Dallas Buyers Club - Matthew McConaughey interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
MATTHEW McConaughey talks about playing the role of Aids sufferer Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club and some of the challenges of the role.
He also talks about his own career rennaissance and why he took the decision to shake things up, even if he hasn’t ruled out returning to a rom-com one day. He was speaking at a BAFTA Q&A event in London.
Q. In terms of the production and how it was put together in such a unique way, what was the experience like for you?
Matthew McConaughey: Very immediate. If you’ve already asked Jared, I’m sure he concurs, it’s great for an actor because there’s no time to be precious, there’s almost no time to be considerate, and you have to really do your work in pre-production. But once you’re there, the day we showed up, you left your make-up trailer and you went to work and then all of a sudden someone would come up to you and tell you it was the end of the day. You rehearsed on camera, if you had an idea you didn’t talk about it, you tried to do it, so it was show instead of tell. If you experimented, you experimented on camera. And then 25 days later someone came up and tapped us on the shoulder and said: “it’s over!” And that was really the first time you really hopped outside and got an objective look, or could get to be a voyeur and think about what it was that we did.
Q. In terms of the roles you’ve played so far in your career, would you say this is the biggest commitment you’ve ever had for a role?
Matthew McConaughey: I think that’s probably fair to say. I mean, there was so much research to do on this man and this time, HIV… I gave myself a good solid seven months to dive in head-first and stay. I’ve said this [before], if we would be making the film tomorrow and I’d had the last year to research, I would still be busy researching. I could still fill my time getting ready for this.
Q. Is it true you pretty much locked yourself away while preparing? And if so what was the reason behind that?
Matthew McConaughey: Well, it sort of started when I decided to lose weight. So, the militant way I went about that sort of gave me the construct to spend a lot of time on my own and research it, meaning number one, I wasn’t really eating as much and I was staying on very programmed meals. So, that took away social gatherings and that took away meetings at restaurants. So, I wasn’t getting any sun either because I needed to be more pale. So, that took away three hours where I wouldn’t be outside. So, what I found is that I had seven more hours a day in which I would stay inside and I just became a hermit and dove into these great tapes and books and the diaries and then plenty of fun stuff to study on this guy, Ron Woodroof. I never had time to really be complacent.
Q. How did it feel to say goodbye to the character?
Matthew McConaughey: Well, I immediately missed him because it was such an adventure feeling like an underdog for almost nine months. I put myself on this island and it was really inspiring to be there. And then during the 25 days we told this story it felt like we were getting something special. I was looking forward to a really nice, full sized meal! But I even have times, over a year later that I sort of miss that time a little bit. To have something to commit to so fully really turned me on. It was really inspiring.
Q. Jared referred to his character as she, whereas in the supermarket when Ron is showing the most respect to Rayon, he refers to him. Was that a deliberate choice? Did Ron see Rayon as a man or a woman as he changed his views to that community?
Matthew McConaughey: I never really thought about it. I think at that point Ron’s kind of in a place where he’s not worried about whether it’s a he, a she, a black or white, an it, a they, a me or them. At this point, Ron has become sort of an outcast and his friends and his world has turned their back on him and isolated him. So, Rayon is just another person, he or she that has the same disease and the same challenges and conflicts every single day. So, they’re a team at this point and care about each other. So, it was just another version of us versus them in that scene. So, that’s what that was.
Q. How much of the film is based on fact and how much has been fictionalised?
Matthew McConaughey: I tell you what I know. Ron was a two-bit electrician, he dabbled in some bull-riding and some gambling, he was a heterosexual guy that led a very wild life, mostly living for the weekends. He was pretty loose. He got HIV, he was given 30 days to live, he took AZT, he saw what it did and didn’t do for his own health, and he sought out alternate medications, went across borders, smuggled things in, started the buyers’ club, found the loophole, charged people $400 for a membership so he could give the drugs out, and he lived seven more years. That’s true. Jean-Marc wanted the metaphor to book-end the film of the bull riding and the rodeo for Ron’s story and I think that was pretty effective. The Rayon character that Jared [Leto] plays is fictionalised. There was a doctor, or there were quite a few doctors in Ron’s life, that Jennifer Garner’s character amalgamised. And the FDA did come and shut Ron down two or three times. So, he was doing well enough that he was on their radar and they wanted to remove him from the market.
Q. Do you approach the role differently because he’s a real person? Do you feel that you have more of a responsibility because of that?
Matthew McConaughey: Yeah. I mean, there was enough on the page and enough in the manuscripts that I had read about Ron and heard about Ron that I already felt loaded. I thought I had plenty to grab a hold on to in order to give me an identity to this man. And then I was going to go and see his family. I thought about it because it can be a tricky thing. But I was so excited to find as much truth and reality in the guy through the material I already had that I sort of feared going to meet his family, getting an inside look and being less reverent of this man that I was starting to inhabit. I didn’t want it to fall beneath what my imagination had grasped onto from the research. But I chose to go and meet them. I met them, they opened up their diaries, they were very honest and very candid about who Ron was, [and] who he was not. They didn’t gloss over the realities of who he was.
And then they handed me his diary, which was a real secret weapon for me. They gave me his diary, which was the two years before he had HIV, and it gave me my secret weapon. It gave me Ron’s monologue, which really informed every dialogue in the film for me. So, I’m really happy I went. Yes, there was a responsibility and I felt like it was my job to take real ownership of the best I could of who he was and to try and show every true colour and to not sugar-coat thing, to not placate to some narrative that someone wanted. I just wanted to really stick to who the guy was and I really felt like I was able to see him from the inside out. But there is more of a responsibility that I now I felt knowing that he was a real man and that he really existed.
Q. Your career is enjoying an incredible renaissance at the moment. Can you talk about your shift from some of your previous roles to these more serious ones? And have you left romantic comedies behind?
Matthew McConaughey: Would I ever do a rom-com again? Yeah, I sure could. I sure enjoyed those while I did them. So, let me take that to your first question. The shift was I was just looking to shake up my relationship with my career. I was very happy with how my career was going, I was enjoying the work I was doing. I did start to feel like some of the work I was doing and some of the scripts I was getting, whether it be a romantic comedy or an action comedy, that I could do that two weeks from now. Now that wasn’t a bad feeling to have, I just questioned it. I said: “You know what? I’d like to be a little scared of something. I’d like to look at something that I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I’d like to have to really get inventive and create, create some character and really find something that I can really hang my hat purely on humanity and stick to it.”
You know, romantic comedies are built to be light. They’re built for a certain buoyancy. So, my life at the time had been extremely adventurous and I’ve had real love and real laughter and real pain and real joy. And in romantic comedies there’s a certain ceiling and a floor that you can’t necessarily love as hard, or hate as hard, or have as much pain, because you sink the shop of the romantic comedy. But in a certain drama, like some of the ones I’ve been doing, the ceiling and the floor was my own. And in many ways, that was a higher ceiling and a lower floor, so that was more of a band-with for those emotions. So, that was sort of it. I just wanted to shake up my relationship with my career. Like I said, it was going fine. I just wanted to shake it up. I thought about it kind of like a relationship in life with a woman or a friend: “Hey, things are going well. Why do I need to rock the boat? I don’t know. But let’s rock it then!”