Matthew McConaughey Sticks Up for Gus Van Sant’s ‘Sea of Trees’ in Cannes

A relaxed Matthew McConaughey stuck up for Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees” at the Cannes Film Festival, after the pic screened for the press to a chorus of boos.

“I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be invited. I’m happy that the film got in. It was a great experience for me,” he said at the film’s presser, which was not so packed.

“I liked the experience of making it, and I’m glad we got the opportunity to introduce it to the world,” he added. “I’m working in the United States, but it’s exciting for me to come here and support work that got I to do with these people.”

“This is fun. I look at this as sort of [eating] dessert. No matter what, we’ve declared now: here is is! Thanks for having us, hope you enjoy it.”

Asked about the negative reaction, McConaughey went a bit deadpan and simply spouted: “Anyone has any right to either boo or ovate.”

Asked about the different challenges he faced in “Sea” and in “Interstellar” as an actor, McConaughey said: “‘Interstellar” was an exploration ‘out there.’ This was an exploration ‘in here,’” and pointed to his chest.

“In “Interstellar” there was a goal, to get there and get back home. This one was more moment-to-moment. With this guy I kept saying to myself: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ and then I realized: ‘That’s perfect for Arthur.’”

Naomi Watts said she’d always wanted to work with Gus Vant Sant and is a great admirer of his work.

“I just had to get my hands on the script. At the center of it was this beautiful love story that was painful and tragic, but seemed to represent something that was really human and really universal to me.”

Van Sant said he read only one review this morning and reminisced about the fact that his “Elephant” divided critics so fiercely at Cannes that a fight broke out. “Elephant” won both the Palme d’Or and the best director prize in 2003.

Asked about why he made the film the director said: “I was interested in the jigsaw puzzle of this story.”

“You are kind of out of control because you are watching from the middle of the story, and you are thrown out of control, and it’s slowly kind of bringing you into a sort of understanding of what’s going on,” he added.

“The Sea of Trees,” for which Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate picked up U.S. distribution rights ahead of its first screening on May 13, is the first movie in competition at the festival to meet with such a negative response. It co-stars Naomi Watts and Ken Watanabe. McConaughey plays an American who travels to Japan’s “suicide forest” after the death of his wife.

“One way to pass the time during ‘The Sea of Trees’ — preferably during one of Matthew McConaughey’s interminable misty-eyed monologues — is to try and figure out exactly how many bad movies the actor, screenwriter Chris Sparling and director Gus Van Sant have managed to squeeze into their tale of a man’s lonely quest to take his own life,” wrote Variety critic Justin Chang in his review.

Fellow Variety critic Scott Foundas tweeted that the film was “one for nobody,” while others in the auditorium’s press screening yesterday also noted the widespread boos from the Palais audience.

“Sea of Trees” has its official Cannes gala screening tonight.

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