Once the go-to guy for fluffy romcoms, Matthew McConaughey is now one of the most exciting actors in Hollywood – with an Oscar nomination to boot. He tells Susan Griffin all about his toughest role to date.
There’s been his scene-stealing cameo in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street, as well as a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Oscar nomination for his role as a homophobic Aids patient in Dallas Buyers Club.
It’s been a whirl of red carpet events, but lives by one rule – keep a clear head.
“I like wine but if I’m presenting, then I do it after that. I actually like to hit the stage without anything, but after that, I always have a glass,” says the 44-year-old in his Texan drawl.
He’ll want a clear head for the Academy Awards on March 2, as he’s in with a strong chance of walking off with the golden statuette.
“I wasn’t looking for a result but I did know when I read the script that this could be something special, and it’s the kind of story that if we pulled it off, was something that could get recognition.”
It’s based on the true tale of Ron Woodroof, a man McConaughey describes as ‘a cantankerous b*****d with a wicked sense of humour’.
“He’s a guy who’s easy to hate, yet you can’t help but love him,” he adds.
In 1985, Woodroof was diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. The condition had already been ravaging the nation’s gay community and Woodroof, a womanising, rodeo-riding electrician, was one of millions who saw Aids as ‘that gay disease’.
Ostracised by friends and co-workers following his diagnosis, Woodroof was determined to survive and became a walking encyclopaedia of anti-viral meds, pharmaceutical trials, Food And Drug Administration (FDA) regulations and court decisions.
He not only survived for seven years but helped save lives by establishing a way in which HIV-positive people could access his alternative treatments – through the Dallas Buyers Club.
“Rage, that was what he was dealing with on every level,” explains McConaughey. “I’m sure he was p***ed at God and he was p***ed at the FDA and that same emotion, which bore traits in him that some people found despicable, kept him alive for seven years. Rage is the emotion that gets more things done than any other. Like it or not, for good or bad, it causes action.”
It’s a tour-de-force performance, and one which required McConaughey, a sports fan often papped buffing up on the beach, to lose 47lbs.
“It was hard but, as an actor, to have something that you can give your full singular focus and commitment to for six months was wonderful,” says the star, whose emaciated figure in the film makes him unrecognisable. “I never got complacent and that physical transformation and weight loss really structured my life, which helped me commit to what I needed to do.”
The film’s producer, Robbie Brenner, always had McConaughey in mind for the role, saying: “Like Ron, he’s from Dallas, he’s handsome and he has a twinkle in the eye. Matthew also has intensity and intelligence like Ron did, mixed with that cowboy charisma and fighter’s spirit. He was beyond perfect for the role.”
McConaughey recalls his agent sending the script over to him. “I read it, I loved it and I remember saying, ‘Make sure I stay attached to it, do not let me lose this’,” recalls the actor, who rose to prominence in 1996’s A Time To Kill, then spent the Noughties in romcoms before embarking on a new career phase with dark dramas like The Paperboy and Killer Joe.
Having walked in Woodroof’s shoes, he’s contemplated what he would do in that situation – lay down and die, or fight for survival?
“I tell you, Ron Woodroof didn’t regress and reassess. “I’ve not been in that position but instinctually and in my soul, I work from a life-affirming place, and I’m not going to go easy if I have a chance to fight for life.”