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Why Matthew McConaughey Is One Of the Bravest Actors Out There

By Diana Drumm | Indiewire October 30, 2013 at 11:08AM

On the release of quite possibly his most anticipated film to date, we look back on the recent Oscar-winner's transition from traditional rom-coms to challenging indie work.
"Killer Joe"
Lionsgate "Killer Joe"

Keeping on this darker, more serious, winding-with-risks road, McConaughey signed on to play a detective/contract killer in William Friedkin's "Killer Joe," based on the first play of Tracy Letts ("August: Osage County"). Remember, this is the same actor who sang a "You're So Vain" duet with Kate Hudson and talked about why brown M&Ms were his favorite with Jennifer Lopez. How did he wind up in a NC-17 crime thriller involving an infamously unsavory chicken wing scene? In an interview with Movieline, Friedkin explained that he had seen McConaughey on a television talk show and saw the real McConaughey, "not this guy in the romcoms." Recognizing that McConaughey "had the right accent" and "could charm the mustard off a hotdog" (there's that charisma again), Friedkin sent him the script, which the actor originally tossed aside. After thinking it over, McConaughey "saw the humor in it as well as the danger," and as Friedkin continued to share, "he decided to take control of his own career and challenge himself with this." This challenge paid off as McConaughey won his first Saturn Award (also his first award for a leading role) and was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead.

With a hat trick of critical triumphs in 2011, McConaughey kept on going with more unconventional roles in 2012 with Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy," Jeff Nichols' "Mud" and Steven Soderbergh's second-to-last feature film "Magic Mike." In "The Paperboy," McConaughey played both against and with type as an idealistic reporter who's also a closeted homosexual. Premiering at Cannes, "The Paperboy" didn't fare too well with critics (with a "Rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes and a "C" average on Criticwire), but McConaughey escaped the reviews relatively unscathed, with co-stars Zac Efron and John Cusack receiving most of the vitriol. Also premiering at Cannes that year, "Mud" was hailed by critics (with Certified Fresh 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, a B+ average on Criticwire and Godfrey Cheshire calling it "The Best Southern Film in Years") with specific praise for McConaughey's performance as the titular Mud, an on-the-run murderer hiding out on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River and a role which had been written by Nichols with McConaughey in mind from the very beginning back in the ‘90s (after the writer-director saw him in John Sayles' "Lone Star").

"Magic Mike."
"Magic Mike."

Not hitting the festival circuit, "Magic Mike" was the smash hit of that summer, grossing over $167 million worldwide off of a $7 million budget. Coincidentally enough (considering the curse proposed above), the fact that during its opening weekend its audience was 73% female led Warner Bros. President of Domestic Distribution to compare its success to that of the "Sex and the City" movie. On a fun trivia note, it took only ten minutes of Soderbergh pitching the film over the phone for McConaughey to laughingly accept the role of Dallas (who he called "a man of action"), the former exotic dancer turned strip club owner with sights on a strip club empire. 

The role became the first of McConaughey's to receive serious (and semi-serious) Oscar buzz and though he did not receive a nomination, he did win Best Supporting Male at the Independent Spirit Awards and Best Supporting Actor a second year in a row from the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Although many critics focused on his Academy Awards snub, it should also be noted that the MTV Movie Awards overlooked him for Best Shirtless Performance, in favor of his co-star Channing Tatum, leaving us to ponder whether awards actually mean anything anymore.

"Dallas Buyers Club"
"Dallas Buyers Club"

While on the topic of awards, 2013 marks Matthew McConaughey's latest and, dare we write, greatest role yet. As a culmination of a long career buildup (see above, if you scrolled down/over), McConaughey has reached the pinnacle of his indie rebirth with his bravest and riskiest role yet in Jean-Marc Vallée's "Dallas Buyers Club." As Ron Woodroof, McConaughey plays a bigoted, drinking, drug-abusing, fucking without condoms, borderline criminal, Texan electrician/bookie/bull rider/"drug" dealer who contracts H.I.V. that later develops into AIDS. Having lost 47 pounds for the part of Woodroof, McConaughey is barely recognizable at first sight onscreen. Then you begin to notice the distinct, though now much rougher and rawer, swagger and charisma punching out of his skeletal frame.

Funnily enough, when asked at a TIFF roundtable about whether Woodroof could be a continuation of Dave Wooderson ("Dazed and Confused") after a bit of a discussion about his weight fluctuations for roles over the years, McConaughey laughingly said, "Wooderson and Woodroof? Oh that's what got you, the ‘Wood' part. I never put that together. No, I don't think so…" and continued, "That's a much larger change than going from 210 to 135 [lbs.], from Wooderson to Woodroof, no… I think Wooderson is doing just fine wherever he is." So no, our favorite ‘70s creeper did not catch a terminal STD, or at least not AIDS, and you can catch a glimpse of an updated, Linklater-approved Wooderson in this 2012 Butch Walker and the Black Widows music video.

This article is related to: Interviews, Awards, Academy Awards, Spirit Awards, Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey, Matthew McConaughey

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