Matthew McConaughey, Getting Serious Again
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. In the film "Dallas Buyers Club," Matthew McConaughey plays a homophobic man who's diagnosed as HIV positive and given 30 days to live. He begins non-approved pharmaceuticals into the country from abroad after learning about the ineffectiveness and side-effects of the drugs being prescribed in the U.S. He not only treats himself with the drugs, but also distributes them to other patients through a buyer's club, a way to skirt the FDA rules which prohibited the use of those medications.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DALLAS BUYERS CLUB")
JENNIFER GARNER: (As Dr. Eve Saks) This is my patient. You treating these people?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: (As Woodroof) They're treating themselves.
GARNER: (As Saks) With what?
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Woodroof) Vitamins, peptide T, DDC, anything but that poison you're hawking.
DAVIES: McConaughey's performance in "Dallas Buyer's Club" has earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He also makes a notable appearance in the opening scene of Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," and is now starring in the HBO series "True Detective," which is set in a remote area of Louisiana. McConaughey plays Detective Rut Cohle. He's prone to dark and enigmatic monologue, sometimes to the annoyance of his more straightforward partner played by Woody Harrelson.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRUE DETECTIVE")
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Rust Cohle) I think human consciousness is a misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
WOODY HARRELSON: (As Martin Hart) That sounds god (bleep) awful, Rust.
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Rust Cohle) We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody's nobody.
HARRELSON: (As Martin Hart) I wouldn't go around spouting that (bleep) if I was you. People around here don't think that way. I don't think that way.
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Rust Cohle) Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.
HARRELSON: (As Martin Hart) So, what's the point of getting out of bed in the morning?
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Rust Cohle) I tell myself I bear witness. The real answer is that it's obviously my programming. And I lack the constitution for suicide.
HARRELSON: (As Martin Hart) My luck, I pick today to get to know you and, what? Three months, I don't hear a word from you and.
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Rust Cohle) You asked.
HARRELSON: (As Martin Hart) Yeah. And now I'm begging you to shut the (bleep) up.
DAVIES: Earlier in his career, McConaughey starred in lighter films, including romantic comedies, like "The Wedding Planner" and "Failure to Launch." But for the past several years, he gravitated towards more dramatic and darker roles. He played a sinister and perverted police detective and hit man in "Killer Joe," the owner and MC of a male review in a strip club in the film "Magic Mike" and a mysterious loner in the film "Mud."
Terry interviewed McConaughey last year. Here's an excerpt of their conversation
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
You had been famous for romantic comedies for several years and now you're using your good looks for a different effect. In "Mud" your good looks help further the charisma that you have and the kind of romantic story that's at the heart of who you are and what motivates you. In "Killer Joe" your good looks kind of add to this character's magnetism and charisma, even though it's a kind of evil charisma. And in "Bernie," which is a comedy, your good looks are kind of played down, but everybody, but you're the kind of like heartthrob in the local town but it's all very comic.
So was there a point in your career where you said I'm kind of done with the straightforward romantic comedies, I'm looking for something different now? And if so, what was behind the change?
MCCONAUGHEY: You know, I've been asked this question a lot and I've thought about it a lot and I don't have a clear clean-cut answer, because actually these roles, these last six films I've done, they came to me. I didn't go out and chase them. There was a time where I was reading some more romantic comedies, I was reading some more action scripts, and there were quite a few I liked, but most all of them I felt like I could do them tomorrow. I think that was where I just said wait a minute, there's nothing wrong with that. That's great to have something you feel like you could do tomorrow. It's great to have your so-called fastball and you like doing them. There's a lightness that you are able to keep and maintain in those that they need because they need a buoyancy, and then I call them Saturday character, the romantic comedy, it's a Saturday character. You're not supposed to get, you know, Hamletian about it. You're not supposed to go deep. You go deep on those, you sink the ship. I had fun doing that and also trying to do those without emasculating the male, which can be done in those romantic comedies often. But I just felt like I could do them tomorrow or the next day. So I said I want to wait. I don't know what I want to do. I want to wait till something really turns me on - moves my floor, as I said, makes me question it and go I don't know what I'll do with that material. And what I had in my life at that time was something really special which allowed me to take pause and back away and not do the romantic comedies or not do the other scripts that were coming in. And that's what, and I had a son, so I said I'm going to be a dad, I've got something to take up my time. That helped a lot, to have, to say I'm going to be a father for a while and I'm not going to rush into work. Let the work come find me and just be patient, McConaughey, it'll come. And so if I didn't have that project, which was raising my son or getting to know him in his earliest years, I would've become much more restless than I was.
MCCONAUGHEY: So I was able to be very patient, and what happened is I got the call from Billy Friedkin, then Richard Linklater came to me with the "Bernie" script, and then I got the call from Soderbergh, then Lee Daniels gave me a call on "Paperboy" and then Jeff Nichols came. So they came to me and that was just really one of those wonderful ways the world works. By saying no, I don't want to do these other things, I'm going to sit and press pause and let some things come to me and sort of - as I said - let the target draw the arrow, the arrows came my way.
DAVIES: Matthew McConaughey speaking with Terry Gross. We'll hear more after break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR and we're listening to Terry's interview with actor Matthew McConaughey. He's earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his performance in the film "Dallas Buyer's Club."
GROSS: In high school you were voted Most Handsome...
GROSS: ...in the school. So did you have to be knocked down at home after that?
MCCONAUGHEY: Oh, I think they still, I mean my brother still jives me about it. I have a wonderful story, though...
MCCONAUGHEY: ...about that most handsome thing. You want to hear it?
GROSS: Sure, go ahead. Yeah.
MCCONAUGHEY: Oil is mink was a product. By mother became an in-house salesman for, it was a mink oil that you put on your face and my mom was turned on to it by my father's secretary and it was one of these kind of like an Avon lady, you go door-to-door and you sell this oil of mink. Well, I'm 15 years old and my mom's got these tubes of mink oil and she says, you know, you've got these adolescent pimples and stuff. Maybe you should put the oil of mink on your face and do these masks and stuff at night. I'm like, that's a great idea, mom. And we read the label and one of them says it pulls out the impurities and then you'll be clean and you'll never have another blemish in your life. And I'm like, well, this is great, man. If I can get through these, you know, 15-year-old pimply faced stuff, it'd be great. So I start putting these oil of mink masks on my face. Well, quickly my face is beginning to swell up and I'm forming acne and really bad acne. And I talk to my dad's secretary who turned my mom onto it. She comes over the house and I'm really concerned and the lady is like, wow, well, you do sure have a whole lot of impurities, Matthew. Keep it up.
MCCONAUGHEY: And we'll just pull all the impurities out, because once they're out, you're clean forever. So I stick with another three weeks. It's almost two months now and I have, I mean my whole face - I going to look like myself. I have full-blown really bad acne. Go to a dermatologist. He's like, what are you putting on your face? We show them the product. He's says this is a mink oil base. This is for; this is the last thing an adolescent oily-faced kid should be using. This has clogged up your pores. You are about 10 days before you're going to have those ice picks holes in your face from that acne. And we're like, well, geez, how do we help? He got me on medication. It ended up being Accutane, which really worked, it was a year and a half sort of just took the acne away and we learned our lesson. Anyway, during...
MCCONAUGHEY: During that time, somebody in the family got the idea of, yeah, you know what? We need to follow a lawsuit against oil of mink. That's right. Our son Matthew, I mean you've been - look at you. I mean you are emotionally pounded and psychologically this really had to hurt, and everyone started feeling all of these, you know, ideas. But, yeah, I was emotionally done. Yeah, my confidence was lower. Well, there's a lawsuit filed.
MCCONAUGHEY: I think it was for like $30,000 or something. And as lawsuits go, they take a while. So remember, that was when I was 15. Cut to now 18, senior in high school. I get called in for a deposition by the defense. And he sits me down and he goes through all this, you know, emotionally this must've been so tough for you. And look at these pictures of the acne you had. Oh my God. I mean your face is almost bleeding. You look like a monster. This is so bad. Man, it must've really been tough on you. And I'm like, yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. And he goes through this for about 45 minutes. And I'm thinking this is great. Man, this is the defense is talking to me and he's saying all the problems that I had. And then he stops and he reaches down under the table and he pulls up this yearbook and he opens up this page, turns around to me and slides over and he goes, what's this picture here, this award you won? I looked down at it and it says Most Handsome.
MCCONAUGHEY: And he goes, yeah, it was just really tough, that oil of mink episode, wasn't it? And I shut that book and started laughing. My dad jacked with me and my brothers jacked with me for years after that, going, man, we almost won a $30,000 lawsuit and you got to go win most handsome. You son of a bitch. Man, what are you doing? Trying to make some money in a lawsuit and what's little brother do? Got to go win most handsome. Thanks a lot, man. You're just screwed it up for all of us.
MCCONAUGHEY: So I still get hell about that.
GROSS: So was being on the stand useful in playing a lawyer, which you've done?
MCCONAUGHEY: Well, actually, that was in a law office. But I was very interested in law back then. And actually I thought my path was going to be, I was going to be the family lawyer. I was going to SMU, is where I was going to go to school.
GROSS: Why didn't you become the family lawyer?
MCCONAUGHEY: I was going to go to SMU. I was going to - because I felt I could get a job in a law firm easier in Dallas than anywhere else that I was going to go to school. And I got a call from my middle brother and he said, you know, what about University of Texas? And I said no, I don't want to. You know, I want to go to SMU because it's Dallas, and I think that's where I can get into the workforce sooner and in a law office. And he goes, well look, Dad's not going to tell you this but I'm going to tell you this. It's going to cost 16 grand to put you in SMU because it's a private school but if you go to the University of Texas, it's going to cost six, and Dad's not going to tell you, but the oil business is not good right now, and Dad - business is really tough. It would help him out a lot. Because, of course, Dad wouldn't say, you know, I can't afford to send you to SMU.
So I called Dad and I said you know what? I had a change of mind. I want to be a Longhorn. He goes, god, dog, buddy, I like the sound of that. And I went to the University of Texas. And as soon as I got to Austin I fit into it and it fit with me, the first two years I was still thinking about going to law school but it's where I got - it's a time where I got really creative.
And decided, you know what? That's not for me. And that's when I decided to get in the storytelling business. And I didn't think I was going to be acting. I went to film school.
GROSS: So how did you become an actor then?
MCCONAUGHEY: In film school I started - when I would be directing something or the photographer or even the AD, I will always found myself jumping on the other side of the camera and acting it out what I meant, if I was trying to give direction or saying, well, let me do that.
And then actually, when I went to Hollywood I had a production assistant job that I went out there for. And I was interested in acting but I still wasn't able to shake hands with - even with myself, that was really going to be a possible career. And somebody liked what I did in "Dazed and Confused," an agent said I want to meet you and sent me out on a read, and the first read I ever had in Hollywood, two weeks after I've been out there was with a cast director named Hank McCann and it was for a film called "Boys on the Side," which I ended up getting the part. I never had to take that production assistant job.
GROSS: So you had - so "Dazed and Confused" seemed like an aberration to you 'cause what? Did you know the director, Richard Linklater, where you friends or something.
MCCONAUGHEY: No, I didn't. I met the casting director, Don Philips on that film in a bar one night. Top of the Hyatt Thursday night with my girlfriend at the time, Toni Sideros(ph). We went to that bar because I knew the bartender and he'd give me free drinks. And he said - he was in film school with me. He goes; the guy at the end of the bar is a producer. He's in town producing a film. I went down and introduced myself. Four hours later we're kicked out of the bar.
And he says have you ever acted before? And I said, man, I was in a Miller Lite commercial for, mmm, that long. And he goes, well, you might be right for this role. Come to this address tomorrow morning, 9:00. At this time it was already 3:00 A.M. And I went down there six hours later and there was a script with a handwritten note on the top of it.
And it had - this character's name was Wooderson. There was - had a few great, great lines.
GROSS: Some of them are famous. You want to recite the famous ones?
MCCONAUGHEY: Oh, well, the one that was like that sent me off - and I was just like, who is this guy? - is when they're out front of the billiards joint and the ladies were walking by, and Wooderson's checking them out, and he's there with the character played by Sasha Jenson, and Sasha's like you better stop that or you're going to end up in jail.
Wooderson's like, no, man. That's what I like about those high-school girls, man; I get older, but they stay the same age. And it's a great - that was the piece for Wooderson that I was like, that's not a line, that's his being. That's his philosophy.
MCCONAUGHEY: He wasn't - there was no attitude to it. This was this guy's DNA and he had it figured out.
GROSS: So let's play the actual scene, which we have ready to go. This is "Dazed and Confused," which his set in 1976 on the last day of high school. Matthew McConaughey plays somebody who's already out of high school. He's kind of too old for this but is still hanging with the high school kids.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DAZED AND CONFUSED")
MCCONAUGHEY: (as Dave) So you're a freshman, right?
SASHA JENSON: (as Don) Yeah.
MCCONAUGHEY: (as Dave) So tell me, man. How's this year's crop of freshman chicks looking?
JENSON: (as Don) Wood, you're going to end up in jail sometime really soon, I know that for a fact.
MCCONAUGHEY: (as Dave) Nah, man.
JENSON: (as Don) Yeah.
MCCONAUGHEY: (as Dave) Nah, man. I'll tell you. That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older; they stay the same age.
JENSON: (as Don) Yes, they do. God.
MCCONAUGHEY: Yes, they do.
GROSS: A much younger Matthew McConaughey in a scene from "Dazed and Confused" which was directed by Richard Linklater. So I've read that your parents were married and divorced, and married and divorced. Was that confusing for you?
MCCONAUGHEY: I didn't know. Again, those things you find out after, after your father passes away. I thought Mom was on some extended vacations. You know, I thought she was down in Florida and I didn't know, you know, but I didn't question why Dad and I moved into a trailer park outside of town, and it was just he and I for the whole summer. I didn't question it.
Again, my older brothers were probably went through and understood what was happening. It wasn't really confusing. I mean, there were never times where I remember, like, oh, my god. Where is Mom? I mean, the summer I had with my dad when my mom was gone, boy, that was neat.
I'm going to spend it with Dad. You know? So it wasn't ever confusing. I mean, I never questioned, oh, our mom and dad split up. Does one love me more or love me less? We didn't have - none of that.
GROSS: What was high school like for you?
MCCONAUGHEY: I had a very good time in high school. I took care of my business. I made my A's for Mom and Dad. I was socially active. I was emotionally very extroverted. I had a good friend, though, who has a lot to do with why I'm going what I'm doing today named Rob Benler(ph). He was the introvert, so to speak, and he was the one who introduced me to, hey, you don't have to go party Friday and Saturday night.
I'll go party with you Friday night but Saturday night let's go to my place and watch a movie. And so he introduced me to films. He introduced me to art. He introduced me to storytelling. He was writing scripts and he went to NYU and he was the one who said why don't you go try and act? He was the one - when I couldn't even dream about it, he was saying, no, you can do this and do it really well.
GROSS: What's one of the films that you fell in love with that made you fall in love with movies?
MCCONAUGHEY: Oh, I mean, you know, at the time I think it was like "Angel Heart," that Alan Parker film I loved, with Mickey Rourke and DeNiro and Lisa Bonet. I really loved that film. "Hud" was always a favorite of mine, the Marty Ritt directed film with Paul Newman. Later on, "Indian Runner," Sean Penn's film, a wonderful film that Viggo Mortensen and David Morse were in.
You know, "Raising Arizona" was my comedy. You know, the most quotable that I've watched over and over and over. And then again, the only movie I saw before I was, like, 15 was "King Kong." And I must say...
GROSS: Which version? The remake or the original?
MCCONAUGHEY: The remake, introducing Jessica Lange.
GROSS: Jeff Bridges.
MCCONAUGHEY: Yes. And I cried.
GROSS: That's a terrible film, I think. Really? OK, you cried.
MCCONAUGHEY: Oh, I loved it.
MCCONAUGHEY: I absolutely loved it. And I'm very interested in this measurement across the board. I was whatever age I was - 12, 13, 14 - and I've never had more enjoyment in a film-going experience than that hour and a half that I was in for that movie, at that age. I cried because I knew Jessica Lange and King Kong could have made it.
MCCONAUGHEY: I knew that they could have made it. Yeah.
DAVIES: Matthew McConaughey speaking with Terry Gross. McConaughey is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film "Dallas Buyers Club" and he stars in the HBO drama "True Detective." Coming up, David Edelstein on the new film by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.