskans to Iceland,” says Jodie about the actors in the series. “We also brought a lot of indigenous people from Greenland and that was really interesting because some turned out to be cousins and they spoke the same languages as those in Alaska.”
The Academy Award-winning actor, who is also an executive producer on True Detective: Night Country, is currently seen in the Netflix film Nyad, in which she plays the friend and coach of long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. She is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in Nyad.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been, acting. Something about recognizing that it is not my time. That it’s someone else’s time and being there to support them and bringing the knowledge and wisdom that I have acquired all over the years, and being able to apply that and help a team is so much more fun. It’s so much more fun being part of a team than being all by yourself.”
However, there’s one role that the actor admits she wouldn’t be good at.
“I would be a really bad detective,” she stresses. “Because I'm really far-sighted and I don’t notice anything, so you can change your shirt or put on a moustache and I won’t notice anything.”
About our interviewer: Tina Jøhnk Christensen is an award-winning journalist and author from Odense, Denmark. Since 2013, she has been a voter for the Golden Globe Awards. Tina is based in Los Angeles and is a regular visitor to Iceland, which she loves. She covers film-related subjects for Icelandair.
Photos from True Detective: Night Country supplied by Warner Bros.