Currently undergoing one of the most welcome and spectacular career revivals to date, the former shirtless wonder has done the unexpected and caused many cynics to eat their words with his reinvention as a champion of the independent film industry. Here we will explore the changing faces of Matthew McConaughey and see if he hasn’t been building up to this all along.
Matthew’s recent influx of controversial roles has come as a surprise to the film industry, the father of three is fast approaching his mid forties and many had written him off as nothing more than a handsome romantic lead – an image exaggerated by his reputation for repelling clothes and a quip from Stephen Fry suggesting he would be perfect to star alongside Jenifer Aniston in a movie about a divorced couple fighting for dog custody (sounds like a classic right?). But at a time when he’d be forgiven for continuing to accept stereotypical roles, a tried and tested formula that enables him to bring home the big bucks and not make waves, he is doing the exact opposite, making him quite the enigma and bringing him into the spotlight for all the right reasons.
Away from acting McConaughey is known for his Laissez faire attitude and charitable personality, much like his inspiration Paul Newman. The Texan native has a penchant for disappearing into unknown territories and describes himself as the ‘ultimate backpacker’, whilst through his foundation j.k livin’ he encourages the empowerment of school children to ‘lead active lives, make healthy choices and become great men and women.’ It is no doubt his laid back nature that enabled him to cope with negative press, manage his career at his own pace and come back stronger than ever.
Though the signs have always been there that he can do much more than suave lady killer, his breakout role in ‘Dazed and Confused’ as stoner David Wooderson was only supposed be a small part, getting extended to 300 lines after director Richard Linklater encouraged Matthew’s improvisations. Following this he landed a few minor films before securing the role that would put him on the map, as idealistic lawyer Jake Tyler Brigance in ‘A Time To Kill’, beating out favourites Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer due to author John Grisham’s insistence. Coincidently Matthew had been on his way to qualifying as a lawyer before reading Og Mandino’s book ‘The greatest Salesman in the world’, which influenced him to follow his dreams and pursue a career in film.
His stellar performance, along with a tremendous cast and heartbreaking story led to the film being a huge hit and earned Matthew the Best Breakthrough Performance award at MTV’s 1997 Movie Awards. After this the offers came pouring in (He was even strongly considered for Titanic’s Jack Dawson) but despite commendable performances in Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Contact’ and Steven Spielberg’s ‘Amistad’, the promising actor seemed to get artistically waylaid in the late 90s. Speaking of his career philosophy at the time he said ‘Be the lean horse for the long ride. I figure I am in the third round of a fifteen round fight’, only time would show how right he was.
Now I cannot bypass the rom-com era that kept Matthew a household name and earned him the title of People magazines ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ but I shall try to keep it short: what began with ‘The Wedding Planner’ seemed to escalate until he was typecast and despite his own aversion to the genre he did seem to slide comfortably into the heartthrob role stating ‘People do want to see them (rom-coms) and they seem to want to see me in them’, and whilst they weren’t gaining him mass respect they did pull in the cash – hell I would be lying if I claimed not to have contributed to the $175 million gross of ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’. Despite being the butt of many jokes at the time it is hard to deny that Matt’s charisma and effortless confidence brought a flavour to characters which otherwise would have been easily forgettable.
During this same period he did portray some unusual characters, his turns as killer Fenton Meiks in the underappreciated ‘Frailty’ (highly recommended) and coach Jack Lengyel in ‘We Are Marshall’ proved he could still throw out powerful performances if given the opportunity but unfortunately these were overshadowed by tabloid stories of naked bongo playing and a seemingly unshakeable lothario image.
That was until indie film ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ hit our screens in 2011, where once again portraying a man of the law would prove a pivotal role in McConaughey’s career and remind us how brilliant he can be. On taking the role of unscrupulous Mick Haller he said ‘it’s nice to play a guy who is kind of a bottom-feeder. He’s not about morals or ethics; he’s about getting people off and getting it done any way he can. So he’s pretty street-smart, compared to my a time to kill guy’
Since then there has been no stopping him, taking on one unanticipated role after another including as a DA in little known but critically acclaimed ‘Bernie’, a scene stealing aging stripper in ‘Magic Mike’ (which won him the Independent Spirit award for Best Supporting Male Actor), a terrifying policeman/contract killer in ‘Killer Joe’ (the only time I’ve ever felt queasy when he’s on screen), a tormented journalist in ‘The Paperboy’ and a fugitive aided by a couple of young boys in his most recent outing ‘Mud’ (4 stars from Flossie here)
Earlier this year, during his acceptance speech for ‘Magic Mike’ McConaughey discussed his new found freedom as an artist, mentioning that 5 of the last 6 films he completed had been independent and going on to say he ‘had the most creative fun the last two years of my acting life hands down, and part of it is that vitality that we get from not having enough money and not having enough time…. you get to shoot that many scenes and talk about it less and do more, so that’s what I love about independent film – let’s keep making them, make specific stories and not just eccentric stories and have a good time.’ An admirable attitude from an influential man, we here at TLFR couldn’t agree more with his sentiments.
The speed with which he’s churned out these mesmerising performances coupled with his appetite for the unusual and utter fearlessness is awe inspiring, and don’t expect it to end just yet. Matthew has just joined the likes of Christian Bale, Robert De Niro and Jared Leto in dramatically altering his shape for upcoming movie ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ where he lost 30lbs in order to play real life HIV sufferer Ron Woodroof, who illegally sought and distributed alternative treatments to the disease.
Alongside this he will appear in The Wolf of Wall Street with Leonardo DiCaprio and rumours are circulating that Matthew has been offered the lead in Christopher Nolan’s newest project ‘Interstellar’ which very little is known about (it is Nolan after all) but is bound to be a mega-hit. Whatever the case the future looks amazingly bright for this star, his successes should mean he has his pick of roles and this time gets to do things his own way – without a cheesy chat up line in sight.
Article by Katie-Jane Hall