More than 30 years have passed since Jodie Foster's Oscar-winning turn as Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs." The actor says it's taken until now to find a role that's affected her as deeply.
The part? Liz Danvers in "True Detective: Night Country," the HBO anthology series which launched its latest season on Jan. 14.
"I think 'Silence (of the Lambs)' is the closest experience that I've ever had to this – where you jump on something because you love the material so much and everybody jumps on and does their best work because they respond to that material and the depth of it. And then you do the best work of your life," Foster says during a sit-down interview with TODAY.com.
Created, written and directed by Issa López, Season Four of "True Detective" is a gritty, Alaska-set mystery. Foster acts opposite Kali Reis as Evangeline Navarro as their characters unravel linked mysteries: The disappearance of a group of scientists from a research station and the death of a local indigenous woman.
Filmed in Iceland, the series is set in Ennis, a fictional town located in the northern reaches of Alaska, and takes place during Polar Night, an annual phenomenon in which night lasts all day during the winter months.
Like "The Silence of Lambs," Foster portrays a law enforcement agent in "True Detective." But according to the long-time actor, that's where the similarities end.
"(Clarice Starling) is a memorable character, but she's very different then Liz Danvers," Foster tells TODAY.com. "I think even though they have the same job. I don't believe (Clarice) would've grown into Danvers' character."
Instead, Foster theorizes that Starling would have likely ended up leaving the FBI and moving to small town somewhere to do "good work." Nothing like Liz Danvers, who Foster says is "cynical and jaded" and definitely "not in a nice way."
"She's kind of awful, but she's hiding something," adds Foster, offering a potential clue to plot developments in episodes yet to come.
Calling her "True Detective" character "damaged," Foster explains the psychology behind why the Alaskan cop is so categorically unlikable.
"She's grieving and doesn't want to face demons that will involve suffering. Like all of us, I think we don't want to suffer. In her case, I guess that's what the tough veneer is hiding; she just doesn't want to fall apart."
It's not a character that Foster can necessarily relate to and says that over the course of her storied career, she's never taken on a role quite like her "True Detective" counterpart. "I think Liz Danvers is pretty far from me, I don't think I've ever played anyone like her."
The part that does come closest to representing her?
"The character that's the most me is probably Ellie Arroway in "Contact," says the actor of her role as an astronomer and astrophysicist in the sci-fi film.
Based on the best-selling Carl Sagan book by the same name, the 1997 movie paired Foster with Matthew McConaughey, who, in a full-circle sort of way, is one of the executive producers on "True Detective" Season Four. McConaughey also starred alongside Woody Harrelson in the first season of the HBO show nearly a decade ago.
While many fans contend Season One of "True Detective" is the series' best, the latest installment is generating just as much buzz, in part due to the on-screen chemistry between Foster and Reis, a professional boxer and relative newcomer to the acting scene.
"I embraced everything about Evangeline, about the role and about it being so early on in my career, taking on this massive franchise of a show that I'm a fan of, working with Jodie – I'm a huge fan of her work. It was a challenge that I welcomed," says Reis, who joins Foster in talking to TODAY.com.
Deviating from the typical "buddy cop" trope, the relationship between Foster and Reis is tense and contentious after a falling out over the unsolved murder of a local woman.
"The characters are in conflict, not only with each other, but with themselves," says Foster. "So they have a lot of contradictions, a lot of complexity and layers. They're not just one thing. And I think that's refreshing."
Reis, who identifies as being of Native American descent, says the role provided an opportunity to increase awareness around the rate at which indigenous women go missing or are murdered. She shares her character's passion for justice for these women.
"Evangeline Navarro has such a passion and a drive to fight for what’s just, for women and women who don't get their just due," says Reis.
"These women in this show don't have a voice. She's being the voice. She's trying to find these answers. That's what I got taught personally. There's a lot of me that goes into Evangeline," she explains.
The new series marks the first time Foster has appeared on the small screen in more than four decades. "I haven't done it as an actress probably since the '70s," she tells TODAY.com. "I do work in television on streaming and, for me, that's really where the narrative is. So, I'm super excited about coming back on to TV."
The return to television is an experience that Foster says she "loved," along with working alongside López, who Foster says "was everything I have always wanted in a director."
Both Foster and Reis agree that, all up, making "True Detective: Night Country" was nothing short of extraordinary.
"We knew that everybody was going to see it eventually, but if nobody saw it, I think we'd be as proud of it," says Reis.
"You just don't have an idea that somehow other people are going to be watching. You forget about that until the show's out. It was really just for us. It was just a special experience for us," adds Foster.