Matthew McConaugey at an event this week hosted by Film Comment. Photo by Godlis
In 2012, Hollywood gossip publications gave early glimpses of Matthew McConaughey looking rather unwell. The pics were perhaps even more shocking because fans had just seen the star looking very fit in Steven Soderbergh's male stripper hit Magic Mike (which won him a Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor). But McConaughey was hard at work on Jean-Marc Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club, based on the story of Dallas electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof. A hard-ass tough guy and womanizer, Woodroof contacted HIV in the mid-80s, a time when misunderstanding (and silence) about the disease was rampant. It was also a fairly quick death sentence. In Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey portrays a man who skirted the medical establishment and headed abroad to import promising—but still unapproved—drugs to treat the disease.
Between diagnosis and becoming rogue pharmacist, Woodroof begins an unlikely business partnership with Rayon (Jared Leto), a flamboyant transwoman who is also suffering from the disease. Woodroof is not exactly an LGBT ally—in fact, he's quite the opposite early on—but he is also practical and sees his relationship with Rayon as potentially lucrative. The unlikely duo sidesteps the FDA, their doctors and society's prejudice against people with the disease to provide a lifeline for themselves and others battling HIV.
Both McConaughey and Leto received Golden Globe nominations for their performances in Dallas Buyers Club. Tuesday evening, the actor joined Film Society's Eugene Hernandez at a special awards season screening of the film in Midtown Manhattan for a conversation in front of a packed theater. McConaughey's car got stuck in traffic, but the crowd waited it out to hear from the star who has won accolades for his performance. During the half hour chat, he talked about his weight loss and the film's two-decade road to the big screen. He recalled the other stars who had been attached to play his role before the script found its way to him, not talking to Jared Leto before seeing him as Rayon on set, and why the film has been a highlight of the last couple years, which he says have been some of the "richest" of his career.
Here are 10 things we learned from Matthew McConaughey (in his words) about Dallas Buyers Club at the Film Society event:
► On the overall modus operandi of Dallas Buyers Club: "This movie is not about dying, it's about trying to live."
► …and keeping the story authentic: "This entire movie is born out of rage (from Ron). I found it original in that it's about HIV and this time from a heterosexual's point of view. But it's not a story about 'the cause' and he didn't become a crusader. But I thought, if you keep this guy as the selfish son of a bitch that he was, then the humanity would reveal itself. Trust that the crusader would reveal itself. You don't need that moment of 'woe be my ways…' That would have been wrong, that would have been bullshit."
► Acknowledging not "sympathizing" with Woodroof: "It's not my job to make people sympathize with this character, but if it's a real person, you'll empathize. I remember saying to myself, it's not about the 'morality,' it's about the 'reality,' so trust the story."
► Commenting on the importance of his dramatic weigh loss (almost 50 lbs) for the movie: "Losing weight allowed me to get myself prepared for what I had to do."
► The long, long journey Dallas Buyers Club had from script to the big screen: "It's been around for almost 20 years now. I saw it after it had been around for 15 or 16 years. I don't remember how it came to me or how it got on my desk…"
► On the Hollywood leading men once in line to play Woodroof: "At one time, Brad Pitt was attached to it and Ryan Gosling was attached to it. For whatever reasons, it didn't get made…"
► Acknowledging that, at one point, nobody wanted to support the movie with him in the starring role: "I remember saying, okay I want to do this, but nobody wants to finance this right now with you in it. But I said, 'Don't let this go or let another actor get ahold of it. Let's make sure we can keep this so we can get it made sometime.'"
► Looking back on his recent work: "The last couple of years have been the richest of my career. Quite a few of the films were critically acclaimed or right down the middle, but they had their own 'identity.'" (referring to Killer Joe, The Paperboy and Magic Mike).
► On not formally talking to Jared Leto before they appeared on set in character: "I met Rayon when [Jared Leto] walked in the door in the first scene. I never talked to Jared… [Only after] we were done shooting, I walked up to him and said, 'Hey' and we gave each other a hug…"
► Sharing how he lost the weight (with some satire): "I'd get the tiniest spoon of tapioca pudding and make it last 35 minutes [laughs]. I became militant about it. I was doing it in a healthy way and was eating… I also had a glass of wine at night… There were times when I'd get restless and grumpy… I knew if I didn't get down to the correct weight that sells the right Ron Woodroof you will be embarrassed because you're not doing your job period. It was that simple."