Matthew McConaughey, 'Magic Mike' Star, On 'The Year Of McConaughey'

The McConaissance: Matthew McConaughey On His Great Year
Actor Matthew McConaughey arrives at the NYLON Guys and INC International Concepts August/September issue cocktail party on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Actor Matthew McConaughey arrives at the NYLON Guys and INC International Concepts August/September issue cocktail party on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

When Matthew McConaughey calls, he introduces himself by simply saying, "McConaughey." This has probably been his introduction of choice for some time now, but it does project a knowing confidence worthy of a man who's having a year like the one that McConaughey is currently enjoying. And there's no doubt, he is enjoying 2012 -- or, if you will, the Year Of McConaughey.

In 2012, McConaughey eschewed the romantic comedies that he had become known for to instead star in four films outside his comfort zone: "The Paperboy," "Killer Joe" (in which McConaughey plays a cop/hitman who develops an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl), "Bernie" and "Magic Mike." Those last two roles earned McConaughey a Best Supporting Actor win from the New York Cilm Critics Circle. What follows is a very self-aware McConaughey (he references running on the beach shirtless twice) discussing his career shift and why he just couldn't do one more romantic comedy even though he loved the "mailbox money" they brought in. (Again, yes, very self aware.)

What's going on?
Going to work. Going to work. [Ed. note: McConaughey called while taking a break from his new film "Dallas Buyers Club."]

I feel you've had a great year.
Yeah, right?

I'm serious.
I mean, I know! I know what you mean, man. What's great about it is that it's a year that's still giving. You know?

I've heard "The year of McConaughey" mentioned more than once.
"The year of McConaughey" ... you know, I've heard someone say that, too. Some writer somewhere told me, "It's a McConaissance." I was like, that's fun. I don't know if that's a real word, but it is now. It's got good demeanor to it.

That should be put on a plaque.
Put it on a plaque or put it in a bowl and stir it up and eat it. I don't know, but it sounds good, though.

Congratulations on the New York Film Critics award.

If I'm you when I hear the news, I'm thinking, for which movie?
Well, you know, I thought ... number one, it caught me on my blind side, this is my first tour of being the subject in this awards season. And this one just showed up. And all of a sudden it just got written, "Hey, you won." I was like, "Oh, that's an award. That’s not even ... that's just a straight award." "Magic Mike" is what I figured, because that's the one that seemed to be getting more supporting role attention. But then they said, "for 'Mike' and 'Bernie'." I was like, "Wow! All right." And then I was like, "Well, how does that work? Is it one for each?" So, anyway, I looked online at past winners. Anyway, there were two: Dean Stockwell and Daniel Day-Lewis are the other two that won Best Supporting for two roles in two films.

When I first heard that you won an acting award, my initial reaction was "Killer Joe."
Well, "Killer Joe" is a lead role.

Right. I didn't know which one you had won at the time.
I'm so glad that "Killer Joe" is being brought up. It got brought up first at the Independent Spirit Awards as a lead actor and "Magic Mike" for the supporting actor. Because "Killer Joe" is such a ballsy and brave.

It's a dark tale.
It's a dark tale and we went with the NC-17, which, inherent in that, means you don't get the access to as many eyes. And did it get seen? It got seen. But it didn't obviously become a big hit like "Magic Mike" -- nor did we ever think it would. But it got seen enough and recognized enough that people pointed it out and now they are bringing up my performance. I'm glad it got seen enough because sometimes you get a movie like that and there are great performances out there that never saw the light of day to even get considered.

About a year ago -- so this was before The McConaissance started ...
[Laughs] That's not my word either!

I know, but I have to use it now.
[Laughs] OK.

But a well-known publicist told me that you were the most consistent and underrated actor in Hollywood in terms of both performance and box office. Did you ever feel that you were being taken for granted? You're a very famous person, but not everyone talks about your acting. At least until this year.
I never felt like something was being taken for granted. I mean, I don't dabble and spend much mind or time dealing with, I don't know, people's perceptions of me. I truly don't. I figure there are ways to be very deliberate about how you are perceived. I'm not foolish. I'm not an open book by any means. I'm smart enough not to be foolish like that. At the same time, I lead my real life. I engage in my real life. Because I choose to do that -- my choice with me where I go. Whether I'm running on the beach without my shirt or whether I'm going out with my kids or going to church or going out to dinner -- I don't choose to insulate myself in engaging in real life. Hence, the public kind of almost knows me as much through my real life that they see through the rag mags. You know what I mean?

I do.
You know, some could argue that it's counter-intuitive to how you're perceived as a "serious actor," or what have you. But I chose to just go, "I'm just going to keep doing the work." I'm not questioning my own acting. Just keep doing the work and I'm going to keep living my life, which is kind of the mantra I'm working off of, "just keep livin'." I do know actors who deliberately insulate themselves from any kind of public life or being seen because they believe it's good for business. And, you know what? In a lot of ways, many of them are right.

How so?
Because what it does is -- the audience, the critics, the so and so -- when an actor comes out with a film and a performance, it's like, "Oh, I have to go to the theater because I haven't seen that person." Do you know what I mean? One of the great pleasures of going to see a Daniel Day-Lewis film: you haven't seen him in five years. Where have you been? So, it's a special event, right? Well, if you want to go see a movie that I'm in, it still may be a special event for you, but, you don't feel like you don't know where I've been.

That's true.
You're able to say, "He's kind of been around, but now I'm going to go watch him work."

The reason I asked that is because it's obvious that the movies you've been this year in aren't something like "Fool's Gold."
No, no, no.

It's not like you haven't done serious roles before, but you have four movies this year that are really different than what we've seen from you in the past.
Very different.

Did you say to yourself, "I need to do something different. I need to stop doing romantic comedies for a little bit"?
It's kind of two parts. I was still getting comedy scripts, action scripts and romantic comedy scripts. And some of them were good. But, they felt, for me, somewhat repetitive. So I said, "You know what? I like those. I feel I go do a good job at them. And I love the paycheck that comes with it."

And you have a history of making romantic comedies that do well at the box office.
Dude, for a few years there, there were a few rom-coms. And you go make them for $30 or $35 million and then it gets up into six digits. And, yeah, the mailbox money keeps coming. It's beautiful. And there's fun and buoyancy that comes with those that some people actually don't understand, that we do actually take for granted. So, that's the ticket in those. So, I just said, "You know what? There's nothing about them that sort of scared me." So I wanted to seek some new challenges. Find some roles that I have a really healthy fear about doing that are really going to turn me on creatively -- that will light my fire and make me go, "Whoa, that's shaking my floor." And I don't know how or sure what I'm going to do with this character, but I'm willing to dive in head first and trust that I'll come up on the other side with an identity of who this character is. And that happened with all four of these roles. And it happened with "Mud" that's coming out next year and it happened with "Dallas Buyers Club." There's a consistency with all of these characters that I can tap and I've recently, just kind of thinking about it, understood it.

I found five characters that had really clear and defining obsessions ... there's a single immovable force that is the personal politics of the character. So, when you put those characters in the real world, you're going to have some drama. Because when two things meet, when the real world and an obsessed character meet, something has got to give. Which is very different than a rom-com. You can't grab onto obsession in a comedy or in a romantic comedy because the whole movie has to be sort of buoyant and fleet of foot.

You used the word "repetitive." Why did you get to the point where it felt that way with romantic comedies? It's not like you didn't have dramatic roles before with movies like "A Time to Kill," "Amistad" and even "We Are Marshall."
Well, I don't think it went into repetitive. I mean, one more would have felt repetitive. I also noticed that the romantic comedies are the ones that did the best at the box office, which means more people saw them -- which means more people identified me with them. And that's all well and good, but, just as we were talking earlier about careers and "do you live a public life or not?" -- you can have an identity put on you that, in real life, doesn't mean you can't do something else. But, it could become the majority of the life anyone sees you in, including the industry. So, I've done a pretty consistent job over the years of noticing, "Oh, OK, this is how I'm portrayed." I'm going to counter that a little bit. And, sometimes, I've countered it and, hey, guess what? Not many people saw it.

I'm guessing something like "Frailty." You went against type, but it didn't catch on like your movies this year did.
It didn't catch on. Right. So, another thing that has happened this year and has taken the hat off of the rabbit: you can have great characters, a really focused director, an original story -- but you don't know if it's going to see the light of day. They're independent, they don't have the studio machine behind them that you know you're going to get at least get a big dopamine push. Now, except for "Magic Mike" -- that subject material, it was obvious, "Hey, this is sellable." And Warner Bros. came to that early and said, "We can sell this."

And having Steven Soderbergh involved helps, too.
Yeah. And "Bernie" is a little film that keeps on giving. It won't go away. Do you know what I mean?

It has had a remarkable shelf life.
Yeah! You know, "Killer Joe" had enough light of day where it made an impact, you know. It's made a little dent and people are recognizing it. You've got "Paperboy," it didn't do great and it has a really split opinion on it and it didn't make a bunch at the box office or anything...

People did write about it, though.
It got written about a lot! "Mud," that comes out next year, I think that's got a good shot -- it's just a beautiful story. But these other four, you don't know if these independents are going to see the light of day, man ... the next thing you know, they're on the third row at Netflix. You know what I mean? Gathering dust.

It is remarkable, considering the subject matter, that people saw "Killer Joe."
Well, you look at another thing and it's somewhat true in "Paperboy" and true in "Killer Joe" as well. Those have inherent shock value. And I was very aware of that. Not just the whole role, but I can circle two scenes that me, personally, was like, "Oh, put a tab on that. That's shocking and is going to be written about." You know? "Killer Joe" and the chicken scene.

That's not going to be ignored.
[Laughs] No! No.

"Magic Mike" is interesting because at first it's like you're playing with your own public image. It starts with you saying, "All right, all right."
All right, all right, all right -- the first lines I ever said. The first words, the first three lines I said in Linklater's "Dazed and Confused," the first time I was ever on film in 1992. And I looked at Dallas and said, "Yeah, that's a moniker -- all right, all right, all right -- that I have customized for different characters and have them say it different ways and Dallas is obviously one of those.”

People are going to love the Wooderson/Dallas relationship you just put in our heads.
Yeah, I mean, Wooderson and Dallas ... you figure Wooderson and Dallas are hanging out somewhere.

I could see them being friends.
And you want to be there. [Laughs] Do you know what I mean? That's where you want to be.

I'd pay money to be there.
But that's where the movie starts, that wasn't my first day. I wasn't trying to channel any Wooderson, Dallas is a completely different beast. Much more ambitious and much more of a performer. Much more of a pro-capitalist. Dallas is a performer, a wordsmith, a silver-tongued devil. He was Jim Morrison and "A Clockwork Orange," Malcolm McDowell. He was a lightning rod. He was very, very different. An exhibitionist, too. So there was nothing in me going, not one second did I say, "Oh, people will know that I run shirtless on the beach so, hey, I want to do this now." I didn't go there. I didn't even think about that.

"Bernie" is interesting because I wanted to see more of your character. But it was also fun watching Jack Black do something different.
Isn't he great?

I spoke to him when the movie came out and mentioned that I wished that he would take more roles like "Bernie."
What did he say?

He sarcastically threatened me with "Gulliver's Travels 2" and "3."
[Laughs] Yeah... Well, I thought he was wonderful in the film. That last image of him walking away to jail, with the high pants pulled up. That walk, I have that image branded in my mind. And I love that image. For me, that was always the poster.

Looking ahead, it's not like you have "Fool's Gold 2" coming up. You have "Dallas Buyers Club" and Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Yeah, some great stories, man. Just killer stories. And that's really turning me on -- I'm really finding characters that I can hang my hat on to humanity with them. Not judge them, not morality but reality. And it's freakin' fun.

You've lost a lot of weight for "Dallas Buyers Club." With that much sacrifice -- and maybe that's too heavy of a word -- you hope people notice this movie, right?
Let me comment on that. It brings up a really good point that I have a very specific belief. And I'm so happy to say this, just how honestly I believe this. It's not an intellectual thought -- it's actually a real belief. Sure, I hope people see it. Any artist, the work you do, if it's a painting or if it's a performance, you hope it translates to a common denominator with the people that they see something in their own life in there. Or they see something in somebody else's life. That's what's fun about sharing art. But, here's what I’m so happy to say: I'm enjoying the process of making a movie and being characters and putting together the architecture of a character in the last six films so much, if the movie ended -- and I've lost 41 pounds ... They could say, "Guess what, the movie business is closed down and we don't put movies out anymore. That movie is in a vault and it will never be seen." I would go, "That sucks." But then I'd be happy because the process has been so rewarding. Personally. To me, personally, it's been so rewarding.

I'm well past being sort of, "Oh, the toil I've put myself through. I hope the hard work and the weight loss gets seen." No, no, no. I'm so far past that, I'm already into the positive of how much I'm enjoying it. Because it's this great job where we get to play make-believe and I didn't have to go to the store and buy a Halloween suit. I actually got to lose that much weight and the mental and spiritual work to be this guy -- that's fun.

So, based on that, could you go back and do another romantic comedy and be satisfied? Because you come across very happy and very rewarded from these types of roles.
No, it would be a new challenge. Look, what's fun about a romantic comedy -- the challenge of them -- is the lightness. The buoyancy. They are Saturday characters. There's not much responsibility. You don't laugh at "love is hard, hate is hard." No, no, no, you just keep it light and keep it on the clouds, right? You drop anchor and really hang your hat on some obsession, as I was talking about. In a romantic comedy, you sink the fucking ship. So, I'll hang my hat here and I've been so lovin' doing this with these darker dramas, I'm going to look up and I'm going to go, "You know what, man? I'm ready for a Saturday."

I feel like it's another challenge. The challenge, which is overlooked quite a bit, is that to keep yourself fun going deeper. And that's very healthy to sit there and go, "I'm doing a film where I've got three months, 90 days worth of Saturdays." And that's not easy when you're a workaholic or a perfectionist. You're wanting it to be Monday morning. You want to get to work and get your stuff done and do well. It's mentally great to go, "This is supposed to look and feel easy." Keep it breezy -- that's healthy.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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