AUSTIN. Texas - Let the record show that Matthew McConaughey was wearing a shirt.
McConaughey was in Austin last week talking up “Surfer, Dude,” a low-budget indie film that bears his name as both producer and star. It’s safe to say none of the assembled press walked away from the media sessions thinking, “Wow, he’s nothing like I thought he would be.” In shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops, with a scraggly growth of beard and ever-present set of bongos in his lap, the actor played the role of Matthew McConaughey to a tee.
That’s basically the role he plays in “Surfer, Dude,” too. As laid-back, chilled-out and oft-shirtless “soul surfer” Steve Addington, a man who lives for the waves, the women and the weed, McConaughey might as well be starring in his own home movies. That’s the public perception of his image, anyway, and the actor agrees up to a point.
“There’s a lot of me in Addington,” McConaughey says. “The connection to nature is the main thing. A guy who has some good friends he needs to rely on to help him out of some times. I’m lucky to have that. A guy who you want to have around, who’s always gonna be a good baseline good time. Usually. My life’s not as simple as his. My wants and ambitions are a little more sophisticated than his, but I really admire the simplicity of this guy, having one pure thing that he loves and needs. And what do you do when that’s taken away? But no, I’ve got a few more responsibilities than Addington does.”
One of those responsibilities is Levi Alves McConaughey, the son born two months ago to the 38-year-old actor and his girlfriend, Camila Alves. Another is j.k. livin, McConaughey’s production company, through which he co-produced “Surfer, Dude.”
“It’s really difficult to get a movie made,” he says, drumming absently on his bongos. (The same set he was playing in the nude when he was arrested at his Austin home in 1999? We may never know for sure.) “Even at just over six million dollars with me attached to it, it was not a hook, line, sinker, ‘Yeah, we’re doing it.’ They weren’t lining up to finance this film, so we had to peddle this around town.”
That makes “Surfer, Dude” a far cry from “Tropic Thunder,” the big budget summer movie in which McConaughey also appears, a fact that is not lost on “Surfer” director S.R. “Robb” Bindler (“Hands on a Hard Body”).
“I was looking for an establishing shot of Malibu,” Bindler says. “We pulled over, and I looked 300 yards down the beach, which is where one of our sets was going to be built for a little scene. I had talked to our production designer about what the set was going to look like, and we kept scaling back because we didn’t have much of a budget for a build. When I looked down, it was this massive set.” Of course, it was too good to be true. “That’s Ben Stiller’s set. That’s ‘Tropic Thunder.’ That set probably cost half of what our movie cost.”
McConaughey and Bindler go back to 1985, when they met at Longview High School. “In the back corner of art class,” McConaughey says. “We weren’t front-row guys.” In the late 1990s, the rising star of “Dazed and Confused” and “A Time to Kill” wrote a check so his back-row buddy could transfer his debut documentary from video to film for the festival circuit. Although Bindler has been writing screenplays ever since, nothing came together until McConaughey brought him a surfing script penned by a mutual friend. “I wasn’t even onto acting in it, I was just a producer. I went to Robb. Robb had his feelings about the script, I liked those ideas, he went and wrote it and I hopped on as an actor. And then we shot it in 28 days in Malibu, California, last summer.”
Unlike most modern indies, “Surfer, Dude” was shot on Super 16mm film rather than digital video. “It’s beautiful,” McConaughey says. “It has a lot of texture. You can smell the film.” Shooting on the ocean presented some unique challenges, particularly since the movie is set during a summer without waves. “Any time the camera’s facing the ocean, the bottom of the frame has to be above these waves crashing. So we had to pick out the right time. We needed flat days, and actually Mother Nature worked with us for most of the production and gave us a lot of flat days.”
Although he enjoyed his producing gig and learning to surf for the film, McConaughey is ready to chill. “Every single day for the last year and a half, it’s something I’ve needed to have my hands on - which is why I wanted to do it. I’m gonna enjoy being a dad for a while and going around selling ‘Surfer, Dude.’”
With a bongo on his knee.