This interview contains spoilers for True Detective: Night Country episode five. For an equally spoilerrific chat about this episode with John Hawkes, click here.
This week, in the penultimate episode of HBO’s True Detective: Night Country, police officer Peter Prior (Finn Bennett) shoots and kills his father, Hank Prior (John Hawkes) in the home of police chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster). It's an act of protection on Peter's part: Hank is threatening Liz, who has been a mother figure to Peter. It's also a shockingly violent act of patricide.
The East London-raised Bennett knew this scene was a big one for his developing career. Not only was it a pivotal beat for his character, but it would find him tested opposite the likes of Foster and Hawkes. Bennett had spent a long time psyching himself up for the performance—prematurely, as it turns out.
"I'd been gearing myself up for months and then weeks and then it was in the next five days and I got COVID again," he says. "Just a disclaimer, I'm fully vaccinated, I've had three shots. I'm just weak. I just get it all the time. I couldn't shoot it. I'd geared myself up for nothing."
The actor spent the next 10 days in isolation, where he had to block the scene via an iPad that showed him where he was supposed to be. When he was finally free from quarantine and it was time to actually shoot, the nerves came up again. Only once it was done and he got kudos from his illustrious scene partners was he able to relax. "It was a relief," he says. "It was a beast of a scene."
Bennett had a habit of getting COVID during crucial moments in his Night Country journey. After his first meeting with showrunner and director Issa López he came down with the virus. (He cheekily swears López gave it to him, but adds that she will say the opposite if you ask her.) But even though he couldn't do the second audition in person, he knew López, who he had auditioned for previously, was vying for him. "She said, 'Your face kept coming to mind while I was writing,'" he says.
Peter marks Bennett's biggest role to date, and a chance for the 24-year-old to play a bunch of scenes opposite Jodie Foster, since the role turns on the younger officer’s almost too-close relationship with Foster's Danvers, the detective in the fictional, freezing Alaskan town investigating why a group of frozen scientists ended up in the middle of the ice. Peter's willingness to do her bidding at every moment jeopardizes his relationship with his wife Kayla (Anna Lambe), an indigenous woman.
His loyalty to Danvers also, in the end, makes him a murderer. Still, it wasn't hard for Bennett to orient himself in the part of someone who idolizes a person played by the Silence of the Lambs star. "There's not a huge jump from myself—like small-time, small fish actor Finn Bennett and the admiration that I have for Jodie as an actor—to Peter's relationship to Danvers," he says. "I hope that comes across in the series."
Bennett’s prep to play Peter was twofold. While he speaks with a British lilt in real life, he trained with an accent coach twice a week to sound like he was from rural Alaska. While researching the show, Lopez had met a guy named “Peej” who’d moved to Alaska and married an indigenous woman; Bennett and Peej chatted over Zoom about once a week. "I started off asking him very big questions, like 'What's life like there for you?'" he says. "But then it just kind of turned into a smaller thing like, 'What did you have for breakfast, Peej? Or 'What kind of music do you listen to?' I have this playlist on my phone of stuff he was listening to."
While Bennett is wearing a hat that says "Alaska" on our Zoom call—a gift from a castmate—he's actually never been, since the show shot in Iceland. It was still, however, very frosty. "There's an authenticity that you're cold and your nose is running and you're shivering and your eyes are kind of streaming," he says. Off the set though, he was getting dinner with his coworkers and making use of hot tubs. He also became an aficionado of the Icelandic hot dog stand outside his apartment. "It was like my church," he says.
Every Saturday the cast would rehearse, which helped him when it came time for Peter to pull the trigger. "We discussed this element of Danvers appealing to Peter's rationality and his inner moral compass and Hank is appealing to his sentimentality, and in that split decision he decides to go with Danvers," Bennett says. "I don't think it's so much that he knew it was the right thing to do. I think it's a choice that [he] will always ponder on."
Throughout the process he got to watch Foster and Hawkes volley their lines back and forth, an incredible experience for a young actor. "It's like being a kid in a sweet shop," he says. "You're watching these giants of the industry work through a scene and you're kind of the focus in that scene, like, 'What's Peter going to do?' It's incredibly privileged and I'm so honored to have been in that situation."
Originally Appeared on GQ