A year of enforced rest and suddenly Matthew McConaughey is making the sort of films he, and we, knew he was capable of. He revealed more to Film Critic Tony Earnshaw.
Was there really anything wrong with the run of romantic comedies that Matthew McConaughey found himself starring in a few years back? The answer has to be no.
But there was always the sneaking suspicion that the rangy Texan’s good looks had somehow got him pigeonholed as the handsome hunk opposite Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson or Penelope Cruz.
When he started out he was a favourite of Richard Linklater who cast him in 1993’s Dazed and Confused and five years later in The Newton Boys.
Then there was Lone Star, a blistering crime thriller set under the harsh Texas sun, for director John Sayles. It seemed McConaughey had forgotten those days.
He woke up with a jolt in 2009 and decided to change direction. It wasn’t a move in reverse, more a swerve around an obstacle. He was compelled to pull over, take a break and think about his onward route. When he resumed his journey it was to a new destination.
“I switched gears,” says the 44-year-old simply.
“I’m in the same book, just a different chapter. I wanted to recalibrate what I was doing with my career.
“I enjoyed the last 22 years. I wouldn’t be sitting here now if I hadn’t done what I’ve done in the past – action/adventures, some romantic comedies and such.
“[But] I did take some time and make a conscious decision to say ‘No, I don’t want to do that right now’. Somewhere in that impasse – about a year and a half to two years where nothing came in – in retrospect, I can say safely that I gained some anonymity by being in the shadows.”
Inactivity made him fresh – and the offers came in from the likes of William Friedkin, who cast him as a dirty cop and part-time contract killer in Killer Joe, and Steven Soderbergh, for whom he made Magic Mike. It was a risky strategy but one that worked.
“Those roles found me at that time,” reveals McConaughey.
“Dallas Buyers Club was something that I wanted to push through. It was sitting back in the shadows and saying ‘I’m going to let something, the right thing come and find me’.”
And it did.
The movies that have followed in the five years since have boasted some critically acclaimed work.
Projects like The Lincoln Lawyer, Lee (Precious) Daniels’ The Paperboy, Mud, for director Jeff Nichols, The Wolf of Wall Street for Martin Scorsese and his Oscar-nominated turn in Dallas Buyers Club have heralded an astonishing career turnaround.
The film is the true story of a redneck rodeo rider, Ron Woodroof, who, diagnosed with AIDS and refused medication, smuggles pills across the border from Mexico for himself and other sufferers who purchase them through the Dallas Buyers Club.
Given 30 days to live, the battling Texan survived for more than six years by weighing up the pills he needed to live against his remaining white blood cells.
It was an extraordinary fight and one that he eventually lost. For an actor it was pure gold.
Woodroof’s story had been around for 15 years before it came to McConaughey.
He calls it “a wonderful ride” and recalls it as a project that he just had to do even though he had been labouring on back-to-back pictures.
In addition seemingly no one was willing to put up the hard cash to make a film about AIDS.
“I remember thinking ‘Boy, this works as good entertainment and an important story even if it was fiction’.
“But it wasn’t. Here was this guy, this anarchist given 30 days to live who, through the law, around the law, by any means necessary, found a way to live seven more years.
“It was never a super-sentimental story. It was always going to have a lot of heart and a lot of meaning and was also sad and dramatic in ways.
“I knew nothing about him, nothing about the buyers clubs that came about at that time. I just thought it was highly original [and] I knew I had to do it.”
And, in the tradition of other stars before him, the six-footer combined a staggeringly good performance with considerable weight loss. In his case it was three stones. The effect is remarkable.
On seeing the film for the first time the actor looked on himself playing Woodroof – he’s in a rodeo stall with two women – he admits to thinking: “Jesus, you look like a reptile.” After that he got lost in the story.
“I just sat there and watched this guy called Ron Woodroof take the ride. I was not reminded that it was myself playing Ron.
“There’s no guarantee of that when I watch a film [but] I watched him and afterwards I could be objective and think ‘What a wild character that was.’ There was the initial shock and then I was in.”
Was it shock or delight that greeted the Oscar nomination – his first – for playing Woodroof?
And has he prepared for how his life will go into overdrive if he wins on March 2?
McConaughey gives that luminous movie-star smile.
“The awards that I have gotten are now sitting on a bar in the house.
“We have a big bar and my kids like to check them out. They’re asking great questions.
“There’s a different story with each one.”
Maybe the best story is yet to come. Twenty-six days and counting…
Dallas Buyers Club is on nationwide release.