Matthew McConaughey has been really busy lately. He is releasing five movies in less than a year, aside from a new job as a director of his own TV commercials, and the possibility to get a new Academy Award. To get an interview with him, is like finding ‘gold’. And since that is the title of his new movie, we could say we found it. Well, we found him when he agreed to an exclusive interview with no time limits, in the privacy of his home in Austin, Texas.
How good is your Spanish now, because I remember you were studying something?
It isn’t any better. It’s not better than it’s ever been. You can throw me into Mexico or Spain and I can get by, but I’m not going to sit there and have long fluent conversations with anybody in Spanish. It’s better than my Portuguese.
So did you name your daughter Vida for the Spanish word or your wife Portuguese?
Vida, V-I-D-A is Español para vida, it’s Spanish.
Was it your decision or your wife’s?
We both liked that name for a daughter. We liked that name from the beginning. We had many names if it were a boy, but we had one name if it were a girl , and that was it.
Do you know how hard it is for Hispanics to spell your name? Do you have trouble when you go outside to spell your last name?
I got taught early on to make sure I spelled my name. My brother taught me that you go, “After the m, little c, with two little lines under it, then a big capital C. I was teaching my son how to spell the other day, he’s like, “Wow! Eleven letters in a last name? That’s super long.” Yeah and people mispronounce it; they go Mac-con-a-hee. We say, “Look, it’s Ma-can-uh- hay, rhymes with “what would Madonna say.” And once you say that, people remember.
I remember that even Penelope Cruz even had trouble spelling it.
Yeah, yeah (Laughing out loud)
Was there ever a time you thought, “People know me enough to spell my name right.”
No, you can still misspell it, but as long as they now how to go, “Look it’s Matthew, it’s not Matt, and it’s McConaughey.” What I go by now is just McConaughey. I just go by my last name. I even introduce myself as just McConaughey. That’s what most people call me now, “Hey, McConaughey.”
I mean, was there ever a moment where you go, “Oh, yeah, people know me now.”
I don’t know. You know what people notice? My voice. If I go someplace and I have a hat on or something and people don’t recognize me, but I speak, people immediately turn and go, “I know that frequency. That’s McConaughey.”
My voice gives me away more than my looks.
When was the time that you decided to become an actor then?
When I went to the University of Texas, Austin. I did film school. I studied and was leaning toward the storytelling industry, but I was leaning towards behind the camera… alright? I was interested in the storytelling, but I was outside of the camera. But when we’d make our short films, you’d work with other people and switch sides. “I’ll help you in yours, acting and you act in mine”. And so in film, I’d would work as actor in other people’s short and I started acting in my own (short films). I really liked it and people said “You’re pretty good at this”.
And the first professional job as an actor?
When I met a guy, here in town, at the right time, who casted me in my first film ‘Dazed and Confused’. I was supposed to work three days and I ended up working three weeks. I was getting paid $300 a day. I was having a great time and people would say “You’re good at this. You should take some time and do it as a career.” And I would think “I’d love to. Is that legal? It’s too much fun and it pays well.” So, I went back to school, I graduated and I went back to California with a moving truck and $4,000 . I had my first audition in town and I didn’t know I was going to get my first audition and then, all of a sudden, I got hired. That’s how my story went and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Fast forward in time, when you won the Oscar. Do you remember those days?
Absolutely. Listen, the reason I said that line (when I accepted the Academy Award) “Alright, alright, alright”, that’s the first three words I ever said on screen. That’s were the first three words I said in Austin, Texas, in 12-Aug-1992.
First scene on the scene of ‘Dazed and Confused’, 10 miles from where I live right now, in Austin. Those were the first three words I ever said.
Now, since you won the Oscar, if you’d really need money, could you bring it to a pawn shop, like your character does in the movie?
(Laughs) No, no, but trust me, he would. He’d take gold from his mother’s teeth to a pawn shop, he’d take anything to a pawn shop. No, I’m not going to take my Oscar to a pawn shop.
Is it true that you can’t sell your Oscar at all?
I have no idea, I have never tried to sell it. I would hope so.
People say that you had to sign a release that you have to sell it first to the Academy for $1?
That makes sense. I would never think about selling my Oscar. I hope I’m never in financial trouble that I have to consider it.
Where do you keep the Oscar?
It’s in our Malibu home, in our living room, above everything. It’s in the open, but it’s not right in front of your face, everywhere.
Did you ever let your children hold it?
Oh, yes! That thing is cool. My older son, Levi is the one who thinks it’s a really cool one because I won a bunch of trophies that year and he also started to win trophies and he thought that it was really cool that I was winning trophies. And he knew that one was a super special one.
How do they react when they see you in commercials?
They think it’s cool. I mean, they let me know when I’m on more than I know I’m on. I’m flipping through the channels and I see a movie that I’m in, I very rarely stop to watch it, but when I come on the commercials and stuff. Like my eldest son, he likes the new commercials. He tells me which ones my daughter likes with the dogs. They have the ones they like and they know what I do because they come to the set with me everywhere. When I make a movie, they come to the set. When I make a commercial, they’ll come to the set. They know what I’m doing and they understand what they call a magic trick of capturing time in photos and making it in moving pictures. So when they see a commercial they remember where we shot it, where I was, what we did and what I’m doing on TV.
Did you do the movie ‘Sing’ for your kids?
Well, that was a big incentive. Again, people kept asking, “Hey, what’s your kids’ favorite movie you’ve made?” and I’m like, “They haven’t seen any. I haven’t made any that they can see.” So I was looking for some animated material, but I looked for a couple of years and nobody wanted to hire me. Then, all of a sudden ‘Sing’ came along after ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ and I got it. They’ve seen that and love Buster Moon. I’m not their favorite character, but they’ve seen it. They love it and that made me more popular in the household with my kids, for sure.
Is it true that you’re also sitting in the director’s chair with the whisky commercials Wild Turkey?
Yeah, I came on as the creative director of that whole brand. We got three commercials to do, three ads to do in three years. I worked on the first one – wrote and directed it. I’m working on the second one now, which is a lot of fun for me. Also, as I told you, I studied to be a director early on. I’m kind-of getting back in the director’s chair, which is a different way to have control over the art that I’m trying to create. I’ve found it fun and exhilarating and also scary, but it was really fun to tell the story in 30 seconds. I love marketing.
Would you direct your own movie?
Maybe down the line. I think it would have to be something that I wrote and that I have a truly original point of view on.
What does Matthew McConaughey, the director, think about Matthew McConaughey, the actor? And what does Matthew McConaughey, the actor, think about Matthew McConaughey, the director?
Well look, I think as a director. I think this guy McConaughey is really exciting actor. I do. I love his commitment. I love him playing character roles too. I love the way this guy goes and inhabits the character and shows some different part of humanity. I love that he plays these wild, sort-of omniscient periphery characters that are outcast, solo, individuals that have been cast out by society. I love how he plays these characters that are not really status quo or follows the status quo of law, government and everything else. I love how he gives them humanity. I also think that McConaughey is pretty damn funny. That guy makes me laugh.
And McConaughey, the director?
Now, is it McConaughey the director? I saw this last commercial that McConaughey directed. He engineered around the music, so it was very specific to the music. I think what’s going to be his best way in with directing more commercials is via music. I think if he sticks with how music drives into his pieces, he’s going to be doing some really interesting work. I also want to see him do something that is not engineered so precisely. I want to see how he works with actors and he should work with actors well because he is one himself.
How much does it help when you do research for a movie like ‘Gold’, To be Matthew McConaughey, does it open more doors to get research? Do you get more things done easily?
Good question. Look, being Matthew McConaughey, I get asked certain things, but for ‘Gold’ I didn’t need access to anything that you couldn’t have gotten. I mean, it was all online. It was all the things that I had read. It was things I had researched and then I created my own character out of it. It wasn’t like I needed to go to NASA and get special training for ‘Interstellar’ or something. It wasn’t that. I didn’t need to get behind any doors that anybody needed to get into for ‘Gold’.
‘Gold’ was pretty easy to access what I needed to research. Mainly who this guy was and what the gold story was. A lot of it is unknown what they did. A lot of it, people are still trying to figure it out if they got away with it, if they called off the gold scam. After finding all that, who this guy was and what this guys did, it was really researching my own life and my own experiences .
What kind of experiences?
You know, I grew up when my dad was around. He was a pipe salesman, very much a hustler. I was around with him on road trips when I was a kid and he would go door -to -door, doing sales and bank -to -bank. I heard him and I ran into some characters that reminded me what this world was. I’ve been around those guys that work out of a bar, that is their office, and that’s where they sit on and they have phones, so they take their meetings in a bar. I’ve seen those. I know those men. My dad loved shady deals. He got into all kind of shady deals. He’d buy ‘hot’ watches and jewelry for my mother and stuff that you know. It wasn’t worth what he’d paid for. He loved to do a shady deal. He did an investment with a mining guy in Ecuador. There were no diamonds in that mine, but he loved going to Ecuador, hiking through the jungle with a machete and saying he was looking for diamonds and he loved to say he bought a hot watch from a guy who was selling in a back alley. He loved the danger of it and the mystery of those kind of deals and that’s pretty much how Kenny really was. He (my dad) was also a really good salesman, I mean, a lot of people have went bankrupt and he never did. It was like he had nine lives.
Was ‘The Sea of Trees’ finally released? I watched it in Cannes.
It came and went. They did a limited release in Los Angeles. Very, very little and Boom, it was gone.
Why do you think that happened? The same movie had people who loved and hated in Cannes, too.
Well, you don’t know. Look, Justin Chang (from Variety) came out and gave us a horrible review and it was like a bad mark, like a scarlet letter that the film or even people talking about the film, they hung on the bad review of Chang, without even seeing it. I mean, people can write whatever they want. You can have whatever opinion you want. We tried to make the best movie we could make. Are there things I like about the movie? Absolutely. Are there things people don’t like about the movie that they have a point? Sure, they have a point. You can like it or not like it. You try to make something that you like, but also, that people will enjoy. We made something, whether you like it or not or whether it’s the best version is up to people’s interpretation. Also, when we came out, nobody chose to go see it. People may watch it on Netflix or whereever they watch it, at home, later, but it’s like damn, but it happens. You never know when something is going to work. There’s some really good films out there that never do good box office. There’s some very mediocre films out there that did incredible box office.
Do you think that 10 years from now, people will sit down and enjoy it better?
You don’t know. Look at ‘Free State of Jones’; that didn’t do as well as we hoped either. ‘Free State of Jones’ really under performed. That thing opened up at seven and was gone in two weeks. I think that movie had a lot of merit and it’s something I’m going to be proud of with a feather in my cap, later on in life. Will it have a new life? I don’t know.
Do you think it will come back with the Academy Award season?
I don’t. Even though I think it has some Academy worthy stuff, for
different parts of the film, I think it’s got some things that should be in consideration. I just don’t think it will. In this business, how a movie does, a movie in this business has to have some box office success to have some momentum to get the attention. It’s a long shot that people open up the box and go back and pick up something in ‘Free State of Jones’ that they feel is worth considering comes Award season.
But don’t you think that could help for you to get a new Academy Award nomination for this movie then.
Well, let’s see. I loved the performance and it’s my favorite character I’ve ever played. Kenny Wells is my favorite character I’ve ever played and I gave everything I could to it. I had an absolute ball. It was hard, but it was so much fun creating that character and creating that character and being in that story.
How it’s received, we’ll see. I think it’s a really impressive film and a great story.
It’s the first one I would go see if I got 20 choices in the theater. ‘Gold’ is the kind of movie I’ll go, “Yup, that’s the one I want to go see.”
Let’s go through some quick questions: Two reasons that would make you miss a day at work?
Birth of another child and an anniversary.
Two things you love to do in your trailer?
I like to cook in my trailer, and I like to watch and bet on football games.
Two things you miss the most when you are working?
Boy, I don’t know. That’s when I feel the most whole. I really don’t miss anything when I’m working. I mean, I can’t say I miss my family because my family is always with me. I can’t say I miss home because I feel at home when I’m working.
Two things that make you mad?
Socialites and social climbers. People that want to be around you and act like they know you, but they don’t and they tell people, “Yeah, I’m really good friends with Matt,” and I’m like, “If he’s calling me Matt, then we’re not good friends.”
Anybody that knows me, knows I’m not Matt. I´m Mattew.
Two things you do when nobody is looking?
I don’t know, look in the mirror and pray.
Two things you wouldn’t do as an actor.
I don’t have anything I wouldn’t do in the context. I don’t have anything, nothing I would say, “I won’t do that.”
Two things you hate to do as an actor, but you still do it?
No, I mean, I love to do that, I have to do that. I know that’s part of what makes me as good as I can be. Here is my least favorite part. Waiting around in between shots. That’s my least favorite part. I don’t like to leave the set. That’s it; I do not like to leave set.
Two things you love to do as an actor, but I couldn’t do it yet?
Well, I’d love to direct myself as an actor. I haven’t done that yet. I’d like to do an entire role in Spanish. Wouldn’t that be cool? I should do a Western in Spanish.
Fabian Waintal / The Interview People