‘True Detective: Night Country’ Star Kali Reis Traces Parallels of Walking Between ‘2 Racial Worlds’

TheWrap magazine: “I always fit in my own box, that’s my superpower,” the actress says

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Kali Reis in "True Detective: Night Country" (Credit: Michele K. Short/HBO)

Kali Reis happened upon acting the same way she happened upon boxing — it found her when she needed it. Josef Kubota Wladyka asked her to star in his 2021 film “Catch the Fair One” as a champion boxer and she agreed.

“It wasn’t really a choice that I consciously made, but it was something that just fell into my life at the right time,” Reis, who is herself a champion boxer, told TheWrap. “And I hit the ground running.”

With just a couple acting credits under her belt, Reis was given an opportunity typically reserved for better known actors: to star opposite Jodie Foster in the fourth installment of HBO’s “True Detective” series, “Night Country.” In this chapter, Reis and Foster play former detective partners Evangeline Navarro and Liz Danvers, respectively, who put their resentment of each other aside to investigate the disappearance of several workers operating the Tsalal Arctic Research Station in Ennis, Alaska. The inquest overlaps with the unsolved murder of an Indigenous woman from years earlier.

Both Reis’ casting and the appointment of new showrunner Issa López ushered in a fresh perspective with the franchise’s first female detective duo, while still paying homage to elements of the inaugural season. While Navarro and Danvers’ debates on spirituality recall the discussions between Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s characters in Season 1, in the fourth season, Navarro comes to terms with her identities as a Dominican and Iñupiaq woman and ex-military officer — a choice that resonated deeply with Reis.

“I never had a box to fit in — I always fit in my own box, that’s my superpower,” said Reis, who is biracial and of Nipmuc and Seaconke Wampanoag ancestry. “I know what that’s like to have to walk between these two racial worlds and cultures, and society thinking they know what it’s like [while] really not feeling enough — that … was very prominent with Navarro.”

Once López crafted Navarro meticulously on the page, Reis approached her “stubborn” and “militant” character with patience, noting, “I had to wait for her to reveal herself to me and play along, if you will.”

“She ended up being, on paper, a whole different monster in the most beautiful way on screen,” Reis added.

Almost an inverse of each struggle Navarro is facing, Reis noted how Foster’s portrayal of Danvers helped “fine tune” and “cut those sharp little edges” of Navarro’s understanding of herself and her role in the Alaskan community, which is about 70-80% indigenous. “[Jodie] recreated Danvers as being as racist and ignorant as possible, as unaware of her surroundings as possible and made Danvers’ trauma really shine through in bumping heads with Navarro,” Reis explained.

“I feel like we both were on the same page, [that] they’re mirrors of each other. It’s kind of left and right brain: Danvers is so literal and so real world, and Navarro is … trying to balance the two, but she’s so immersed in trying to shun away what, actually, is her superpower,” she continued. “That was a conversation that we didn’t even have extensively; I just think we both understood.”

“Night Country” spotlights the indigenous Alaskan community and addresses the tragic “epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, men, people, elderly women, toddlers, boys [and] girls,” Reis said.

“I wish we didn’t have to bring awareness to this issue. It was important to make sure that we not romanticize it, not overdo it,” she concluded. “What I do my best to do is not to be an ‘activist’ … and be the voice for the silent. If I have a platform, if I have a stage, no matter what that stage is, it’s not about me, it’s always about we.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.

Hoa Xuande The Sympathizer cover
Hoa Xuande photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg for TheWrap

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