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MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY –  No Longer Just a Pretty Face

True Detective must be in the top five of the best TV serials ever made. On second thought, it might be the best. It is certainly our subject’s best work and close to the best work of his co-star Woody Harrelson. It is the kind of performance that changes a genre by influencing the tone of other performance and other scripts. It raises the standard.


Matthew McConaughey (MM) stretched himself in various roles getting to that career changing role. There was Lincoln Lawyer followed by Killer Joe  and then Dallas Buyer’s Club. A rich tapestry of films that culminated with his Wolf of Wall Street “Martini” scene that stole the show.


In Rust Cohle, MM created not just a character but seemingly an alter ego. Drawing perhaps on that eerie second nature of his,  He struggles against the Gunslinger in THE DARK TOWER, an epic western based on the original Stephen King novels.  Hang on this should be fun.


Up close, McConaughey exudes a level of energy that does justice to his screen creations. He listens. (The best actors are the best listeners.)  His eyes brighten when a question arouses his curiosity. His face is curiously thin and at the same time projects a vital strength. The charm is there in spades.


The Dark Tower stars McConaughey as The Man in Black (aka Walter Padick), a mysterious figure whose destructive agenda brings him in eternal conflict with The Gunslinger (aka Roland Deschain), played by Idris Elba.


The highly anticipated summer blockbuster should help McConaughey bury memories of his last two movies, Gold and Free State of Jones.  Both died with critics and at the box office. Not good.


The Oscar-winning actor is obviously high on his work in The Dark Tower. He prepared carefully. He had a series of conversations with Stephen King in preparation for the role.


“(Stephen and I) spoke about how Walter has the world by a string and he always has a half-cocked smile on his face about it,” McConaughey. “He sees himself as the Minister of Truth.”


“It’s a dark tale of Christianity. The epic, mythical battle of good versus evil. There are multiple worlds happening, that you can inhabit simultaneously and you will see me, (Walter) and Idris (The Gunslinger) go head to head.”


One of the interesting elements concerning the conflict between these two arch rivals is that Elba’s Gunslinger character has great respect towards McConaughey’s villain.


Elba has said elsewhere: “Both want to conquer a world they still know little about. Roland hates Walter, and yet instead of feeling anger or resentment, he has an almost reverent attitude towards him.”


In real life, Matthew McConaughey and his Brazilian ex-model wife Camilla Alves live in Los Angeles with their three children, Levi, 8, Vida, 6, and Livingston, 4.  McConaughey recently wrapped filming on White Boy Rick, an indie film slated for release next year.




Q:  You shot The Dark Tower instead of taking a break in your work schedule.  What made you change your plans?


McCONAUGHEY: I was really looking forward to several months off but when they offered me a part in a film inspired by Stephen King’s books, I couldn’t refuse.  I also loved the idea of playing a very, very bad guy and getting to work with Idris Elba, an actor I have tremendous respect for.


Q:  There is talk that The Dark Tower could become a future film franchise.  Would you be interested in that?


McCONAUGHEY:  It’s a possibility.  There are a lot more stories to be told and this could be the first of a series.  I’ve never been part of a film franchise before, so I’m hoping that this one succeeds because I would like to do another.  We’ll have to wait and see.


Q:  Are you enjoying this time in your career?  Everything seems to have turned around for you in the last several years?


McCONAUGHEY: The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) was the beginning of that process and it was like the beginning of a new chapter for me.  That film had some commercial pop and I liked the idea of making a film that I would want to go see if I was standing in front of a theatre and trying to make up my mind.  That kind of became my measuring stick for deciding which roles I wanted to play.



Q:  But you then took a break after The Lincoln Lawyer?


McCONAUGHEY:  I didn’t work for 18 months after that because I couldn’t find anything on that level.  As I’ve said before, I unbranded.  I wanted to start doing things differently and it paid off.  So I went off and did some smaller projects like Killer Joe, The Paperboy, and Mud.


Those were all antihero roles and even if those films didn’t attract big audiences they changed the way people thought about me and what kind of actor I wanted to be. And I also did Magic Mike, which no one had any idea would take off the way it did.


Q:  It must be satisfying to look back at that time even though it was also a risk on your part?


McCONAUGHEY:  You’ve got to take risks from time to time.  A lot of people were wondering what the hell I was doing, but those movies had a way of altering peoples’ expectations about me and it helped reestablish who I was not just with audiences but with directors.  I would never have been considered for the part in Dallas Buyers Club if I hadn’t made those smaller films.


Q:  What do you think the public impression of you is as an actor?


McCONAUGHEY:  I would hope that people think of me as an actor who makes a lot of courageous choices.  I don’t think they have any one idea of the kinds of characters I play, except that I like to play outsiders.  I want to be able to keep doing that and finding characters like Kenny in Gold or someone like Walter in The Dark Tower…These guys are all obsessed in some way.


Q;  You’ve often credited your father and your memory of him as inspiring you to play larger-than-life characters?


McCONAUGHEY:  I put some of my dad in Kenny and whenever I come across a character who has a huge appetite for living it often makes me think of my dad. It’s important to have a sense of adventure and search for things or opportunities that shake up your life.


Q:  You’ve played some pretty wild characters over the last few years in films ranging from Dallas Buyers Club to Wolf of Wall Street and now Gold.  Obviously you feel an affinity for people who have a larger-than-life kind of aura?


McCONAUGHEY:  I take after my father in the sense of wanting to live an interesting life.  I’m also an optimist who believes it’s better to look forward rather than backward and that you should be thankful for what you have in life…


I’ve got a lot of things to be thankful for. Some, I’ve created, and a lot of it has been good fortune, so I’m not one to slide into false drama very quickly.  We’re not fans of that in our family and we’ve got a lot to look forward to.


Q:  You’ve always admitted to having an innate curiosity about the world.  Do you want to impart that attitude towards your own children?


MM:  Yes.  As a child, I was always asking my mother a thousand questions. Who? What? Why?  I would never stop.  I’m very fortunate that my job as an actor enables me to travel and meet new people and learn about different moments in history and different cultures.  I want my children to search for answers about their world and understand as much as they can and try to get closer to the truth. It’s a process that never stops.


Q: What kind of upbringing did you have in your own house growing up in Texas?


MM:  My mother was a kindergarten teacher, very strong, very determined, who led us by example.  My father has been a very tough football player, but my mother definitely never took any crap from us kids.  One day when I was maybe seven or eight years old, I remember asking my mother constantly about wanting to have a new pair of shoes.


Finally, she took me into a poor section of town and showed me children who had no shoes at all.  And she asked me, “Do you understand now?  Do you really need another pair of shoes?”  That was the kind of moral rectitude that both my mother and father instilled in us.


Q:  Are you still close to your mother and the rest of your family back home in Texas?


McCONAUGHEY:  We’re still very close.  I had a great Thanksgiving dinner with my mom last year and she’s still going strong (at age 84).  She has a lot of energy and I don’t know how she does it.


I’m also very fond of my middle brother Pat, who’s seven years older than me. I’ve always admired and been inspired by him.  I remember when I was growing up I thought he was way cooler than James Dean.


He had the best sound system I’ve ever seen in his car and he would play the latest songs and let me listen to them.  He would make sure no one would ever try to tease or bully me in school and he also taught me how to play golf and let myself be guided by my heart and not by my head.


Q:  Throughout your life, you’ve made it a point to take exotic trips.  Do you still get a chance to do that even though you’re a father to three children?


McCONAUGHEY:  Yes. I love taking trips to wild places in South America or Thailand, sometimes by myself, and sometimes I’ll go with my kids if they’re old enough for the vaccinations you usually need.  My wife also understands that it’s important for me to sometimes get away on my own and be able to write or just think a bit by myself although I usually never stay away for more than a week or so now.



She always tells me that I can stay as long as I need, which is very gracious of her, but I also know that she has to bear a lot of the burden of looking after the kids when I’m shooting a movie so I try to be as  respectful of her time and our time together as a family as I can.


Q:  One of your first big trips in your life was when you went to Australia prior to going to university?


McCONAUGHEY:  That was what opened my eyes and mind up to the world… I took off to Australia for a year and worked as a barrister’s assistant because I was interested in studying law. I loved the country and its desert and everything.


I also learned a lot from Australians in that they don’t take any bullshit from anyone and I learnt some humility from that It’s very liberating to be able to enjoy the kind of mood and sensations that come from meeting new people and exploring little towns.


Q:  A turning point in your life came when you decided to switch from law studies to film school. What did your parents say about that?


McCONAUGHEY: I remember the 15-second pause on the phone after I said, ‘Mom, Dad, I want to change my courses and head toward film school.’ And I was nervous on the other end of the line. One, because they were paying my tuition. Two, because it was already set that I was going to be a lawyer. That’s what I was going to be.


I just wasn’t sleeping well with the idea of four more years of school, then leaving, getting out and practicing something like law in the real world at age 28 and wondering where my 20s had disappeared to.


Finally, my dad (a former lineman for the Green Bay Packers football team in the 50s – ED) spoke and I was kind of dreading what he was going to say. But he wasn’t upset or anything like that.  He just asked me, “Is that want you really want to do?” And I said, “Yes, sir.” (Laughs) And my dad said, “OK, go ahead. Just don’t half-ass it.”


Q:  You bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to everything you do in life. Do you need to feel that same kind of intensity about the films you make?


McCONAUGHEY: I like to be excited by a project. I like a good beginning, middle and end to the films I make. I like to not be quite sure where a story is going so that I can be somewhat surprised along the way.  But I also like a film to be something where I can feel like, “Ooh, I know that part of my life or I know that person. That person was so-and-so in my real life.”


I’ve also realised that in life what happens is never what you set out to do. Nothing ever follows a predetermined script. A lot of projects just appear out of nowhere but you immediately know you have to do them.


Q:  People are still raving about your work in True Detective and you’ve recently said that you would love to reprise your role as Rusty Cohl?


McCONAUGHEY:  That was one of the best things I’ve ever done. True Detective is one of those opportunities that came along and never imagined doing something like that.  But I liked the idea right away and I said yes, period.


I also did the voice work on Sing (an animated film – ED) for my children, who are still small, because I wanted them to finally be able to see something of my work.  It’s not hard to figure out that my kids haven’t been able to watch any of my recent films.  That’s why a couple of years back I asked my agent to please find some projects where I can do voice work and that’s how I wound up doing Kudo and Sing.


Q:  What did your kids think of your vocal talents?


McCONAUGHEY: When we were watching Kudo together for the first time I didn’t tell them I was doing one of the voices.  Then my kids start leaning on my shoulder and looking at me saying, “Papay, that sounds a lot like you.”  But I pretended I didn’t know anything.  Then when the movie was over I told them that it was me and they were so excited and happy.  I can tell you that I was hot stuff around the house after that!



Q:  What’s the ideal McConaughey evening at home with your wife and children?


McCONAUGHEY:  It would be enjoying our time cooking together.  I like to prepare rib eyes steaks on the grill in the garden and be able to sit down an enjoy a bottle of Amarone (an Italian red wine) while our kids are playing in the garden.  That’s home for me.


by Will Richardsson


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