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Magic Mike - Matthew McConaughey interview

Magic Mike

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MATTHEW McConaughey talks about why making striptease drama Magic Mike with director Steven Soderbergh was a no-brainer as well as the leap of faith you take when wearing a thong.

He also reflects on his own career and his decision to take on more serious roles, as well as what it was like to play Killer Joe for director William Friedkin.

Q. Was playing Dallas in Magic Mike a no-brainer? I gather Steven Soderbergh phoned you and offered you the role and it was accepted in 10mins?
Matthew McConaughey: I’ve never gotten a call from Steven Soderbergh before… I would have loved to have gotten a call years ago but got my first one from him this time. He pitched it in five minutes and as soon as I heard that world and coming from him, I was like ‘what a great idea…’ He loves looking into small sub-cultures that don’t really have a light shining on them and not in a direct way… he has a Soderbergh angle on it. And then he pitched the character and my imagination just started running immediately. I was like: “Yes! I’m in!”

Q. Is it the kind of role where you have to check your inhibitions at the door?
Matthew McConaughey: Well, the role for everybody is one big dare. It’s a big dare. And that’s part of the attraction to it. You don’t check your inhibitions at the door but you know you damn well better check them before you get on the stage because you will have them – and we all had them. So, you rehearse it, you choreograph and you work to get comfortable. I had to work to get comfortable being on stage with a mic and being lord of the rings! And I had to get real comfortable with being in a freakin’ thong to get out there and go with it… to be devil may care and say: “What have I got to lose? Lay it down, dude!”

Q. I’ve read that you consider wearing a thong to be one of the larger leaps of faith in life…
Matthew McConaughey: Yeah, because you don’t even know it’s there. And it’s such a small amount that’s already there covering you! And to trust it and the many different angles and upside downs and splits that you do… it’s a bit daunting.

Q. What’s been more daunting in your two most recent roles – force feeding Gina Gershon fried chicken in Killer Joe or parading in front of 150 women in a thong?
Matthew McConaughey: Oh, the last one [laughs] because it’s a much more vulnerable state to be trusting the thong than it is to be holding the chicken [laughs]!

Q. How was filming that scene in Killer Joe?
Matthew McConaughey: Oh man it was wild fun. It’s a completely out there scene. It’s one of those scenes where you read it and it’s like ‘the chicken scene, the chicken scene’. And you’re calling it that before it’s even been shot. It was pretty ruthless, I would say. It’s not one of those ones where you’d say: “Well, let’s play it safe!” No, it’s already so out there, so you go: “OK….” The main choice was, through the sort of sexual act… can you call it that? But not really? What would you call it? Help me come up with a name for that… what Joe is actually going through and what he was saying. The main thing for me was this simple thing: does what you do create what you say, or is what you’re saying creating what you do? The dance and the speech, let’s just say that.

And it was go through the activity… try and be in the activity and let the activity render the words. And then [laughs]… it’s wildly funny isn’t it? The cut-away to Thomas Haden Church and say: “How are we doing?” He’s like the straight guy in the classic Monty Python thing. He’s like John Cleese. It’s the two comics and the straight man and Thomas Haden Church is the straight man and that’s what’s so funny when you cut to him and he’s like throwing up [when I say ‘how are we doing?’] and you’re laughing. He’s the audience going: “What is going on?”

Q. With these two roles in particular it kind of seems as though you’re taking more risks all of a sudden. Is that something you’re looking for now?
Matthew McConaughey: Yeah, I think so, somebody with a very unique voice. Dallas was someone that had such a unique job and already had a unique voice put on paper by Reid Carolin. But it was just wide open. It was Pandora’s Box for where to go with it… the gift of gab. This guy was a poet, he’s a rapper, a master of ceremonies, silver tongued devil, lightning rod. So, just fly with that. Joe had such a voice given by Tracie Letts but I didn’t get it at first. It took a while to get Tracie Letts’ meter and people don’t have conversations in a linear fashion. It’s not question-answer, question-answer… it’s maybe half a question and then you answer something that I’m going to ask you five minutes from now. But how did you know I was going to ask you that?

So, you get the pauses, where the lilts almost seem stagnant, but it’s not stagnant… it’s where the genius of where Letts’ stuff comes from. So, it was a very original voice by a very original writer. Both characters are loners, really. They’re very much their own men and like to live in their own world and create their own rules. They don’t pander or placate to any other regulations beside s their own. And that’s great fun as an actor to go I’ve got my own credence and I don’t have to follow anybody else’s rules besides my won. So, there’s a lot of spirit and a lot of power and a lot of clarity and identity. These characters have strong identities and I think that was fun. It’s not as fun when you don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to do when you go to work, or almost sometimes it’s not as fun to come and go to work and you’re playing the character like it could go this way or go that way.

It’s fun because it can be comedy… but even in romantic comedies I try to never go down the path of… usually the guy in romantic comedies is getting pulled this way and then he gets pulled this way. And that’s funny. But what I always tried to do in those was be the guy that thinks he’s got it handled, but he doesn’t – and now we laugh because we know he thinks he’s got it but we know as the audience that he doesn’t have the handle… and let that be the humour. That’s what I was always trying to go for.

Q. When you mention the strong sense of identity of those characters is that something you’ve been able to work towards yourself as an actor? Right now, you seem to be the master of your own destiny in terms of the roles you’re taking… How long has it taken to get to that point?
Matthew McConaughey: Well, part of it was… I didn’t have an epiphanatic moment… stop, start this is what I’m going to do, I’m going after this role, this role, this role. At the time I was getting offered some action roles and some romantic comedies that either the character felt like I’d done it before or the movie felt like I’ve seen it before. And so I just kind of said: “Matthew, have some patience, be consciously patient, don’t dismiss, don’t dis-engage but you’ve got time, man. You’re paying your bills, paying your rent, take some time off and keep your eyes open for the right thing.” And so I had to say no to a lot of things with some very nice pay cheques.

So, in that cyclical way that the world works, man, all of a sudden I started to attract these kind of things, all of a sudden I started to get the calls from these kind of people. How exactly that worked or why I don’t have the answer to. Did The Lincoln Lawyer help with that? Sure! It tilted a little bit the perspective of me. Did ‘where’s McConaughey?’ help with that? Sure. And the rest of the reasons… I’m not sure why. So, they attracted me and I latched onto them and did my best in the work and tried to fly with the characters. I’ve got a couple lined up that I’m very excited about that are not the same but in the same vein as far as risk and as far as characters with a real singular will and drive. And past that I don’t have a plan… but these things are definitely helping me attract more and maybe choose more. I don’t know sometimes if I’m a better chooser of them or if I just put myself in position to attract the right thing.

It’s part of the reason I’ve turned down some producing jobs of late because I’m a better producer sometimes as an actor. I think I assist the telling of the story sometimes better from that place because I love being involved in the story and the writing and all that. I really love it. Right now, I’m in a spot where I don’t want to clutter my work with anything other than acting. I’m in the mood right now to be an actor for hire. If I’m worth it I want to get paid for it, absolutely, but that’s what I’m concentrating on. There’s some directing coming up in the future. And family. Those three, that’s a lot and that’s plenty. If I can do those, then voila!

Magic Mike

Q. So you will be directing as well…
Matthew McConaughey: Starting with some small things like music videos but even that… I’m yet to find the fun and the creation like I’m finding in the acting right now. And when I say fun I don’t mean it’s a lark; I mean fun in terms of actually going to create something and you get to a place where you’re like: “Woah! That lives and breathes on its own!” That’s an alive, original thing.

Q. Do you find that your ambition for getting behind the camera is fuelled by spending a lot of time with directors like William Friedkin, Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater?
Matthew McConaughey: Yeah, because they’re telling specific stories from their specific point of view and… jeez, those three make it look all really easy – which it’s not! But they sure do make it look easy. Richard and Steven never say the word ‘no’. They’re kind of hands off directors. They’re kind of shapers… they’re like ‘yeah, let’s do it’. And they’re editing in their mind. William is going after something… but if you lay it down once it’s ‘boom, we got it’. I’ve learned this, and especially with independent films where time is so precious, you don’t show up on set and talk about it. It’s show me time. Don’t tell me what you want to do, just go and show me. And that can be a scary proposition. But it’s also what’s fun. When you know you’re getting one or two takes, at the most, it’s relaxing in a way. With William, you get one take. That’s a daunting thing when you say it and when you think about it, but it’s not a daunting thing when it’s time to do it because you really have nothing to lose. And that’s because there’s only one, so what have you go to lose, dude? Don’t save it!

Q. Is that the closest thing to theatre… acting in its purest form?
Matthew McConaughey: I don’t know. I never thought about it. But I guess so. I’ve never done theatre but I suppose that is one of the sensations… is that it’s live. You’re on, so do it. And there’s something in the human body and in the mind that does kick in… whether it’s that extra 11% they say we never tap into… there’s something. I know that if I have as many takes as I want I’ll be just as prepared… always. But I’ve found myself warming up into it and maybe hitting it on take four. But when you know you’ve got one, your body goes: “I don’t need a warm up!” So, then the challenge is, well every scene doesn’t need to be a home run, every scene doesn’t need to be a goal. Maybe it’s just a pass the ball. But a chicken scene… it’s time to hit the ball out of the park! It’s time to hit the shot! But every scene shouldn’t be home runs or six wickets.

Q. You’re going into TV as well….
Matthew McConaughey: Yeah, it’s a HBO series. Cary Fukunaga is going to direct it and me and Woody Harrelson are playing two detectives in Arkansaw.

Q. How many episodes?
Matthew McConaughey: Eight.

Q. And you’ll be in all of them?
Matthew McConaughey: I plan to, yeah.

Q. Would that be perceived as a risk, to kind of step away from movies for a while?
Matthew McConaughey: Well, I think it would have been perceived as a real risk even as little as 10 years ago. But I think today those lines have crossed so much. Not just from actors going into TV and doing HBO, Showtime and these cable networks. I don’t watch much TV but you can put one of those networks on and be like: “Oh, wow, there’s some characters that I’m not seeing in movie scripts. There’s some stories that I’m not seeing in film scripts.” And it doesn’t have that no man’s land taboo… don’t go from film to TV. It used to have that. It was a real thing. But I’m not concerned with it. It’s really good writing and it’s a really interesting director.

Q. Going back earlier in your career, you had a lot of comparisons to Paul Newman. Was that a pressure when you heard them? Or did you not pay them much attention?
Matthew McConaughey: Right. I paid attention but I never took it as pressure. I did always take it as a 100% compliment. I don;t know if it’s the fairest comparison. It’s a flattering comparison. But I never really had anything in me that said: “Oh, they’re comparing you to him, so let’s be more like him.” The main thing besides Hud being one of my favourite films and loving Cool Hand Luke and things like that… one thing that’s great about him was how he led his life outside… married to Joanne Woodward for all those years. He was a stand-up man outside. Also, he had something, though… he had a certain charisma that was part of his success. Even with a film like Hud, where he’s playing a real asshole, you love him.

And I’d read somewhere that that’s what he didn’t like about that film because it came out and people said to him: “Oh God, we loved you in Hud!” And he’d be like… ‘how could you love Hud? How could you really like Hud?” But he had that charisma that even with a character like that, who was a real self-serving ass, that as a man you look at and go: “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to have the constitution and the way to live your life like that? To walk that straight line… to be able to go to sleep at night, to have a conscience that you could say ‘no, devil be gone’! So, I think that’s what he sort of communicated with people… he’d be like: “No, this guy’s not a good guy!”

Magic Mike

Q. So, if somebody said the same thing to you about Killer Joe, that they liked the character, would you mind?
Matthew McConaughey: [Laughs] No, I wouldn’t be upset if they said that they liked Joe. Joe’s a very moral man. His morality is not one… his sense of justice is not one that I think we need to make an epidemic. But he’s got his own rules and his rules are clear. The only reason things go bad is because people get loose with the rules. People have different types of justice and his is out there. But it’s highly entertaining.

Q. You mention the three things that are important to you and family is included in that. So, how is it juggling family with your career, especially when you can be called away for long periods at a time?
Matthew McConaughey: Well, to this point – and we plan to keep practising it because it’s been something that’s been very healthy and I’m very fortunate because I have a family and a wife mainly that says: “When you go to work papai, which is Portuguese for ‘dad’, we come with you.” I’m very fortunate to have that because she’s also an independent woman who has her own job. But that’s made it very, very much easier to keep it from being such a juggling act. We’re the travelling McConaugheys. We’re a travelling circus and we get to together and it’s part of the deal now.

So, if we’re going there for that amount of time it’s part of the deal now… ‘oh, we don’t have the budget, we can’t really…’; “well, that’s not my problem, family comes with’. That’s the deal. It helps us stay together, it helps us enjoy, it helps us grow together, it helps me see the kids grow, it helps me be part of their experience, it helps them be part of mine. Film sets are great places for children to be. Very creative people that have made their own way, that have specific things that they’re really good at… so you get to say: “Here’s the prop department. Here’s what he does.” It’s like going to the toy store. I remember taking my son… to see someone on film, but then see them there in person, it’s ‘how does it work’? It’s teaching them the magic trick.

So, I remember my son seeing me in Reign of Fire and I was on-screen and then it cut to a cauldron of fire and he started crying. But I was like: “No, I’m right here.” But he was like: “No, I just saw you…” So, I had to get him to come to the set and watch me do something and then take him back behind the monitor and let him watch the same thing. It took him a while because he could peak around the corner. But then he’d go back to the monitor and see us record and then he’d go back over there to see me, then go back again, and then he got it and said: “Oh, magic trick! You can capture time!” And then it became this really cool thing that now he goes: “OK, I understand you can be in two places at once…” And that’s a magic trick. But it took a while. At first it was very disarming for him. But it’s also fun because I get to teach him some magic tricks.

Read our review of Magic Mike

Magic Mike is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, November 26, 22012.