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Honor Roll 2012: Matthew McConaughey Wants a Viagra Study, Has an 18 Handicap and Thinks You've Got to "Enjoy the Architecture"

Photo of Jay A. Fernandez By Jay A. Fernandez | Indiewire December 6, 2012 at 5:05PM

For a while there, it looked as if Matthew McConaughey would never shake his on-screen image as the stoned, shirtless, good ol’ boy who mugged through Southern-fried thrillers and C-grade rom coms. But 2012 finally stuck a pin in all that as the 43-year-old Texas-born star stretched in every way he could across five films that showed his range and, for the first time, sparked discussion of awards consideration.
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"Magic Mike"
"Magic Mike"

For a while there, it looked as if Matthew McConaughey would never shake his on-screen image as the stoned, shirtless, good ol’ boy who mugged through Southern-fried thrillers and C-grade rom coms. But 2012 finally stuck a pin in all that as the 43-year-old Texas-born star stretched in every way he could across five films that showed his range and, for the first time, sparked discussion of awards consideration.

This year, McConaughey starred in Lee Daniels’ Southern potboiler “The Paperboy,” William Friedkin’s pitch-black crime thriller “Killer Joe,” Jeff Nichols’ indie drama “Mud,” Steven Soderbergh’s stripper comedy “Magic Mike” and the crime comedy “Bernie,” which reunited him with the filmmaker who gave him his brig break 20 years ago in “Dazed and Confused,” Richard Linklater. It’s a potent mix that led to his New York Film Critics’ Circle honor for best supporting actor in “Bernie” and “Magic Mike” earlier this week, and likely will lead to more rewards from the Golden Globes, the Oscars — or both.

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The new plan apparently remains in place. McConaughey is working with Martin Scorsese on the real-life drama “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and he is in the process of shooting the indie period AIDS drama “Dallas Buyers Club.” Indiewire recently spoke to the actor on the phone from the set of the latter — where he was prepping for an on-location rodeo scene at Louisiana State — about his career resurgence, how golf relates to the Oscars and just how Wooderson would feel about the recently passed laws legalizing marijuana.

Honor Roll is a daily series for December that will feature new or previously published interviews, profiles and first-person stories of some of the year's most notable cinematic voices. Today, we're running a new interview with Matthew McConaughey.

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"The Paperboy"
"The Paperboy"
A lot of people think of this past year as a resurgence for you. Does this past year feel different to you, or is it all one fluid continuum?

A little bit of both. I looked around, at my life and career, and said, “I’m in a good spot.” I was reading some of the same action and romantic comedy stuff. Nothing was that exciting. I had done those for a while. They were fun. They treated me well, I treated them well. They paid my rent. I said, “I want to do something else – I don’t know what it is, but I want something to scare me.” That was a word I remember telling myself. And I wanted it to scare me in a good way. There’s two sorts of fear: one you embrace and one you should listen to and turn the other way. Good fear is when you’re scared because you don’t know the answer, and looking at a role, “Whoa. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be able to do with that; this is really courageous and daring material, I’m not sure about it. But I’m excited, because I know I’ll come out the other side, I just gotta go through the blind spots, dive in, and say, ‘I’m going to take it on.’” It’s very different than a fear when you’re trying to make it work because you think it would be eccentric for eccentricity’s sake — that’s not the good fear. That’s the one you should probably turn away from and go, “No, the reason my gut isn’t into this is because it’s wrong.”

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It’s quite a mix, and it’s an impressive thing to push into all those territories.

I had worked with Linklater before, so I know how he works, I know how I work with him. He and I can create a wonderful character together. The other directors — from Friedkin to Soderbergh, Lee Daniels to Jeff Nichols — they’re very singular-vision guys. The advantage of independent filmmaking, which all these are independent, is maintaining artistic integrity. Meaning, if you and your director are on the same page, and you find you have a similar gauge of what value is, or what good work is, or what the story is, you’re going to be able to do your damnedest, to do your best, and go in and tell it that way. That doesn’t mean you’re going to make a good movie. But when you get into a large, studio film, because there’s more money on the line, because there’s more marketability on the line, there are more outside influences besides the director and the actors that come in with opinions. A lot of those opinions are good opinions, but there are more opinions.

You’ve done your share of studio movies and tiny independents. Has your approach to choosing why you would choose a role in an independent film changed over the last twenty years?

Somewhat. Number one, when you start shooting, when you’re in production, independent filming is, by far, my choice. Because you don’t have a big budget, so you don’t have time to be precious with so many things that you have time to be precious with on larger-budget films. What I mean by that is, independent film, you’re already up against the 8-ball before you start. The hardest part about independent film and getting the damn thing made is getting it financed and actually shooting on the first day. Then, you’re off to the races. You show up to work in the morning, you show up to set, 7:30 am, and you don’t leave the set until you wrap that day. Now, I personally like that. I like being tired at the end of the day because we shot five pages. I like that much more than I like shooting a page and a half, and you shot a scene and went back to your trailer for an hour and a half.

Mud
I honestly don’t know how you guys do that. Obviously there are a lot of great perks to your job, but how do you stay sharp when you spend half of your day sitting around and waiting?

It’s a real challenge, the constant entry and reentry and exit and reentry. The art you gotta learn when you’ve been doing it for a while is the anticipation, the getting-ready, for: “Okay, we’re calling you back to set.” Let me give you an example. “Okay, we’re setting up the shot, 45-minute break.” If I’ve got 45 minutes, I’m going to go to my trailer. I’m not going to stay in character for 45 minutes. I’m going to go back, I’m going to look at the newspaper, I might take a phone call. About fifteen minutes before those 45 minutes are up, I start getting back into my man. As we’re just about ready — I know when I’ve peaked, I know when I’ve touched the point where I’m relaxed — there’s a knock on the door that says, “Um, sorry, we need another 30 minutes.”

I don’t know how you do it. Nobody could do his best work in that format.

I love the game of golf. It’s a little bit like the game of golf. If you look at the game of golf, say a round takes five hours, all right? But how much of those five hours are you actually taking a club back, swinging through and hitting a shot? Maybe 3%.

Speaking of which, what’s your handicap?

Oh, I’m like an 18 now. I haven’t picked up a golf club… I used to be a 4 in high school. I’m an 18 now. It’s way, way under the surface. I get it for, like, six-hole spurts, and then I just start tripling and quad-ing and everything else. And you wonder where it went.

That’s what happens when you have kids, too — you can’t get out on the course as much.

The other thing that happens when you have a family is you’ve really got to pick your hobbies — or hobby. If you used to watch football on Saturday and Sunday, guess what? That’s not happening anymore. You end up going, “I’m going to pick my one game.” [laughs]

And what’s terrible about that is that when the game sucks, you feel like, “Aw, I put everything, all my attention into this.” I do that with film screenings. Because I want to come home, I want to be with my wife and my kids, I’ll go, “I’m going to see a screening once a week.” And if I don’t enjoy the movie, I’m infuriated. It’s like, “Man, that was my one shot!”

Man, I’m telling you, I like watching films, but I have had two bad film theater experiences, where I actually say, “I’m heading out, getting in the car, I’m driving to the theater, I’m gonna go in and watch the movie and then I’m going to come home.” It’s basically a little over three hours door-to-door. If I have a bad experience, I am truly pissed off. If you get screwed out of three hours, and you got took? You’re like: “Oh, you son of a bitch.” It’s true.

"Bernie"
Millennium Entertainment "Bernie"
It’s entirely likely that some of these films and some of your performances are part of the awards discussion. What’s your sense of awards campaigning? How do you approach that, when you start getting asked to do events and things that you know are geared toward an awards-campaign context?

I’ve got some thoughts. I got flown to L.A. to do some campaigning for being a contender for the role of Dallas in “Magic Mike.” I flew to L.A. last week for one day; I’ve never done that before. I’ve never been asked to do that before. So this is really my first foray into it. They’re telling me I’m a contender now. I suppose after that, if someone gets to the next stage and you actually get to be one of the nominated actors for best actor or supporting actor, whatever, then I think it becomes a real, full-on: OK, this could take the next few months, this is what you do.

Right, this becomes your job.

The good thing about it is, the work that I did, the roles that we’ve talked about, the year that I had, is the reason for the conversation we’re having right now. That is actually very relaxing, because most of the press — even with the junket for a movie — 60% of it is, “So how’s your wife?” And you either answer it, or you’re like, “None of your business.” But you’re not having to deflect personal questions or gossipy things. You’re actually in because the work you did is front and center, and I get to respond to that work and keep to what I do as a career. That’s kind of relaxing. I could talk to you about the films I did last year for five hours and not get exhausted.

Hey, so how is your wife?

Exactly.

Is this a promising time for the legalization of marijuana? Seems like Election Day was pretty good.

Oh, in Washington and Colorado?

Yeah! I know you’re paying attention to that.

I paid attention more to politics this year than I have in any other year. That particular law passing doesn’t really affect me one way or the other. I’m more interested in what the actual outcome, socially, will be. I’m interested to look at it as an example. I’m interested to look at crime rates in those states in ten years. I’m interested to see what the economy is like, and how small moments like this can affect in a positive or a negative way, because I don’t know the answer. What does it do? Does it make any difference to the cartel dealer on the street? I don’t know. From what I’m reading now, it will not — but I’d like to see. It’s probably not going to be near as big of a change. But, for example: I’m interested in a study saying, “Well, since Viagra came out, did divorce rates go down or did they go up?”

"Killer Joe"
Lionsgate "Killer Joe"
Would a Spirit or a Gotham Award, a Golden Globe, mean something to you?

Sure it would, absolutely. For one thing, any time you’re recognized for some work you did, you’d be foolish not to embrace that, appreciate that, and also look into the reality of why. In whatever adulation you get, there’s truth and there’s not truth. And wherever they dog you, and they say it was horrible — there’s truth and there’s not truth. It’s human nature to like to read the adulation more. So to decipher through that, I really like to, in my own life and in my work daily, dissect what is consistent that I was doing that translated, that it felt right to me and it obviously translated. Sometimes the answer is: You just got lucky. Sometimes the answer is: Hey, no, it wasn’t luck because I did this better or different, or I had this attitude. Something in my work, the preparation I did different, I need to learn that and carry that over.

Now, the arts and awards: it’s not near as objective as sports. A 100-yard dash, a basketball game, golf: all of those have very clear finish lines for who gets first. The fastest score wins the race, the lowest score wins the golf game, the highest score wins the basketball game. So if you’re going to sit there and judge and have a competition, and give awards for art, it’s not as objective, it’s not as clear. But I do wholly believe that it is true that, yes, there is a gauge of what qualifies or not, what is better art than something else. Now, I think the job is to whittle it down to, what’s the group that all of this stuff is excellent one way or another? And the stuff that’s not in here, we don’t deem as excellent as what is in here that we’re judging. And then, when you pick out of those what you deem a winner, then you could argue, “Oh, but I thought that other one was better!” But yes, there is a gauge, and there should be. And they get picked because they’re better quality, or captured a piece of humanity better, or had a more original take on a subject that has been told before and was told in a different way. If you can’t sit there and judge and have an opinion on that, well, then, what are we doing? Why do you do what you do instead of something else? Because you’re trying to be great at it.

It’s been 20 years since you showed up as Wooderson in “Dazed and Confused”—

Now, Wooderson is happy about Washington and Colorado. [laughs]

Exactly. Do you have any words of wisdom, 20 years on, for anyone just starting out his career as an actor?

Yeah. “The guards at the gate are not there to keep you in, they’re there to keep you out.” That was told to me by Joel Schumacher, which is a very good take on what to expect from Hollywood. Another thing would be — and this is the most simple one — someone wants to be an actor, you want to be a writer, don’t act like one.

What do you mean by that?

What I mean by that is, you come in and go, like, “I’m trying to be…” No, no, no, you’re already on the outskirts. You’re already receding. Unh-uh. It’s not a business that you get invited into, and someone goes, “I don’t know if you can do this or not, but maybe you should try it.” No. You’ve got to start being one — right then. There’s no Help Wanted sign. Don’t act like one, be one. You want to be a writer? Start writing. You want to be a filmmaker? Start shooting stuff on your phone right now. The other thing is this: It doesn’t come quick, so you have to stick to the process. If you can love it and be good at it, work on the process. Fuck the result. I didn’t know that all the time. I’ve learned that here in the later years. You have to love the process. You go bust your butt, and you worked for two years on a film and you give it all your blood, sweat and tears, and it comes out and goes straight to DVD and it’s gone. And you’re crushed. That’s legitimate pain, legitimate disgust, but — enjoy that daily process: the architecture of the creation. Enjoy the architecture.

This article is related to: Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike, The Paperboy, Mud, Killer Joe, Bernie, Honor Roll 2012, Interviews, Awards