Matthew McConaughey‘s remarkable ride over the last two years arguably started at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where he had two films — Mud and The Paperboy in competition — and another, Magic Mike, about to be released. Now after a Best Actor Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club a couple of months ago, he blew back into Cannes today to tout his first movie post-Oscar: Sea Of Trees to shoot this summer under the direction of Gus Van Sant, who joined McConaughey for a discussion for buyers from around the world moderated by Alex Walton. Walton is the former Exclusive Media head of International Sales and Distribution who is launching his new company Bloom (with partner and Sea Of Trees producer Ken Kao) here in Cannes this week. Both McConaughey and Van Sant said the project originally came to them through its other producer Gil Netter, no stranger to hard-to-describe projects like Life Of Pi and The Blind Side, both netting him Best Picture Oscar nominations.
Actually for McConaughey this is a project he had lined up for a while and told me about when I sat with him at last February’s Oscar Nominees lunch. He was as excited about it then as he seemed today, although he said it’s not easy to describe. “It’s not the easiest one to explain,” he told me after the presentation, “but we hope it will be top notch.” McConaughey said the script by Chris Sparling was the best he had read in five years. “It’s high-quality. It gave me the chills in parts,” he told buyers. It deals with a suicidal man’s visit to a dense forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, a place where people go to contemplate life and death. There he sets out to help save a Japanese man (likely played by Ken Watanabe) and changes his own life in the process. Although it sounds like pretty heady material, McConaughey was careful to use the word “action” a few times in discussing the elements in the movie. This is, after all, a group of international buyers in Cannes, and it’s tough to sell metaphysics. Walton, who told me they have held back all territories until Cannes, doesn’t even like to use the word “sell” when talking about the business aspects of pushing his new company’s first project. “We’re here today to share it rather than sell it,” he laughed. In addition to the hopeful Watanabe casting, Walton said they are also looking at Naomi Watts for the role of McConaughey’s wife.
Van Sant, who described the film as a “journey the character goes through, a sort of purgatory to reach the end and get better”, told me it’s tough to talk about any movie he hasn’t even started shooting yet. In fact they go back tomorrow to continue research and scouting for locations. Van Sant said he prefers to shoot in and around the area in Japan the story is set, but failing that would also consider the Northwest, which has a similar look and feel. “I’ve never talked about a film before it was made , as far as I know. But we’re doing it today. So much happens on a film when you are actually in the process, as it will with this one too,” he said.
As for McConaughey’s quick return trip to Cannes, certainly a lot has happened for him since he was last here. I asked what specifically has changed even since winning that Oscar. He laughed at that one. “People respond ‘yes’ to RSVPs more often and more quickly,” he joked. “What has really changed is that I am getting more scripts, I’ve got more choices which is great coming off of that. If anything it’s giving me more opportunities , more things to choose from, which I’m embracing. And in the middle of getting much more I can more easily now personally ask myself ‘what do I want to do that turns me on? What experience am I going to get out of it?’ So yeah I am getting a lot of things. Surprisingly a lot of detective things and that’s probably off of True Detective as well, but good stuff. I’m still looking for things that scare me a little bit. This one (Sea Of Trees) scares me, but in a good way, ” he said, adding that he is looking forward to working with a true artist like Van Sant.
As for the aforementioned eight-episode HBO series True Detective, there’s no rest for McConaughey, who just came off the grueling Oscar-season circuit and now is hitting Emmy season for the show which has been entered surprisingly in the uber-competitive Drama Series categories. “I think most people thought it would be in miniseries but they chose to put it in drama series instead. So that’s starting. Now I’ve got my Emmy screeners so I have to start watching those, ” he said. He added that he and his wife actually watched True Detective every week as it aired — one episode at a time. “That was my favorite thing to do every Sunday night. I made it but I still didn’t know what was going to happen. I was just a regular viewer,” he said. He also said he would consider doing more TV and would have no hesitation based on the quality of some of the shows.
As for his next film in theaters — Christopher Nolan’s top-secret Interstellar, which opens in November — he still can’t really talk about that one. “I could have given you a version to explain it but I was sworn not to. It’s very cool. They were great to work with,” he said, noting that the new trailer is going out tomorrow with Godzilla and he’s looking forward to seeing it himself. Meanwhile, the journey with Sea Of Trees awaits.