Matthew McConaughey signing on for the first season of True Detective was arguably one of the first big moves by a “film” actor that led to the current TV boom, where big actors are signing onto TV shows every week and television is no longer considered the step-down from movies it once was.
So it seems only right that McConaughey is stepping back onto the smaller screen during this boom. He’ll be collaborating once again with HBO, but not for an original character. Instead, McConaughey will reprise one of his breakout roles for a new limited series. In 1996’s A Time To Kill he played Mississippi lawyer Jake Brigance, and he’ll play the character again in A Time For Mercy.
So what’s the link between the two projects? Author John Grisham. The prolific writer wrote the A Time To Kill novel, which was then adapted into a film by Joel Schumacher. But Grisham used the Brigance character twice more. First in 2013’s Sycamore Row, which Hollywood showed little interest in, and now in A Time For Mercy.
In A Time To Kill, Brigance defends a Black man accused of murdering two white men who raped his young daughter. Here, he’s embroiled in a polarising trial where he’s defending a timid teenager accused of murdering a local deputy. Many locals want the boy to face the death penalty, but Brigance discovers more to the story and risks his life and career to save the boy from lethal injection.
Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who worked with Warner Bros. when the studio released A Time To Kill, will produce this series. It will consist of between 8-10 episodes. HBO is currently meeting with writers, and no director is yet attached. But with McConaughey onboard and HBO’s backing, it shouldn’t be too hard to find interested filmmakers.
According to Deadline, this deal has been in the works for some time. McConaughey even promoted Grisham’s book on his Instagram before it was even released.
The different formats between these two McConaughey-led Grisham adaptations are a great example of how Hollywood has changed. Back in the 90s, legal thrillers were immensely popular at the box office – A Time To Kill made $152 million – and were a multiplex staple.
Fast forward decades later where cinemas are mostly occupied by massively-budgeted blockbusters – the only kinds of movies studios are interested in sticking their neck out for – and these stories have migrated to the smaller screen where they can be fleshed out more like a novel. Great for TV fans, not so much for those that enjoyed these kinds of thrillers on the big screen.
But McConaughey’s HBO return should be a big deal, even if Grisham and A Time To Kill are no longer the pop culture household names they once were. But make sure you get your McConaughey fix with this, as he’s not currently got any other live-action projects in the works. He’s been promoting his memoir Greenlights and will reprise his role as a koala bear in animated film Sing 2.