Matthew McConaughey's hunk evolution
He was once known primarily as a mahogany beefcake, but a series of thrilling performances has seen Matthew McConaughey’s critical star rise to the very top. The Oscar nominee talks reinvention, rom-coms and running the gauntlet of awards season
Some of us owe Matthew McConaughey an apology. For a substantial part of his career, the indecently handsome Texan had to endure being the punchline to an unstoppable series of unkind jokes. The ruthless people at Family Guy even dreamt up a mumbling, six-packed parody of our Matthew. To many, he was a drawling, blandly attractive rom-com drone in the style of those 1950s actors who lived chiselled lives as Chuck, Chip, Bart and Skip. If you wanted somebody to lean woodenly against Kate Hudson in your poster, then Matthew was your only man.
Then, a year or two ago, something odd happened. The first whiff of revival came with McConaughey’s smart performance in the thriller The Lincoln Lawyer. What’s this? He was terrific as a slick hit man in William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. He was equally good in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike and Jeff Nichols’s Mud. That leisurely southern charm was stretching itself into some surprisingly ironic shapes. They’re calling it the McConaissance. Now, playing a stubborn Aids patient who refuses to die quietly in the fine Dallas Buyers Club, the 44-year-old finds himself odds-on favourite for a best-actor Oscar.
Would it be rude to ask what happened?
“There is a story,” he says. “The thing is, it’s not as clean a narrative as people say. That narrative is a bit ‘then and now’: then I was doing C-plus work; now I’m doing A-plus work. It’s not quite like that. I was doing romantic comedies and action. I enjoyed that. But I consciously wanted to redirect myself.”
My goodness, this man radiates confidence. Dressed in a good grey suit, his hair damply crinkled, he spreads his legs dramatically as if waiting for the arrival of a horse to the resulting gap. This is how we used to think of Americans in the olden days. They were that bit more confident than us. They were endlessly talkative. And they knew how to get stuff done. Just observe how Matt set about recalibrating his career.
“I thought: ‘you know what, I am going to take some time off. I will say no to the things I have been saying yes to. I have a pay cheque. I can pay the rent if I take time off.’ I told my wife it’s going to get dry. I told my agent it was going to get dry for a while. And it got dry for a year and a half.”
I am surprised. I half-thought he would deny that any sort of shift in status had taken place. Oh, I treat all work the same. Oh, I have just been doing what I always do. That sort of guff. But it is clear that McConaughey had a strategy. The chaps who built the Brooklyn Bridge and laid the Transcontinental Railroad also had strategies.
“There was six months of saying no, and then nothing came in for a year,” he says. “Then suddenly I became a few smart directors’ ‘great new idea’. There was William Friedkin on Killer Joe. There was Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. But I didn’t go chasing that. I sat and waited. There wasn’t any rebranding. It was an unbranding. People then thought: ‘I haven’t seen McConaughey for a while. He might be interesting in this.’”
A cynic might argue that this is just the sort of story that appeals to Oscar voters. A guy gets written off as prime beefcake and then allows himself to evolve into a more Texan Paul Newman. But McConaughey would be a worthy winner for Dallas Buyers Club.