The Academy doesn’t have the best track record of honoring actors who simultaneously appear in both television and film. The “Last King of Scotland’s” Forest Whitaker won the 2007 Oscar around the same time as his supporting roles on “The Shield” and “ER.” Before that, you’d have to go back to 1998 to find a lead actor winner (Helen Hunt, for “As Good As It Gets”) who also headlined a hit TV series (“Mad About You”).
Matthew McConaughey, this year’s lead actor frontrunner, could end that streak if he wins for “Dallas Buyers Club,” since the Oscars coincide with his recent turn in “True Detective.” Of course, McConaughey isn’t a TV star — he’s a movie star moonlighting in an HBO mini-series, but “True Detective” caps three years of tantalizing performances in films like Richard Linklater’s “Bernie,” William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe,” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike” where Matthew McConaughey, the king of romantic comedies, morphed into Matthew McConaughey, the serious character actor. (Some have called it the McConaissance.)
The reason for McConaughey’s Oscar frontrunner status isn’t solely due to his losing all that weight for “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” which opened last November. If he wins, the Academy will also be rewarding him for all the risks he’s recently taken as an actor. And in a way, “True Detective” couldn’t arrive at a better time than the tail end of awards season.
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The HBO drama is a reminder of just how far McConaughey has come with his onscreen metamorphosis. Appearing as two different versions of his character (a slick, handsome detective in 1995 and a grungy, long-haired drunk from 2012), McConaughey shows the kind of range that would have made him an admirable force on “Breaking Bad.”
“True Detective’s” fifth episode, which aired on Sunday night, featured McConaughey’s best performance yet. As good luck would have it, Oscar ballots were sent out three days earlier on Friday morning.