For his latest role, Matthew McConaughey had to pile on the pounds after his Oscar-winning performance in Dallas, he tells Susan Griffin.
As the recent Virgin Galactic incident highlighted, we’re in the tentative stage of space exploration, but Sir Richard Branson and his team remain focused on opening up a frontier that’s so far remained tantalisingly out of reach.
For director Christopher Nolan, the subject matter represents the ultimate human experience – and he’s delved into that world for his new sci-fi spectacle Interstellar.
Boasting an array of Oscar winners, including Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, and awe-inspiring visuals, the film travels beyond this galaxy and out into the vast unknown.
“There was only one way to go and that was up... into space and in weight,” laughs the movie’s lead Matthew McConaughey, who’s regained the weight he shed to play an Aids victim in Dallas Buyers Club, a role that earned him an Oscar earlier this year.
“Dallas was a very small, independent film that we shot very quickly – it was very earth-bound. This was much larger,” says the 45-year-old Texan. “The shoot went on for five months, but when you’re acting in a Chris Nolan film, it feels just as intimate, raw and natural as an independent film. I don’t think any of the actors felt overwhelmed by the massive scale of the set pieces.”
Set in the near future, the film depicts a time when an agricultural crisis has brought the world to its knees and a team of explorers are tasked with a mission to journey into the universe to find a new home for humankind.
“What is amazing to me is that while the excitement of the story lies in its scope, one of my favourite things about Chris is the heartbeat of humanity he gives his films,” says McConaughey. “No-one handles the sheer mass and scale of a world like he does, because it always comes off as something personal.”
Nolan, whose movies include the recent Batman franchise and the mind-boggling Inception, only had McConaughey in mind to play Cooper. “He embodies everything we were looking for; the spirit of adventure, a cowboy-like swagger, and the warmth of somebody who’s involved with his family first and foremost,” says the film-maker.
McConaughey would describe Cooper, a former test pilot and engineer, as ‘a dreamer and a man out of time’.
“He’s not supposed to be a farmer but in Interstellar, the world needs farmers, not pilots,” explains the father-of-three. “Life has become about growing food and having clean water. We don’t need any explorers, we don’t need any astronauts, we don’t need any bright ideas. Cooper’s trying his best to live in this world, and hold things together for his children.”
While he and his family work on the homestead, a small group of scientists are sealed off in an underground bunker and gambling their lives on the prospect that somewhere in the universe is a planet that could sustain the human race.
They’ve salvaged the best available technology from the ruins of the space programme to build three ships, but the one thing they’re lacking is an experienced pilot. “Suddenly the dream that Cooper’s been chasing all his life is knocking on his door. And it’s not just the chance to be a pilot again, but to lead the most important mission of all time,” says McConaughey. “The consequence of that opportunity is having to leave his two kids behind though, and what no one can tell him is how long he’ll be gone.”
Unlike his character, McConaughey didn’t have to be parted from his wife Camila and their three young children, Levi, Vida and Livingston for the duration of the shoot. “I was fortunate I had my family with me in Calgary [where Cooper’s homestead scenes were shot.]
“I remember the greatest way for me to go to set each day was saying bye to my kids and at the end of the day coming back to them.”