“It’s a very interesting season, in my opinion,” says Carmen Ejogo of the newest installment of “True Detective,” which returned to HBO on Sunday. Ejogo is inclined to think as much — after all, it’s her first go on the series, which returns with a new cast each season (she stars alongside Mahershala Ali). But the third season is garnering intrigue nonetheless, and Ejogo promises fans won’t be let down.
“It’s a meditation on time and love and memory, and all of these much grander, more universal, ambitious theme,” she says. “Which is going to make for an emotional audience experience — but you’re not really seeing it coming.”
Critics have faulted “True Detective,” which has starred Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Woody Harrelson in past seasons, for its lack of dynamic female roles. Ejogo’s Amelia, by contrast, has been noted for her depth and relevance to the plot’s arc.
“I only saw maybe two or three episodes before I had to decide if I was going to sign on, and I was a little anxious about whether it was enough of a role for me, whether it was enough of a character beyond just the wife,” she says. “My character is so fundamental to both bigger themes being explored and played out. It’s an incredibly poetic season and I’m literally the person who delivers that poetry.”
Part of her delight, then, is being privy to the audience’s discovery of Amelia.
“I had a very interesting experience the other day with [a press day] where I could tell there were journalists in the room that had only gotten to see the first couple of episodes, and the reason I could tell is because there wasn’t quite the level of interest in where my character goes,” she says. “And it made me smile because I thought these journalists, they’re going to wish they knew more when they had the chance to sit down with me now, because when they get to see further and further and subsequent episodes, they’ll realize just how important this character is to those plots.”
Her portrayal of Amelia spans years; the opportunity to explore one woman’s development and growth appealed to Ejogo when reading the script.
“We see her again later in life, and I think there’s a contentment that comes with a woman who gets past the tougher years of child-raising, and maybe the toughest years of her marriage,” she says. “That’s an incredibly exciting prospect to explore on-screen, as a woman in this industry, as a woman, as an actress, period.”
Ejogo, 45, is a native of the U.K. who has lived in New York for the past 18 years.
“I always was sort of peripherally in the industry even as a kid; there would often be people who would come up to me in the street and ask me to be in a pop video,” she says. “When I was 16, I had my own music show; I was just innately a performer. Music was maybe the thing I really wanted to do, but for various fated reasons I ended up doing acting, and I really realized I couldn’t do both and be taken seriously in the way that maybe a person can these days. I look at actresses who are really making their way as actors, having been musicians, and it just wasn’t like that when I was coming up.”
She describes the entertainment industry at the time of her move to the U.S. as a “very different time to be an actress of color,” one that wasn’t favorable to women with ambitions of being a lead actress. “I’m so excited to be able to be working at this level, at this time, when that tide is starting to turn.”
Ejogo has twice played Coretta Scott King; first in the TV movie “Boycott” and later in Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” a role she sees as having a direct impact on her career (twice over).
“After ‘Selma,’ that was the first year that there was a really loud collective call for the industry to look at itself,” she says with regards to race in Hollywood. “I feel like from that point on there’s been this really steady march in the direction of change. There has been a recognition that black films made by black filmmakers — behind and in front of the camera — have been made forever, but something in the past few years has made the industry wake up to the fact that the audience demographic is shifting in a way that they have to be mindful of it. And also that it’s good business to be supportive of filmmakers of color because we’re making great movies and they’re viable in the marketplace.”
She’s finally getting the leading roles she’s so long craved. After “True Detective,” Ejojo will be seen in the Netflix thriller “Rattlesnake” in her first lead role; she is also executive producing the film.
“I have to say, I really enjoyed being at the helm of a project.”