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The smaller the gaps are, the more gratifying the acting process.

It’s sort of seasonal


Matthew McConaughey has been a Redskins fan since he was four years old. He thinks it started with watching late-night movies on tv, when he rooted for the “Indians” against the cowboys. Nowadays, he watches games throughout the season. He’s got a satellite dish back on his ranch in Texas, and he likes to watch football on Sundays, when he says, he can “flip all around and get all the games.” McConaughey’s passionate interest in football is matched by his love of filmmaking. He’s a 1992 graduate of the film program at the University of Texas at Austin—where he studied directing, not acting—and he still looks back fondly on his senior film, a 12-minute documentary on low rider culture called Chicano Chariots. His subjects were perfect, McConaughey recalls, “They were so comfortable. If anything, they were too eager in front of the camera. It was not a shy group.”


He’s also pretty comfortable in the spotlight. His laid-back attitude is legendary in always rush-rushing Hollywood, and so I’m not as surprised as I might have been when McConaughey greets me at the door of his Los Angeles Four Seasons hotel room, fresh from the shower and at ease in his plush white terry robe. He invites me inside, leans back into the couch and lights a cigarette. “Okay,” his level gaze seems to say, “Shoot.” We do the Hollywood thing, for a minute, and begin by talking about his new film, The Wedding Planner, in which he stars—and dances—with former In Living Color flygirl Jennifer Lopez.



Cynthia Fuchs:

How did you think about your performance in The Wedding Planner? Was it different for you, as your first romantic comedy?



Matthew McConaughey:

There’s a real optimism to this film. It’s buoyant, a fairy tale that we’ve all heard one time or another, that you’re going to meet someone and it’s going to be true love and you’ll know it. It’s very innocent. And it’s a comedy set-up, so the thing to do is to play it at an even keel and as straightforward as possible. The dialogue and situations are already comedic, so I was trying to ground it as much as possible. But when I saw it, there were things that were coming out of my mouth where I was wondering, “Did you just say that?”



CF:

Did you have previous dancing experience?



MM:

I didn’t know how to tango before the movie. I took some lessons. I can dance, I have rhythm, but I’m so very undisciplined and don’t know any steps. For the tango, it’s complicated, because you have steps and your torso is doing something else, and then you lay dialogue over it. If it’s going to be worth it, you need to try to forget what you’re saying and where your feet are going. If it works, it’s what’s not being said, the cat-and-mouse, who’s pushing, who’s pulling.



CF:

How do you maintain your sense of distance and groundedness?



MM:

It is an effort. It becomes something that you tenaciously seek out. It’s going back to the ranch for 25 days, taking that drive to Texas. I have a nice car named Midnight. It’s a midnight blue 740 IL BMW, the ultimate driving machine. My dog [Miss Hud, named after the Paul Newman movie] and I like to go on road trips. I might be having a great time here [in Los Angeles], but I still know that I need to get away. It’s like when you’re going to work out, the hard part is getting your shoes on, but if you get out the door, you’re always glad you went. I need a little time for a little reflection, you gotta remember to take it, and then boom, go, and come back, richer, our memory catches up. You know what it is, in this part of it, you don’t meet strangers anymore, everyone’s got a biography on you but you don’t have a biography on them, so every conversation’s a little bit imbalanced, because they know some things that you don’t. It’s nice to go meet strangers, or be around people who don’t measure you by what your job is. Around the family or my friends, we don’t talk about movies. Hell, we don’t even go see movies. We do things. It makes it easier to come back here, and in the past two years, I’ve really come to like Hollywood. There’s only one place like it: everyone’s trying to tell a story. But if everyone’s telling stories, who’s living the stories? But in getting away, you meet the people that they tell the stories about.



CF:

You’re looking to produce some of those stories, with you production company, j.k. livin’ [adopted from a line spoken by his character in Dazed and Confused]. That seems to bring you back to your work at University of Texas.



MM:

We haven’t physically produced anything yet. We worked on a documentary, Hands on a Hard Body, a contest that started down in Longview, Texas, where people put their hands on a truck, and the last one to remove their hands, wins the truck. It’s a great set-up for a story, because you got your beginning, middle and you know you’re gonna get your end. But we’ve got some stories, three things that are ready to go. After [my next film,] Rain of Fire, one of them will be the first thing to go, either after the strike or without the strike.



CF:

It’s important for you to have the company?



MM:

I need something on the side to have a little pride in, that’s ongoing, that I can devote some of my time to. Acting’s hard work six days a week and then you’re off, and it’s all Saturdays. I need something that I check in with. The best thing I did acting-wise, was about two years ago, I kept getting really close to jobs but I wasn’t getting them, it was like I was getting too conservative. But then I hopped up and wrote and directed a short, and then I started getting acting jobs, because I had that thing on the side that I had pride in. It allowed me to be free, to take more risks. I respected every audition.



CF:

How do you decide what roles to pursue?



MM:

I try and mix it up. It depends on where I am and what I’d like to spend time doing at that time in my life. Can I get an angle on it? Is it something that could be a strength of mine, something I can experiment with? Do I feel funny? It’s sort of seasonal.



CF:

Your performances look unforced. Do you have a set strategy for acting?



MM:

When I’m thinking about a role, there are some people whose opinions I like to get, then I start with basics, trying to define a character, to see how he comes together. I do more work in pre-production, which I think is the most important part. After you go that first day, and establish yourself on screen in one scene, there’s a lot of things you’re married to from there, so there’s a liberation that comes from there. Because you’ve got your walk, you’ve got your talk, and your general attitude. And you’re married now, if you don’t like them, too late. Then there’s that gap between what you want to do and what you actually do, and then another gap between what you actually do and what gets recorded, in the camera-editing process. You try and do something, but it’s not getting recorded or it’s getting misread. The smaller the gaps are, the more gratifying the acting process.



CF:

So you don’t fret too much about those gaps?



MM:

I can handle going to see dailies now, I can objectively see myself without being vain. I can see and tell the truth about the character and see what’s working for me, and if what I’ve got is what I was trying to do. I can find something I like or dislike, and be constructively critical of my work now, and I couldn’t before. I love the process, I love the making of them. But if I see a movie of mine on tv, I just keep flipping.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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