Matthew McConaughey with Amy Taubin at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Photo by Julie Cunnah
Matthew McConaughey said he had some lucky breaks early in his acting career, but it was his love of the work and process of creating films that has produced success. The Oscar-nominated star of Dallas Buyers Club joined critic Amy Taubin for a discussion of the film, in which he plays real-life Texas ruffian Ron Woodruff, who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and went outside the medical establishment to obtain medication for himself and a burgeoning clientele of HIV sufferers.
"What I've learned now is process, process, process. If you're getting into this business because you want certain results, you have to get into something else," said McConaughey in one of Film Society's ongoing Free Talks. "The actual work and creation [has to be enjoyable] or you have to do something else."
Part of that process for Dallas was famously losing over 45 pounds in order to physically portray Woodruff, who is given a death sentence by his doctors after learning he has a full blown case of a disease that had scant hope for effective treatment at the time. The role of Woodruff had come across McConaughey's desk after being passed over by studios and at least one other potential leading man. Even after producers decided to go the indie route, money was a challenge. McConaughey had already lost most of the weight and, suddenly, production seemed in jeopardy weeks before shooting. The project was resuscitated, but despite the physical challenges of the role, McConaughey said that he'd do it again.
"If the role is right, I'd [lose weight again]," he said. "This was not an eccentric affected choice, it was something I needed to do. It was definitely part of the wonderful adventure I had."
McConaughey said that Dallas Buyers Club may have benefitted from going the indie route, adding that, had a studio put up financing, it might have been tempted to give a Hollywood twist of redemption in order to make Woodruff more palatable to a mass audience.
"If this had been a Hollywood studio film, they would have re-written act three and Ron Woodruff would have had to turn and say, 'I'm sorry for my bigoted homophobic ways,' and the version of the 'bourgeois blues' would have come out," said McConaughey. "But I said if you keep him this way, the humanity of this guy will slowly reveal itself—the crusader would reveal itself."
During the hour-long conversation, McConaughey recalled his first break, which lead to a role in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1992), saying, "I went to the right bar and met the right guy who was in town casting a film and he asked if i had done any acting before…" The actor headed west and landed a few more roles and later starred in Joel Schumacher's studio thriller A Time To Kill with Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson. He has since taken on both indies and studio fare, intermittently, including The Paperboy, Mud and Magic Mike in the past couple years. This year he had a small role in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street during a very memorable foul-mouthed lunch with Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Jordan Belfort. McConaughey noted that one line from Wolf writer Terence Winter's script inspired insight into his character's psyche: "He said the secret of life is 'hookers and cocaine,' so you know there's no ceiling on this guy's vernacular."
Touching on his recent television work playing Rust Cohle in True Detective, the actor said he's been following the series at the same pace as viewers and not quite sure what will happen beyond that, though he's finished shooting the first eight episodes of the HBO series. "I made it and I've read the script, but I'm not even sure where this thing is going," he said. "I thought, 'is this going to be boring because I've been doing the same thing for six weeks? But I thought to myself, 'if you hold your line, McConaughey, the crash will come.'"
Ron Woodruff, however, didn't have time for patience and that is what McConaughey sees was the man's lifeline: "If this guy hadn't been such a son of a bitch, he wouldn't have lived for seven years. Rage, like no emotion, gets more done [and] causes more movement. And that's what this guy had because he was so damn mad."