Over the last two years, Matthew McConaughey has transformed from simply being a bankable romantic-comedy lead to a gritty performer who doesn’t hesitate to roll up his sleeves and plumb emotional depths. In the same year he showed his flashy, exhibitionist side in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, McConaughey demonstrated exceptional range in a trio of smaller films with distinctive directors: Richard Linklater’s Bernie, William Friedkin’s Killer Joe and Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy. This year’s slate, which includes Dallas Buyers Club and Mud, shows that the actor isn’t finished taking risks. He lost 47 pounds to play AIDS activist Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club and was a major force in getting the film into production; he’s working with Martin Scorsese in The Wolf Of Wall Street; and he’s shooting a sci-fi film, Interstellar. All that, and he still finds time to helm his nonprofit JKL Foundation, which focuses on the health and wellness of high-school students.
AwardsLine: What compelled you to help get Dallas Buyers Club produced?
Matthew McConaughey: It was something that I had on my desk that I was trying to do for a while, but it wasn’t popular enough for anyone to come up with the money. So we were like, “Let’s find the right team.” The more pieces you put in place, the more you show somebody that you’ve got a full package, then it becomes a more viable situation to get the money. And (director) Jean-Marc (Vallee) and I were locked, and we’re like, “Let’s set a date and do this thing this year.” We had Jared (Leto) and Jennifer (Garner) cast, and we budgeted for a lot less than Jean-Marc thought he could make it for. A week before the shoot, Jean-Marc calls me and says, “This is just not enough money to make this. We don’t have it, and we shoot in a week. (But) I’ll be there if you’ll be there.” I was like, “Yeah.” I had been losing the weight, and then I kept hearing “This is not happening.” And I was like, “This is happening.” Then that last bit of money came like a wave.
AwardsLine: What kind of feedback did you get from financiers as to why they didn’t want to come onboard?
McConaughey: (Laughs.) Well, Hollywood’s not quick to really expound on the “why not?” Usually the message that gets to me is, it’s not for them. Period piece, AIDS drama? That one line hurt. I’m sure there were many desks where that one-liner was all they read. But there was a lot of talent that had been attracted to this thing for a while. You know, the stars aligned, and we willed it through. We just had to get this to a price, get financing any way we could get it, which was under $5 million.
AwardsLine: In addition to physically preparing for the role, what other kinds of research did you do?
McConaughey: I went down and talked to (Woodroof’s) daughter and his sister, spent time with them. And I did some research on the other drugs that Ron was (getting). I found all these stories of the different drugs he tried to smuggle and the way he smuggled. He was finding loopholes in laws—there were endless amounts of those stories. When I got his diary, that was the big secret weapon because then I got to see what was going through his mind when he was alone at night. A Thursday evening, looking at his budget, it was like, “I went $3.00 over on my gas this weekend. I have that appointment Tuesday to wire that guy’s stereo. That should get me $40 bucks.” And then I’d read on and see, “Oh, that got cancelled.” He was living paycheck to paycheck, week to week. I saw a guy who was lonely—this was before he had HIV—I saw a guy who wanted to get out. The ironic thing is when he got HIV, he found something to really fight for. His sister said this five times: “He never finishes anything.” So he found the one thing he could finish (in) getting sick.
AwardsLine: You’ve said in interviews that you made a conscious decision to step back and focus on your personal life. Do you think that’s why films such as Paperboy and Killer Joe came to you?
McConaughey: There’s a science to it somehow, but I don’t know the equation. Honestly, I didn’t have things that I was grabbing ahold of. Career was going fine. Enjoyed what I was doing. But I was like, “Let’s spice things up a little.” Look, the message did get out. I could tell because there were certain things I would say no to, and then they just quit sending those things. So it went from, “Let’s not send him what we think he’s going to say no to,” to “OK, we get it.” Then there was nothing; (I was) not asked to do anything. Somewhere from there to the next eight months, I became a good idea for these things.
AwardsLine: So are you getting overwhelmed with a lot of stuff that’s in that same gritty vein when you’re reading scripts?
McConaughey: No, I’m getting much more of an array of stuff. It’s not of one specific genre. That’s what’s really fun now. I’m getting to choose. People are going, “OK, so you want to do dramas?” Yeah, I’m enjoying the dramas, but keep that comedy coming! That stuff’s fun, man!