When McConaughey accepted his Oscar in March, it marked the height of the actor’s transformation from romantic comedy staple to complex dramatic performer. But the directors who worked with the actor before and on the cusp of the McConaissance say that the spark has always been there.
Mark Waters, who worked with McConaughey during his long stretch of aw-shucks romantic roles, says the actor’s dark side was precisely what made him right for 2009’s “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”
“I was interested in him because I liked his pure bad-boy side,” Waters says. “It may be the precursor to what he was eventually going to move toward, but there was something about the rebel in him and that aggressiveness.”
The full career shift McConaughey has demonstrated with gritty projects like “Killer Joe,” “Mud” and “Dallas Buyers Club” has kept his acting vibrant and surprising, but it’s pure wattage that is giving him his latest honors: including a star on the Walk of Fame in November.
“Not only does Matthew McConaughey deserve a star on the Walk of Fame, but a whole block for his courage to take on bold and daring roles that make a difference in the world. What he’s done is pretty remarkable,” says Lee Daniels, who directed him in “The Paperboy.”
Daniels adds that McConaughey’s quest for truth in his characters makes him a lively challenge for any director.
“Matthew is, as always, searching to find honesty in the characters he portrays,” Daniels says. “He’ll have 1 million questions, and you better have 1 million answers.”
McConaughey’s latest film, “Interstellar,” is putting him back in awards-season conversations, something that doesn’t surprise Waters. He says the commitment McConaughey showed in physically transforming for “Dallas Buyers Club” was similarly apparent on the set of “Ghosts.”
“It’s very easy for actors to get self-conscious and judge the work as they’re doing it. And I think that Matthew always had this kind of gonzo commitment to whatever he was doing. He goes for it without filtering himself.”
His ability to go for it is exactly what ultimately persuaded Jean-Marc Vallee that he could play Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
“We spent three hours just talking about the project. I saw a man in front of me that was 185 (pounds) and Matthew McConaughey — handsome and good-looking,” Vallee says. “And I challenged him with the weight loss, and he said no problem. What he was saying and the way he was talking about the character — I felt like he wanted to go somewhere else in his life and his professional career and accept new challenges.”
However, Vallee was taken aback initially by McConaughey’s interpretation of Woodroof when shooting commenced.
“The first week of shooting, I was scared of him and what he was doing,” Vallee says. “He was so over-the-top and so in movement all the time. I’m from the less-is-more school and all about stillness. But he had such a feel for this character. I’d ask for more stillness and give me less-is-more takes, and he would do it. But in the cutting room, I was using the more-is-more takes. When I realized we had those amazing performances, I just wanted to trust them and give them some room and be humble as a director.”
Beyond his made-for-film face and growing accolades, McConaughey has a collaborative spirit that extends beyond his own role in a production.
“(When) you’re number one on the call sheet, a lot of times they do want to make themselves look good at the cost of others. (But) there was a generousness — with me, with other actors in trying to make them look good,” Waters says. “There’s an ensemble aspect (in working with him).”
Presentation of the 2014 American Cinematheque Award to Matthew McConaughey
6:30 p.m. cocktails, 7:30 dinner Oct. 21
Beverly Hilton Hotel