Issa López ‘Watched a Really Good HBO Show That Some American Did’ and Then Had to Make ‘True Detective: Night Country’

Issa López is no stranger to the film and TV business. The Mexican auteur was writing for the telenovela “Primer Amor, a Mil por Hora” as far back as 2000. Her 2017 horror film “Tigers Are Not Afraid” made IndieWire’s list of the 200 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time. But she was a new name to many U.S. viewers when HBO extended her the opportunity to write, direct, showrun, and executive produce the fourth season of “True Detective,” subtitled “Night Country,” starring Jodie Foster and Kali Reis.

“We [Mexicans] don’t get to do the shows on HBO — especially the geeky ones,” López said she thought when HBO first reached out. In her speech at IndieWire Honors June 6, where she won the Auteur Award, López recalled the thrill of being “a Mexican terror director” suddenly given an extraordinary sandbox to play in.

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“How did that happen? Believe me that I’ve been thinking about that a lot,” López said. “The way it happened is the incredible, divine superpower of storytelling. When a story is true and a story is powerful, it can change the world and it can change us. Stories can change us too and we’ve seen it, and the story I thought to tell was such a powerful true story of these women.”

López’s own storytelling in “Night Country” has been highly praised, especially her depictions of complicated, “nasty” women via an eerie, sunless vision — the bulk of the narrative takes place above the Arctic Circle in Alaska after the Winter Solstice, when the sun never shines. Her star Jodie Foster says she’s never worked with a director quite like López.

But when she was first offered the project, López did pause for a moment: “Here’s a real science fact. There are no Mexicans in the Arctic, no Mexicans for a reason,” she said. “And then, I go home and watch a really good HBO show [‘True Detective’] that some American did.” That American in question is original series creator Nic Pizzolatto, whose work on the original seasons, especially the first season, is powerfully referenced and called back to in “Night Country.” López is clearly a fan who happened to be able to continue the work of a creator she admires — and offer her own unique vision.

She also paid tribute to IndieWire in her speech. “It’s always beautiful when you see your headlines come up, because you were such champions of the show, and you were my idols before then. It just makes my day, and I dread the day that they don’t like my sh*t. I don’t want to see that coming, so I have to try harder.”

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