Petersburg actor L’xeis Diane Benson is in HBO’s ‘True Detective: Night Country’

a screening
Friends gathered in Petersburg to watch L’xeis Diane Benson in her first appearance onscreen as Bee in HBO’s “True Detective: Night Country.” (Hannah Flor/KFSK)

A Petersburg-based Lingít actor and former Democratic candidate for statewide office is featured in the HBO crime drama “True Detective.”

Each season, the series has a new setting, new characters, and a new mystery. This season, subtitled “Night Country,” is set in Northwestern Alaska and includes some local talent.

Petersburg’s L’xeis Diane Benson — known on Alaska’s political stage for challenging the late Rep. Don Young in 2006, and being Ethan Berkowitz’s running mate in his failed 2010 run for governor against Sean Parnell — had never seen an episode of “True Detective” when she auditioned for the show.  She says she had no idea what to expect, and hadn’t even read the full script when filming started.

Benson’s character has appeared in each of the first three episodes, but it’s still not clear how she fits into the plot of “True Detective: Night Country.” But Benson can’t give us any clues. Her contract with HBO keeps her quiet until after the finale airs on Feb. 18, and the cable network isn’t talking either.

“No one has guessed the ending and we’re trying really hard to protect that,” an HBO representative told KFSK by phone.

Benson plays Bee, who works at a crab processing plant. In the first episode, she’s one of the first characters on screen after the opening credits, dressed in a hair net and raingear in the processing plant. She’s nursing another woman as a man lies on the concrete floor, his nose bloodied and broken.

Alaska State Trooper Evangeline Navarro, played by Kali Reis, is tending to the man. She turns to Bee. 

“Did you hit this man, ma’am?” Navarro asks.

Bee’s response is expletive-laced. She says that after the man hit the woman – her friend Blair – Bee hit him back.  

There’s a bloody metal bucket close by. 

“With a metal bucket?” asks Navarro.

Bee squints at Navarro. “What’s your name, hon?” She pauses.  “Who’s your Aaka?”

Aaka means “mother“ in Iñupiaq, the language of the Indigenous people of Northwestern Alaska, where the show is set. 

The story begins just days into what will be three months of night. It centers around eight scientists, missing from a research center, and the seemingly connected cold case of a murdered Indigenous activist. The show explores the tension between local residents of the fictional town of Ennis, and the nearby mine that is both sustaining the town economically and poisoning its water supply. There are supernatural elements that have yet to be explained. 

Benson says that despite not knowing what to expect story-wise when she signed on, she took the role because she likes a challenge.

“Any time I get to play an Indigenous character that is not a stereotype, I am interested,” she wrote in an email.

She said she’s especially driven by the fact that there haven’t been many roles for Indigenous people, and that Indigenous characters that appear on screen are usually played by non-Indigenous actors.

Benson started acting in her 20s, mostly in theater. She was in 1991’s “White Fang,” playing Grey Beaver’s wife. And last year she had a bit part in “Alaska Daily,” ABC’s now-canceled drama series set at a fictional Anchorage newspaper. It was after that role that her agent asked her to read for “True Detective.” 

While there are a handful of Alaskan actors in “True Detective: Night Country,” the show was mostly filmed in Iceland, for financial and logistical reasons. In order to make sure the setting and the characters felt true to Alaska, producers worked with an advisory council made up of five Iñupiaq people from Northwest Alaska. According to an article in the New York Times, they told the show that there needed to be more laughter, and more sharing of food when Indigenous people were on screen.

“True Detective: Night Country” airs on HBO. New episodes are available through its streaming service Max on Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern time. The season is six episodes long.

Previous articleHiking in Yukon Territory | Outdoor Explorer
Next articleSouthcentral Alaska gas utility says high demand is straining gas storage system