Matthew McConaughey talks about the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
By ED SYMKUS - More Content Now
For the past 20 years, Matthew McConaughey has been an actor, making his big-screen debut as the pothead David Wooderson in “Dazed and Confused.”
For most of those decades, he’s been a target of barbs from the critics. But in recent years, starting around the time of “Tropic Thunder,” in which he played clueless Hollywood agent Rick Peck, those same critics have turned hate into love.
McConaughey has been on a roll, in “Killer Joe,” “Magic Mike” and “Mud.”
In the based-on-fact film “Dallas Buyers Club,” he plays Ron Woodroof, a Texas man and hard-loving heterosexual who was stunned to find out, in 1986, that he was HIV-positive.
The film traces his journey from frightened patient to groundbreaking pioneer of finding alternative treatments and medicines, and sharing that information with others. To play the part, McConaughey dropped his weight from his normal 182 down to 135. He spoke about the film and his career at the Toronto International Film festival.
Ed Symkus: What were your first thoughts when you read the script?
Matthew McConaughey: I remember writing down that thing’s got fangs. Fangs! I thought it was an incredible character-driven story. There was this guy who had a seventh-grade education, was a two-bit cowboy, bull-riding electrician, ... womanizer, heterosexual, who gets HIV, has 30 days to live, and within seven years, becomes an absolute scientist of HIV and the other pathogens. A guy with that education, from that background who goes on his own and does research and knows as much or more about the disease than a lot of the doctors did – I thought that was a great story.
ES: How difficult do you think it was to be a man with AIDS in Texas back then?
MM: A heterosexual with AIDS ... there weren’t many people believing that you were a heterosexual if you had it. Shoot, that suspicion is still there today. But at that time, when this disease had just hit, and the doctors didn’t know what to do with it, there were all kinds of ideas and conspiracies of where it came from, who had it, who could get it, who couldn’t get it. I remember when Magic Johnson came out with it, there were players saying I’m not gonna play on the same court. They had a legitimate beef because nobody knew. People said you could get it from a handshake. You can get it from saliva. You can get it from swapping sweat. They said you could look that person in the eye and get it. And nobody came out with a doctrine saying here’s what’s true and here’s what’s not true.
ES: You lost all of that weight under the care of nutritionists, but what were you eating when you got down to 135?
MM: More than you’d think. I was eating pretty damn healthy, just small amounts. I was eating 5 ounces of fish for lunch, with a cup of vegetables, 5 ounces of fish for dinner. And a wild thing happened. My body got the message that I wasn’t gonna feed it any more [food], and it felt like it was losing weight on its own. Because once I got to the weight that I wanted to get to, I started eating more, to plateau out, and my body still wanted to keep losing weight.
ES: Is it true that you were on the road to become a lawyer before you started acting?
MM: After I finished high school, I moved to Australia for a year because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I came back, went to University of Texas at Austin, and was headed towards law school. It wasn’t till the end of my sophomore year that I started getting a little nervous about this idea of being a lawyer. At that time I was saying to myself that I wanted to go into the storytelling business. So, I went to film school, and studied behind the camera. I wasn’t thinking about being an actor, but when I look back now, even when I was directing, I would get over there and show the person what I wanted him to do. So, I was kind of performing, and I was enjoying it. But it wasn’t ’til that summer in ’92, between my junior and senior year, that I was in the right bar at the right time, and the casting director Don Phillips brought me to meet with [director] Richard Linklater for “Dazed and Confused.”
ES: You’ve never stopped working, yet in the past few years critics have been kinder to you. Are you doing anything differently?
MM: I’m going for more experiences. I’ve wanted to pick some things out that scare me a little bit, things I’m not sure what I’m gonna do with it, but that I can’t get off my mind.