The feverishly anticipated second season of crime drama True Detective is finally upon us.
Creator-screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto's new series of last year's HBO hit isn't an extension of the award-winning predecessor which starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as mismatched cops in the backwaters of Louisiana.
Instead, it follows four disparate characters - three law enforcement officers and a career criminal - in California.
For the screenwriter, a novelist and former literary academic, the shift west wasn't so its stars - Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch - would be closer to their Hollywood homes during the shoot. It was to head back to the roots of American fiction and movies about crime and corruption.
The golden state itself becomes a fifth character.
"The story covers different municipalities and what goes down in terms of business in California. It was a great setting because what we think of as American noir works in this sunlit facade, which I find very inspiring."
"The second one doesn't have the same level of esoteric bayou-mysticism that the first one had," says Farrell, who plays one of the three new leading cops.
"Bad things take place and the characters are all incredibly well drawn and have a high level of complexity."
Says Vaughn: "This season is very different, although the tone and the quality is the same. I feel it's like an artist's second album.
"The first season was a kind of buddy cop scenario in that it was about two guys with different views of the world. This one is about four different characters who share a broken-ness and a hurt. This is really about people who are in deep water and they're drowning and they're trying to get to a place where they feel safe and happy."
Vaughn plays a thug-turned-entrepreneur trying to go legit through a land deal. But a bizarre crime puts his plans on hold.
The murder is investigated by an uneasy coalition of officers from crossover Los Angeles jurisdictions. That includes a moustachioed Farrell as a morally bereft alcoholic cop, Kitsch as a war veteran and highway patrol officer running from his past, and Rachel McAdams as a no-nonsense detective.
McAdams' character, Ani Bezzerides, is some distance from her usual lightweight romantic comedy fare, such as Aloha.
"I find her very courageous in places I wouldn't be," says McAdams. "She certainly has no qualms about putting herself in harm's way to do what's right, like a dog with a bone, and doesn't even quit when it might put people in harm's way. She does what she believes is the right thing to protect society. And although I would like to think I do that, I'm a lowly actor and I'm not living my life like that.
"Maybe the one way I could relate to her is that I'm pretty hard on myself and I try to hold up to a high standard and the disappointment that comes when you don't meet that."
Says Pizzolatto, "I generally write about men being really bad men, but I was obsessed with this character and that's why I wanted Rachel because no one has ever seen her like this."
Vaughn enjoyed the change of pace. "It was nice to switch gears a little bit and do something different. Even though I had done dramas before, like Clay Pigeons and Return to Paradise, it was a long time ago. Then I got a run of studio movies that were more like an assembly line of comedies.
"So to have this quality of material was great and it was nice to get to paint a different colour. It was really exciting to get a chance to do something different rather than getting bored doing the same stuff all the time."
A fan of the first season, he says, "I went back and watched all the episodes in season one more than once. I binge-watched it, actually. It really fired on all cylinders."
Farrell took the role without knowing the full story, putting his faith in Pizzolatto.
"I signed on to True Detective having only read the first two episodes, around 25 pages, something I'd never do on a film. It would be insanity.
"The episodes were being filtered down to the cast as we were shooting so I didn't know what the natural end, if there was an end, to my character's journey would be. That was interesting.
"I wasn't tense. It was really interesting to find out how the story unfolded. For me it felt like a 400-page film script that was just punctuated into eight acts."
Where does Pizzolatto get his inspiration for such grim material?
"I think in many ways it comes from the places you dream, but also if you look at the world and you pick up the currents, it gets very Gomorrah very quickly," he says.
The crime series genre is one viewers have always found fascinating - from a safe distance. Most of us would hope to never experience a one-on-one relationship with a detective.
Pizzolatto says, "I have a few theories about that. The detective has access to all levels of society - from the lowest rung to the highest and can draw connective tissue between them. The detective's methodology is an embodiment of the existential with the greater human being. He uses concrete detail and human personality to assemble a narrative that tells the story of what happened to the world. And beyond that, people enjoy watching authentically obsessive people because we're all obsessive.
"Hopefully it's about mostly harmless stuff but I think often cathartically, it raises a lot of our own questions about who we are in life."
Naturally, the actors cannot reveal any plot points, however minor. Says Vaughn, "I don't want to ruin anyone's fun of experiencing the ride. Where's the fun in that?" Then he leans forward, teasing, "Oh, okay, let me tell you how it ends ..."
What: True Detective season 2
Where and when: SoHo, screens Mondays at 5.30pm and 8.30pm
• Additional reporting Helen Barlow.