When pro boxer Kali Reis was announced as the co-lead in the fourth instalment of HBO’s anthology series True Detective, the news was, to put it mildly, met with some raised eyebrows. 

Reis had previously acted in just two projects, only one of which – the independent movie Catch the Fair One, which she had co-written – had to that point been released. But when True Detective casting director Francine Maisler was on the search for an indigenous actor to play the role of Inupiat Alaskan Evangeline Navarro, she came across Reis’ performance and invited the Seaconke Wampanoag tribe member to audition; several months later, the neophyte actor was on set alongside two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster.

While the casting decision was unexpected, it wasn’t Reis’ first appearance on HBO. That had come on May 5, 2018, when she challenged undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus in the first ever women’s bout to be broadcast on the network. Although she lost that contest on points, she nearly caused an upset, scoring a knockdown in the seventh and wobbling the then-undefeated Braekhus in the eighth.

After that loss, Reis rattled off six straight wins before taking a health-induced break from the sport and taking her career in an entirely new direction.

True Detective: Night Country, which was set in the fictional Alaska town of Ennis during the long Arctic night, featured Reis’ State Trooper Evangeline Navarro and Foster’s police captain Liz Danvers attempting to put aside past animosities to solve two entwined and mysterious cases. With an average of 12.9 million viewers per episode across all platforms, it was the highest-rated season of the critically acclaimed franchise, which launched to much fanfare in 2014.

Reis brought a pugilist’s physicality to the role of Navarro, who found herself throwing punches on several occasions; but, Reis told the Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin and Mulvaney, she and director Issa Lopez actually worked to smooth out some of the character’s rougher edges.

“[Lopez] initially made her out as just a hard ass, just a hard, ex-militant,” she said. “I actually love the layers that we found and that we revealed, because Navarro is a complex, deep character … Navarro was very interesting to me, too, because going into this new career being very conscious of my physicality – ‘Put a gun in her hand, make a mean face, make the staredown face, don’t say a word’ - obviously, I can get by a bit in Hollywood. But [Lopez] asked me to tone it down a bit, and that happened to really work for me with the physical parts I did have to do with the character.”

A key element of True Detective: Night Country was Navarro’s layered but strained relationship with Danvers, which meant Reis and Foster shared a lot of screen time. And for the up-and-comer, developing a genuine friendship with the five-time Oscar nominee was one of the highlights of her experience on the show.

“We would be sitting in the greenroom or on set in between cameras switches, and we're joking around, quoting Team America or Tropic Thunder, just laughing or she's telling me about what's going on with politics or her fantasy football league and I'm like, yo, I'm really having a casual conversation with Jodie Foster,” Reis told the podcast. “She's such a grounded, cool, regular person. And it is just refreshing to know this talented legend that I had the opportunity to work with is just so cool and funny and intelligent and so generous with her time and knowledge.”

Given her success in her new career – her next movie, Asphalt City, with Sean Penn, is released in theaters in March – it would be understandable if she was happy to hang up the gloves. But, while not exactly champing at the bit to get back in the ring, she acknowledges that there is an itch that remains unscratched, and that for the right money and the right opportunity, she could be interested in one or two more bouts before definitively swapping pugilism for thespianism.

“You know, obviously, I love the sport, I fell in love with it,” she said. “And I’m good at it. And I got better as time went on, because my career has been an interesting and a hard one. 

“I’m not saying I want another five or six years in the game …  But of course, as fighters we don’t know how to quit. You got to peel us out of the gym.”

Having briefly held the WBC middleweight title, Reis (19-7-1, 5 KOs) also fought in and around the welterweight division and says she could “tussle with the ones who got my 140 titles, or the ones bouncing around from 40 to 54.” 

She is also more than open to a rematch with Braekhus, especially after a recent Twitter comment about the first fight from the Norwegian’s promoter Tom Loeffler sparked an angry response on Reis’ part. 

“Let’s bring it back. Because I would love to. I mean, why not? We ain’t doing nothing. She’s 42 and I’m about to be 38. Why not?

“Tom kind of came out of nowhere, talked his s***, said a bunch of things. So now it’s personal. So now, he disrespected me. I have no personal beef with Cecilia. But I would love that fight. I’m sure she’s interested in it again. But Tom, he needs to put some eight ounce gloves on.”

It isn’t the kind of talk that many Hollywood stars engage in. It isn’t hard to picture her turning an award acceptance speech into a callout to any would-be challengers. But talking of awards speeches: given that boxing clearly still motivates her, would she rather win an Oscar or be an undisputed champion?

“Undisputed champion,” she said after a brief pause. “Oscar can wait.”

She thought some more and chuckled.

“Why not both?”