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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

Matthew McConaughey is charismatic. It’s obvious and oft repeated, but true. The actor with a distinctly Texan twinkle in his eye and drawl from his grin manages to draw the audience to himself onscreen fairly consistently, whether he is at the film’s center or on its periphery. His career has seen some highs ("Amistad"), some lows ("Surfer, Dude"), and some up-for-debate rom-com bows ("How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days"), but McConaughey has persevered onto a recent string of risky, off-the-beaten-path roles and giving one of the bravest and not-so-coincidentally most critically acclaimed performances of the year in "Dallas Buyers Club" (opening this Friday).
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Dallas Buyers Club

Receiving a 30-days-left-to-live prognosis, Woodroof does not take the news sitting down, literally bursting in and out of hospital rooms (or at least to great dramatic effect onscreen). In the film and in real life, he fought like hell, researching all he could about H.I.V. and AIDS and finding means outside the medical establishment for survival (or as McConaughey reflected, "A guy with a seventh grade education and he became a damn scientist of H.I.V. He studied that and knew more than a lot of the doctors did and did his own research."). Inadvertently, he helped many people along the way by dealing healthier, FDA-unapproved medicine through the legal loophole of a buyers club (hence "Dallas Buyers Club"). In the film, Woodroof befriends Rayon, an A.I.D.S.-infected homosexual transvestite (played by Jared Leto in a transformative performance), a relationship that does not deviate from Woodroof's stock character as McConaughey clarifies that its progression is "on a business sense first, and then on a more human level where they give a damn about each other."

The role of Woodroof is remarkable not only in that his story dealt with contracting H.I.V. from a staunch heterosexual, let alone bigoted, point of view during the earlier days of the AIDS epidemic (the film starts with the news Rock Hudson's death), but also that the character never feels some sort of grandiose epiphany to change his ways (an obligatory Hollywood trope) or a greater character arch beyond self-preservation, remaining a real down-right jerk until the end. Identifying these two elements as what drew him to the role, McConaughey explained with the latter that there was never "that third act turn of ‘woe be my ways,' ‘I'm sorry,' ‘I need to be the white knight and do good now,' " and that such a turn "would have been false, it would have been bullshit."

Dallas Buyers Club

In approaching this character's story, McConaughey (a co-producer on the film) said, "Stay with the anarchy of this guy. Stay with the bigoted bastard. Stay with the guy's who is out for self-preservation. Stay with the guy as a businessman. The guy wants to be Scarface, man" and that then through this man's humanity and without shoving a saint-faced turnaround down the audience's throat, "the cause, and the crusader, and the activist will be revealed." Comparing the role to one of his all-time favorite films "Hud," McConaughey continued to share, "Whether you like him or not, you respect him at the end of the story because you're like, ‘I can't believe somebody has the courage to be that much of an ass and can still sleep at night' … This is a character who, like him or not, you're like, ‘Well, that's just who he is.' And if you can go ‘that's who he is,' then you get the human. And if you've got the human, he can be a bastard, a homophobe, a bigot, whatever."

Tuning into Woodroof's driving force of rage, McConaughey gives a commanding, sometimes chilling, warts-and-all performance, fully encapsulating the really awful, politically incorrect elements of the guy while also shedding a light on his deeper core. Rather than assuming an attitude or blending together a few key characteristics, McConaughey became Woodroof, an undeniably unique and heavily flawed character. As an actor, McConaughey stuck to his gut in following the basic crux of this man's story to the end. In another's hands, Woodroof most likely would have been intolerable, let alone unlikable, and/or fallen into the trappings of self-righteousness. Instead, McConaughey and his unique combination of earnestness and charisma enabled this performance to bring forth an unadulterated conviction that rises beyond the character flaws. In so doing, the character strikes the audience to their own most human core, that of self-preservation and survival, turning it into an admirable quality and the character into a true anti-hero.

In the role of Ron Woodroof, Matthew McConaughey took on the bravest role of his career, with the challenge being due to more than just character complexities. Dallas Buyers Club tackles issues ranging from H.I.V. and AIDS to homosexuality to big corporations to the medical establishment, with McConaughey as the de facto face of the project. A small independent film years in the making (after a few team changes, director Jean-Marc Vallée joined in 2010 and filming started in 2012), it was shot in New Orleans over the course of 6 weeks with an estimated $4 million budget. In 2012, the production became international news due to tabloids picking up images of a very gaunt McConaughey. With that, anticipation began to build and Oscar buzz began to swirl even before the film hit the editing room. This combined with McConaughey's recent upswing meant that "Dallas Buyers Club" could either cement him as a serious dramatic actor in an echelon he had yet to reach or leave him in the dust of a few smaller, low-profile (outside of the film world) successes. 

Dallas Buyers Club

The risk has already begun to reap a few rewards with McConaughey winning a Hollywood Award for Best Actor and a pending nomination for the Gotham Award for Best Actor. It's not even Halloween and many have begun to declare McConaughey a frontrunner in the Best Actor Oscar race, including our own Peter Knegt. Whether or not McConaughey wins the bald-headed golden statue, his performance has earned a spot amongst film's bravest performances and this role will go down in history as a career-defining one for the actor.

McConaughey himself looks at this three-year upswing simply as "a really healthy time in my career." After being pigeonholed in the system for a decade, he took his work in his own hands and changed course towards more fulfilling roles -- "I'm enjoying and loving acting more than I ever have and I'm getting an experience from my work." With Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" being released next month (Nov. 15th) and Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" lined up for 2014, it looks like McConaughey is on track for even more success both commercially and critically along with his probably Oscar nomination.


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





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