Proportions of Matt: McConaughey Talks Craft to New York Crowd

Matthew McConaughey.

Matthew McConaughey.

Matthew McConaughey strode into the Film Society at Lincoln Center late last Friday afternoon as the Polar Vortex hesitantly gave way to a soggy mess. He’d just driven up town from shooting “Inside the Actors Studio” among other pre-Oscar rounds in the city. The man — known for sauntering around the globe with no shirt, sometimes shoeless, an unkempt mop of sun-bleached hair in ever-present tow — didn’t bother taking off his bulky topcoat. He left a grey scarf slung around his neck. His hair was conspicuously tamed.

The actor had arrived, it turns out, to give a quick lecture on craft. But not before a highlight reel of McConaughey 1.0.

“That’s what I love about these high school girls…” the clip rolled, muffled by the crowd’s catcall, “I get older. They stay the same age.”

“When I went and read for that, it was obvious,” Mr. McConaughey told an audience of around a hundred people, “…that I was not that guy. I was in a fraternity, my jeans were pressed…I shaved before going to this job interview. Because that’s what I thought I had to do. I remember [director Richard Linklater] going, ‘You aren’t this guy.’

“And I’m like, ‘No. But I know who he is.’”

And so Dazed and Confused’s comically lecherous David Wooderson emerged. He was inspired, Mr. McConaughey said, by his older brother.

Before that gig? “I’d been in a Miller Lite commercial for about that long,” he laughed, squeezing his thumb and his index finger together. “It was not even really a modeling job.”  But McConaughey kept playing his looks. “There were some places where I got very fortunate and lucky or however you want to call it. Angels in the Outfield …They wanted to see me for an all-American guy named Ben Williams… I went to go see this guy on the Warner Bros lot. I remember I walked in. It was the afternoon. I was backlit,” he draws out the subtext, ‘by the Sun. On the Warner Bros lot.”

“I walked in and [this guy] goes, ‘Hey, look at you! You’re an all American kid! You ever played baseball?’” I said “‘12 years ag–.’ ‘You got the job!’”

Twenty years later and more emotionally one-note roles than otherwise, out popped a decidedly less aspirational character in Dallas Buyers Club, Ron Woodroof, an HIV-positive electrician who distributes unlicensed meds to other patients while the FDA trails him. A ‘hustling son of a bitch,” the actor calls him. The on-screen Ron came into being, as we now know, because McConaughey pre-plugged the project–and the so-called McConaughassance–into existence.

“[Ron’s] family was so honest about who he was and who he was not.… I had his diaries. That was my secret. I had that in my hip pocket. In that, there was a lot to read in between the lines. It had everything from what his dreams and aspirations were…[to when] he’s high late at night, scribbling and doodling, talking about people he’s hooked up with. A guy from a small town trying to get out.”

Sort of like a serious actor who’s been slumming it as a rom-com playboy for longer than he’d like?  “Rage gets more shit done than any other emotion,” Mr. McConaughey said of Woodroof’s reincarnation as a crusader.

“Go to work in the morning. Twelve hours later, let someone tell you, ‘That’s a wrap.’ And then have a glass of wine, fade out, head back home and see the family.”

With that, he breezed out the back exit, the door opening just enough for the house lights to catch his wife’s chestnut locks as they snuck out to the next stop.