Our Wise Guide: From the Academy Award®–winning actor, an unconventional memoir filled with raucous stories, outlaw wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction.
I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.
Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges - how to get relative with the inevitable - you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”
So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.
Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.
It’s a love letter. To life.
It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights - and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.
Key idea 1
The McConaughey clan has had its fair share of outlaws in the past. Cattle thieves, gamblers, even a bodyguard for the infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone. The family can be traced backward from New Orleans, to West Virginia, to Liverpool in England, all the way back to their home country of Ireland.
Matthew McConaughey’s father, Jim, was born in Louisiana, but the family settled in Texas, where he hustled to make it rich as a pipe salesman in the oil business. His mom, Katy, was from Altoona, Pennsylvania, but told everyone she was from Trenton, New Jersey. Why not just tell the truth? Well, as she put it, “who’d wanna be from a place called Altoona?”
Both parents had some unorthodox ideas that they passed down to their children, and their relationship with each other was combative, to say the least. But in the end, there was always love.
Matthew recalls a particularly eventful clash between his parents in 1974, when he was five years old. Jim had just gotten home from a long day at work. Everyone else had already eaten, so Katy brought out a plate of food that had been kept warm in the oven.
When Jim asked for more potatoes, Katy replied, “Sure you want more potatoes, fat man?” At first, Jim didn’t take the bait. But Katy continued to bark at him, calling him “fat man,” and throwing heaping spoonfuls of mashed potatoes onto his plate, until Jim stood up and threw the table into the air.
As he approached her, he said, “You can’t leave well enough alone, can ya, Katy?” But when he got close, Katy picked up the phone, swung it into his face, and broke his nose. Then she grabbed a knife, threatening to cut him “wide open.” Jim, blood gushing down his face and onto his shirt, grabbed a ketchup bottle and held it as if it were a sword and he was a matador. As he waved it around, streaks of ketchup came out and splashed against Katy. “Touché!” Jim said as he danced around the kitchen.
They stalked each other around the room until ketchup-covered Katy finally dropped the knife, blood-soaked Jim dropped the ketchup, and the two passionately embraced each other. The next moment, they were on the floor making love.
In the end, Matthew’s mom and dad got two divorces. But they married each other three times. His dad broke his mom’s middle finger on four separate occasions, after she’d stuck it in his face. This was how they got through to one another. This was how they loved one another.
Matthew got a few whuppings of his own growing up, for things like telling one of his two brothers that he hated him, or saying the two words “I can’t.” These were important lessons and values learned. This was how he was taught to never hate, and never to say you can’t.
Key idea 2
In seventh grade, Matthew wanted to enter a poetry competition. But rather than submit his own writing, his mom suggested he submit a poem by the writer Ann Ashford. First, though, he had to understand and like the poem. By her logic, once someone enjoyed and understood a poem, it became theirs. And so what if they found out he didn’t write it? The worse they could do was take away the award, and that’s no big deal. As it turned out, by using the Ashford poem, Matthew did win the competition.
This kind of logic may sound strange, but Katy McConaughey had a tough upbringing. She had to endure many situations that didn’t seem fair, so she had to create her own brand of values – outlaw logic, as Matthew calls it. In a way, her alternative reality was preparing Matthew for the creative storytelling he’d be doing as an actor.
Matthew and his brothers were raised on outlaw logic. But his father’s brand of it was even more dramatic. According to him, there came a time when each boy had to confront their father in order to be a man.
For Matthew’s eldest brother Mike, this confrontation came when he was 22 years old. By then, Mike had followed dad’s footsteps to become the company’s number one pipe salesman. One night, after the two had been drinking beers in the barn, dad came up with the idea of “rollin’ pipe.” That’s what you call it when you go to a competitor’s pipe yard in the dead of night and steal some of their pipe. The catch was, dad wanted to steal pipe from Don Knowles, who was one of Mike’s best accounts.
Mike refused, but Jim wasn’t going to let him give up so easily. If Mike thought he was man enough to go against his father’s wishes, he was going to have to fight.
Mike didn’t want to – he was five-foot-ten and 180 pounds, while Jim was six-foot-four and 265 pounds – but his dad didn’t give him much choice once he punched him square in the jaw. Lying on the floor of the barn, Mike spotted a two-by-four plank of wood, which he grabbed and swung into the side of his father’s head. Dazed, and with blood trickling from his ears, Jim responded with another walloping punch that sent Mike back onto the floor.
This time, Mike took a handful of dirt and threw it into Jim’s face. Now momentarily blinded, Jim was still ready to fight. “Where’s my son who won’t roll Dan Knowles’s pipe with his old man?” Mike warned his dad that he’d hit him with the two-by-four again if he didn’t stop, but Jim only continued to egg him on. So, sure enough, Mike leveled his dad with another smack against his head. Only then did Jim stand up, wipe tears from his eyes, and give Mike a hug. From then on, they were equals.
Key idea 3
In 1988, Matthew was on a roll. He’d been voted Most Handsome in his class and was dating the prettiest girl in his school, as well as the prettiest girl in the school on the other side of town. As a high-school senior, things were looking good.
Every morning, he’d roll his pickup truck into the parking lot and entertain his classmates. The truck had a megaphone installed in the front grille, so he could slouch down in his seat and say things like, “Look at the jeans Cathy Cook’s got on today; looking good!”
But things took a turn once high school ended. Looking for an adventure, Matthew signed up with the Rotary Club to spend a year in Australia as an exchange student.
From the get-go, the vibes were ominous. He was greeted at the airport in Sydney by the Dooley family: the patriarch Norvel Dooley, his wife Marjorie, and one of their two sons, Michael. As Norvel drove them all home from the airport, Matthew’s expectations were constantly being adjusted. He thought the Dooley household was in Sydney, but soon the city’s skyline was fading in the distance behind him.
At first, Norvel explained that they actually lived in Gosford. But then the beaches of Gosford faded behind them as quickly as Sydney had. Norvel then told Matthew that Gosford had loose morals, which is why they lived in Toukley. Nice country living in Toukley.
But Norvel kept driving. “Toukley’s a nice spot, mate, but a bit big for our taste.” Soon, the beaches and most signs of civilization were well behind them. The last sign Matthew saw was for Warnervale. Population 305. As they pulled up to the Dooley household, there were no other homes in sight. With bounding enthusiasm, Norvel smiled, “Welcome to Australia, Matthew. You’re gonna love it.” The truth was, it was a year-long nightmare. Yet it was an experience that Matthew is still thankful for to this day.
Matthew had never experienced the kind of loneliness and isolation that he was forced to endure in Australia. But he’d made a promise to the Rotary Club that he’d make it through the whole year; he’d even shaken hands on it, and he wasn’t going to go back on his word.
So Matthew endured. To do so, he realized that he needed to give himself structure. So he challenged himself. He practiced vegetarianism. And abstinence. He began to consider the idea of becoming a monk and devoting his life to freeing Nelson Mandela.
It was a challenge unlike any he’d faced before, but he made it through the entire year. It would take some time before he realized it, but the misery and loneliness of Australia was ultimately a positive experience. Never before had he been forced to look inward and try to figure out who he really was once you took away the girlfriends, the family, and the popularity. Looking back, he can see that this trip helped shape the man he’s become.
Key idea 4
Back from Australia, Matthew had his sights set on Dallas. In particular, he was looking at Southern Methodist University as the next big step in his life. But his dad kept asking him: “Are you sure? What about being a Longhorn?” He was talking about the mascot for the University of Texas at Austin.
Matthew had applied to UT Austin, but at that time he was seriously considering a career as a lawyer, so he figured Dallas would provide more opportunities at more law firms. And yet his Dad kept asking about UT. Then his brother Pat called him up asking the same question. This time, though, Pat shed some light on the situation. UT was a state school, while Southern Methodist University was private, and his dad was hurting financially because the oil business was on the decline. As a state school, UT would be a whole lot easier on his pocketbook.
Pat also gave a ringing endorsement of Austin. If you go to a bar in Austin, he said, you could walk in wearing flip-flops and be seated alongside a cowboy, a lesbian, and a Native American, with a little person serving drinks. “It’s your kinda town,” Pat told him. And so it was settled.
Fast forward two years, though, and Matthew wasn’t feeling especially good about becoming a lawyer. It was dawning on him that with all the schooling and experience needed, his twenties would be gone before his career even got off the ground.
Luckily, his friend Robb Bindler planted another idea in his head. Robb had been reading the short stories that Matthew had been writing and suggested he give film school a shot. The idea sounded almost absurdly artsy and indulgent at first, but soon it planted itself firmly in his mind. He had to call his dad and tell him.
That phone call wasn’t easy. He paced around, trying to think of what to say and when to say it. He decided upon 7:30 p.m. Dad would have finished dinner and would be settling down to some television with a cocktail by his side. A good time to break the news.
Sweating and nervous, he called at 7:36 p.m. “Hey little buddy, what’s going on?” his dad asked. Gulp. He dove in and explained the situation. Law school just wasn’t the right fit for him. He wanted to go to film school. After five long seconds of silence, a gentle and curious voice came through the phone. His dad wasn’t mad at all; he just wanted to be sure that this was really what his boy wanted to do. Matthew was sure. “Well. . . Don’t half-ass it,” dad concluded.
It was the best response Matthew could have hoped for. It was a blinding greenlight.
Key idea 5
As soon as Matthew began film school at UT Austin, he knew it was different. Grades weren’t going to matter when it came to finding work. He needed to do something or make something that would get people’s attention.
So, while he wasn’t exactly the best student when it came to showing up to all of his classes, he was ambitious and driven from the start. He signed with a local talent agency and landed a couple of small-time gigs. But it was a chance encounter that landed him his big break.
Matthew often went to the Hyatt Hotel, where his friend Sam tended the bar and gave him free drinks. One night, Sam gave him a heads-up. A guy at the end of the bar was in town producing a movie they were planning to shoot in Austin. That man’s name was Don Phillips.
It turned out Don liked to play golf and drink vodka tonics, two things Matthew was also pretty good at. He matched Don drink for drink for a few hours until the Hyatt staff had to escort them out of the hotel. From there they hopped in a cab and shared a joint, which is when Don popped the question and told Matthew that there was a part in this movie he was working on that he might be perfect for. Just show up at this address tomorrow morning, he said, and pick up the script.
The movie was Dazed and Confused, a now-beloved film written and directed by Richard Linklater. The part was for a character called Wooderson, a twenty-something guy who still hangs around town, partying with high schoolers. In the original script Wooderson only had three scenes. But this began to change on Matthew’s first day on set.
When Matthew showed up, he had his 1970s mustache, his Ted Nugent T-shirt, and a tattoo of a black panther on his forearm. Linklater looked him up and down and loved it. “This is great, this is Wooderson,” he said. Right away, the director started getting some new ideas. Matthew and Linklater engaged in their first game of what the author calls “verbal ping-pong,” which is something they’ve continued to do throughout their long-standing friendship.
Soon, Linklater had the idea of giving Wooderson a new scene, where he tries to put the moves on a redheaded intellectual girl. Linklater asked Matthew if he thought Wooderson would be interested in that type of girl. To this, he replied, “Sure, man, Wooderson likes all kinds of chicks.” In the end, what started out as three small scenes ended up as three weeks of work for Matthew.
In the first of these three weeks, though, Matthew got the shocking news that his father had died. One morning, Jim McConaughey woke up and had sex with his wife. Upon climaxing, he died of a heart attack. It may sound unusual, but he’d actually told his sons, “When I go, I’m gonna be makin’ love to your mother.” And that’s exactly what he did.
Key idea 6
While Dazed and Confused helped get Matthew to Hollywood, it was another film that made him a star. This was A Time to Kill, an adaption of a John Grisham book, and directed by Joel Schumacher.
Schumacher initially liked Matthew for the part of a Ku Klux Klan leader. But Matthew was eager for the lead role of the lawyer Jake Brigance. Matthew came prepared, having even read the book the movie was based on. But while Schumacher admired Matthew’s confidence and liked the idea, he knew that the studio wouldn’t agree.
Then something unexpected happened. The studio had already lined up Woody Harrelson for the male lead. But he was suddenly taken out of consideration after a man and a woman committed a murder in Mississippi, saying they were inspired by the film Natural Born Killers, which stars Harrelson as one half of a serial-killing couple.
At this point, Schumacher was feeling generous enough to shoot a test scene with Matthew that they could then show to the studio heads. It was a long shot, but Matthew was eager to prove that he was right for the role. The test was for the climactic final summation scene in the courtroom. It was a big scene, and he was nervous, but he knew his lines by heart.
When Schumacher told him to start whenever he was ready, he launched into the scene and hit all the right moments, just as he was supposed to. But that wasn’t going to blow anyone away. So Schumacher told Matthew to go off-script. To use his own words. To talk to the imaginary jurors the way he would if this was his case. To think of himself as the character. Schumacher was giving him a greenlight.
It was a stroke of genius on Schumacher’s part. Matthew completely opened up and put every ounce of himself into the scene. So much so that he felt sweaty and sick at the end of it. Two weeks later, Schumacher called him up and offered him the part.
It was literally a life-changing role. The Monday after it premiered, Matthew could no longer walk down the street in anonymity to get his favorite tuna fish sandwich with extra pickles and ketchup on the side. That day, every passerby except for a blind man and three babies gawked at him as he walked to the sandwich shop. He was now certifiably famous.
Key idea 7
Hitting the Road
The week before A Time to Kill opened, 99 percent of the scripts Matthew liked were out of reach. Afterward, the choice was his. It may sound like a dream come true, but when fame hits that suddenly, it can do a number on your sense of reality. If you want to stay grounded, you may have to take certain measures to ensure you don’t fly off into the ether.
For Matthew, this meant paying a visit to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a sacred place in an isolated area of New Mexico. It was described to him as a place where you could go to “readjust your perspective” – which is precisely what he wanted.
To get there, he had to make a thirteen-and-a-half-mile walk to the front door, where he was greeted by Brother Andre who told him the monastery was a haven to all travelers. But it was Brother Christian who proved to be the best listener, and that’s exactly what Matthew needed at the time.
As Matthew explained to Brother Christian, fame was making it hard for him to be the good man he wanted to be. Feelings of lust and objectification were rising to the surface. He was feeling disconnected from his past and unable to see the right path forward. In short, he felt lost.
By the time he was done unburdening himself, Matthew was in tears. He thought Brother Christian might have some stern words for him or lay down some harsh judgment, but that wasn’t the case. He listened with compassion for over three hours, and, after a long pause, he only said two words: “Me too.”
Now, this wasn’t exactly life-changing advice. But it was still an important greenlight for Matthew. Sometimes, compassionate understanding is all we need. Sometimes, knowing we’re not alone is the relief that can keep us from coming apart at the seams.
Now, it would still take some time before Matthew learned how to stay focused on what really mattered. But one of the things he did early on to stay grounded was actually staying mobile. He bought a 28-foot mobile home, and spent three years on the road, traveling everywhere, from Canada to Guatemala, with his dog, Ms. Hud.
If he wanted to go see The Cult play a concert in Detroit the next week, off they went. If Roger Clemens was pitching a game in New York on Saturday, let’s go. If he got a job working on a Steven Spielberg movie shooting in Rhode Island, he could park the Airstream and walk to work. But he could also pull off the road and into a trailer park in western Montana, walk into a bar and have a hell of a night drinking tequila, sharing stories, and rolling dice with people who could keep him honest and down to earth.
Key idea 8
In the early 2000s, Matthew dipped his toe in the romantic comedy waters by costarring, with Jennifer Lopez, in The Wedding Planner. The movie was a hit and broke a streak of underperforming films, including EdTV and Contact.
Matthew moved into the Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard, a legendary location that had been home to countless rock stars, actors, and artists over the years. He kept a $120,000 tab running, and started driving a Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle. After a series of decadent flings, affairs, and “transactions,” Matthew was once again left wondering: What’s it all about? You might call it an existential crisis, but Matthew prefers existential challenge. And it was a challenge that he was more than up for.
Fortunately, Matthew was offered the perfect role to get him through it. The movie was Reign of Fire and it couldn’t have been further from a romantic comedy. His character’s name was Denton Van Zan, and he was, in Matthew’s words, an “apocalyptic badass dragon slayer.”
For the part, Matthew decided to shave his head completely bald. The reason for this was twofold. First, he felt it was appropriate for the character, but, second, his hairline had been receding for some time, and he wanted to apply a serum, Regenix, that was supposed to work better on a shaved head. He also isolated himself for two months on his brother’s ranch in West Texas, and gave himself a daily four-step regimen to strengthen his mind and body.
This regimen began with taking a double shot of tequila first thing every morning. He figured Van Zan would need to have his own dragon breath in order to beat the dragon. Step two was to run five miles barefoot across the Texas desert. After all, Van Zan would need to have tough skin on the soles of his feet. As for step three, that was to lose his fear of heights by standing on the edge of the barn’s rooftop. And step four was to familiarize himself with tackling a big beast like a dragon by tackling sleeping cows at night.
As you may have guessed, this regimen didn’t last very long. By the sixth morning, the tequila was causing Matthew to gag, the barefoot running was giving him god-awful blisters, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get anywhere near the edge of the roof on the barn. As for the cows, one of them gave him a concussion on the ninth day, and he knew better than to try that again.
After experiencing the pain and isolation of his 60-day dragon-slayer training, and the extreme conditions of shooting the movie during winter in Ireland, Matthew was feeling bruised and battered, but spiritually strong. The process had helped him remove the trappings of vanity that had overcome him and left him feeling more in charge of his own destiny. It was time to turn another page.
Key idea 9
Chasing the Dream
In his life, Matthew McConaughey has had three nonsexual wet dreams. Each one arrived when his life needed sorting out, and each prompted a soul-searching journey.
The first occurred in 1994, just after the sudden stardom of A Time to Kill. In the dream, Matthew was floating in the Amazon River, with anacondas and pythons coiled around his body. Crocodiles, sharks, and piranhas circled nearby. Along the edge of the river stood a never-ending row of indigenous Africans.
The dream lasted all of eleven seconds. It was powerful, almost like a nightmare. But it wasn’t only a wet dream; it was also an important greenlight. Matthew quickly began to page through an atlas, looking for the Amazon River. At first, he searched Africa, looking for the people he’d seen in his dream. A couple of fruitless hours later, he realized the river was in South America.
Immediately, he knew this was where he needed to go. He shoved some clothes into a backpack, packed a camera, a journal, and a hit of Ecstasy, and set off on a three-week trip to Peru. Something was telling him he needed to float in the Amazon.
Along the way, he hiked the Andes, visited Machu Picchu while listening to John Mellencamp on his Walkman, and then settled into a camp in Iquitos, a city known as the “Peruvian capital of the Amazon.”
At this point in his life, Matthew didn’t like who he’d become. And so, sitting in his tent, he questioned everything about who he was. He began to ritualistically remove his clothes, along with all of the symbolic items he was wearing, like his Texas flag amulet, his Celtic knot pendant, and two rings he’d gotten from his parents.
No pride. No protection. No identity. Truly naked. He punched himself in the face. He broke out in a cold sweat. He puked until there was nothing left in him. Then he passed out. The next morning, he awoke feeling rejuvenated. He threw some clothes on, made tea, and went out for a walk, feeling a new kind of energy running through his body.
As he turned a corner in the jungle, he came upon a large, pulsing ball of neon colors hovering over the muddy ground. It was stunning. It took a few moments, but then he realized what it was – a huge mass of swarming butterflies.
Staring at this amazing sight, Matthew heard a voice in his head say: All I want is what I can see, all I can see is in front of me.
For the first time on the trip, he was no longer in a state of hurried expectation. Everything slowed down. He looked to the sky and gave thanks. As his eyes fell back to earth, he noticed what lay ahead. Just beyond the butterflies was the Amazon River. Later, as he lay floating in it, he saw what looked like a mermaid’s tail wave past him, swimming downriver.
Key idea 10
Accepting the Challenge
Matthew’s second wet dream came five years after the first, in 1999. He was in Ireland, having just wrapped up shooting on Reign of Fire, when the exact same thing occurred. Floating in the Amazon, snakes, crocodiles, a never-ending line of indigenous Africans. Eleven seconds. Done.
This time, he was certain that he needed to go to Africa. He knew little about the enormous continent, but as he was again searching his atlas and looking for clues, he happened to be listening to the music of Ali Farka Touré, the African bluesman. He put down the atlas, grabbed the CD case, and looked at the liner notes. Niafunké, Mali. That’s where he needed to go.
Matthew booked a one-way flight to Bamako, the capital of Mali, and found a guide, named Issa, who could take him up the Niger River to Niafunké. Once there, he found Ali Farka at the home of his second wife, where they had lunch, and listened to a few of his songs. But as they parted, Matthew wondered whether this was really the final destination.
Then, out of the blue, his guide Issa told him about the Dogon, the magical people of Mali who’ve been receiving wisdom from the stars since long before modern astronomy. They were now living in villages along the edge of the Niger River, in a place called the Bandiagara Escarpment. Issa told him, “I think this is a good place for you to go.” Matthew agreed.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that Matthew was on this trip incognito. He told people his name was David, which they translated as Daouda, and that he was a writer and a boxer. What he didn’t anticipate was that after arriving at Bandiagara, word began to spread that a strong white man was in the village. Soon, Matthew was faced with a challenge by Michel, the local champion wrestler. Oh shit, he thought.
But Matthew couldn’t say no, even as he stood facing Michel, with his huge chest and a burlap sack tied around his waist. It was on. A crowd had quickly formed and they were roaring with approval as the two men stepped into a large dirt pit. The chief of the village played the role of referee as they locked arms.
The match lasted two rounds, with both men having been slammed to the ground a few times. At one point, Matthew was able to deploy a classic WWF move: the Boston Crab, where one guy is on the opponent’s back with both hands around his chin, pulling his head backward. But Michel was able to break the hold, flip Matthew onto the ground, and lock him in a scissor grip between his two sizable legs. The two men continued to grapple in the dirt until they were both utterly exhausted and the village chief put an end to the match by raising the arms of both men into the air.
It was clearly a stalemate, but Matthew was amazed as the crowd chanted, “Daouda! Daouda!” As the village chief later explained, Matthew had already won the moment he accepted the challenge.
Key idea 11
Another five years passed before Matthew had his third nonsexual wet dream. By 2005, he’d starred in a string of successful romantic comedies. He’d never had anything against this type of entertainment, but he’d be lying if he said that they were creatively fulfilling. At this point, it was time to turn another page in his life.
And so, almost like clockwork, the third wet dream arrived, only this time it was different. This time, Matthew was 88 years old. He was sitting on a porch, and in front of him was a large horseshoe driveway. Twenty-two women arrived, with 88 children. All the children were his and they gathered around to have their picture taken with their father. When the camera snapped the picture, he came, and woke up.
It was a reminder to Matthew that he’d always wanted to be a father. In fact, it was one of the only things he’d ever been certain about in his life. Now, in his mid-30s, it was time. But it was also time for a new approach. Instead of looking for his dream woman, he was going to stop looking and just let it happen. And sure enough, that’s when Camila arrived.
It was one of those spots-her-from-across-a-crowded-restaurant moments. It happened in the Hyde Club on Sunset Boulevard, and the moment he saw her, Matthew knew he had to meet her. So he walked over to her table and offered to make her a perfect margarita.
By the end of their first date, Matthew was sure that he’d met the mermaid that had waved to him in the Amazon River. Somehow she’d found her way into the waters of the Pacific and to Hollywood. Fifteen years later, she’s still the only woman he wants to say good morning to.
It was with Camila by his side that Matthew chose to redefine his career. He told his agent that he was done with romantic comedies and that he didn’t want to see another script for one come his way.
This was risky because Hollywood can easily forget about someone who rejects too many of its offers, but there was never a doubt that it was what needed to happen. Offers of over $14 million to star in romantic comedies were coming his way, but no dice. Then the offers stopped altogether.
Matthew ended up being out of work for two years. But during that time he became a father twice over, so it’s not like he wasn’t busy. And eventually, Hollywood began to see him as an exciting new thing. It started with The Lincoln Lawyer, and then Killer Joe. Soon his old friend Richard Linklater called him up for a role in Bernie. Then Jeff Nichols wrote a part in Mud explicitly for him, and Steven Soderbergh cast him in Magic Mike.
People began to talk about the McConaissance. What they didn’t know was that Matthew coined the term himself, in an interview for MTV.
Key idea 12
Wild and Essential
Dallas Buyers Club was different from other movies. Matthew had read the script in 2007 and become attached to playing the lead role of Ron Woodroof, a real-life character who during his life had come up with his own program for distributing HIV medication. But it wasn’t until January 2012 that production finally began moving forward, when Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée came on board.
Vallée had some concerns about how appropriate Matthew was for the role. After all, he was well known for being in good shape. How was he supposed to be right for playing a man with Stage 4 HIV? But Matthew reassured him that he’d take care of it.
They made a plan to be ready for October 2012. For five months, leading up to production, Matthew would lose two and a half pounds every week. His diet was three egg whites for breakfast, and for lunch and dinner he’d have five ounces of fish and one cup of steamed vegetables. On the plus side, he could have as much wine as he wanted.
The diet had the desired effect, and week by week Matthew dropped the weight. When he was at 157 pounds, he filmed a couple of days’ work on Martin Scorsese’s movie The Wolf of Wall Street. He played a broker named Mark Hanna whose secret to success was cocaine and hookers. That was about all he needed to know to get into the headspace for that character. He was able to go completely off-script and deliver what he calls a “lunatic-to-the-marvelous musical riff-rap” in his scene with Leonardo DiCaprio.
As for the role of Ron Woodroof, Matthew was able to gain insight more directly. Woodroof’s family was kind enough to welcome him into their home, talk to him, and even lend him Woodroof’s diary and ten hours of voice recordings he’d made. These revealed an amazing amount about Ron.
All of this, along with Vallée’s sensitivity behind the camera, helped Matthew deliver a performance that earned him acclaim and awards. It didn’t hurt that while the awards campaign was ongoing, every Sunday night there was a new episode of True Detective, where Matthew got to dig his teeth into one of his favorite characters, the best detective he ever met, Rustin Cohle. True Detective also gave him the opportunity to work with his good friend, his “brother from another mother,” Woody Harrelson.
Finally, Matthew was finding consistent satisfaction in his work. He was going deep, building unique characters from the inside out, telling stories that were wild and essential. Putting himself in the right place to get greenlights and make the most of them.
The secret to his success, in his own words, has been getting relative with the inevitable. The one thing that’s inevitable for all of us is that this ride is going to end one day. But how you live your life is up to you – it’s relative.
This has been Matthew’s story so far. Now it’s time to make the most of yours.
The key message:
Matthew McConaughey had an unorthodox upbringing in East Texas, raised by parents who embraced what he calls outlaw logic. But they were supportive when it came to his desire to lead a creative life. After shifting gears to attend film school in college, Matthew caught a break when he was cast in Dazed and Confused, and hit the big time with his role in A Time to Kill. Sudden fame wasn’t easy for Matthew, but through some soul-searching and chasing prophetic wet dreams, he found the opportunities to shed his vanity and focus on what really matters. Helped by his wife, Camila, he finally learned to focus on family while redefining his career away from romantic comedies to exciting and original dramatic roles.
As you’ve just learned, Matthew McConaughey has a lot of grit, willpower, and a strong positive mindset. That already shone through in his childhood. As he told it in his 2014 Oscar-acceptance speech, he was asked at age 15 who his hero was. After some reflection, he replied, “It’s me in ten years.” A decade later, the same person asked him if he’d become a hero. The 25-year-old McConaughey replied, “Not even close – because my hero’s me at 35.”
What Matthew’s answers show is that self-competition is much more healthy than competing with others.