Matthew McConaughey has gone through dramatic transformations for movie roles before, but we’ve never seen him like this.
USA TODAY NETWORK
Matthew McConaughey talks about “Gold,” his latest film, and how he maintains career trajectory.
We think of Matthew McConaughey differently now.
Before a remarkable run of movies that included “Dallas Buyers Club,” for which he won an Academy Award for best actor, he was the handsome goofball in romantic comedies.
No longer. Now McConaughey, 47, is as respected an actor as there is working today. He’s back again with “Gold,” opening Friday, Jan. 27, in which he plays the fictional character Kenny Wells in a based-on-real-life story of a massive gold strike. He talked about the role, and about his career, recently.
Question: When you get on a good roll, how do you sustain it?
Answer: All I can control is the choices that I make and the work that I do. I’m still making highly personal choices, which is fun. If it doesn’t succeed — if it’s not a box-office success, a la “Free State of Jones” — does that feel like a little bit of a hickey? Sure. But also I go “Hey, it can’t steal away from the experience I had, why I chose to do to the film, what I learned, what I got from the experience.” So that one I can handle.
How successful it is after I make them, I really can’t handle that. I can go out, choose to do what I’m doing now, peddle the thing, talk about it, share the stories and things like that, hopefully generate some interest and make people go to a theater and see it. But I can’t guarantee anything from here on out. We’ve declared. The movie speaks for itself. You hope you put out a good product and you hope there’s an appetite for that product in the public.
Q: The work, then, has to be the satisfaction.
A: Yes. That’s the most satisfying thing. Look, I’ve got to tell you, I like making movies more than I like watching movies. It’s the construction, the building of them that I love doing, trying to put it together, trying to sing the song. And every time it’s a whole new challenge. And it’s not only up to me. It’s up to the story I’m in, the director, the producers, the editing. But that’s where I get my sense of my own, to whatever extent, self-satisfaction.
Q: You create something and then turn it all over to the director.
A: Well you do. You do have to give it up, to some extent. Look, acting as a producer on “Gold,” so I could help the overall making of the movie, the casting, the writing, the marketing material, things like that, but I mean, geez, I’ve succeeded at that before when I thought it was just OK and I’ve not succeeded when I thought it was phenomenal. I don’t know, you do have to hand it over and go, “Well, wish us some luck.”
The one thing everybody wants, they want to make a good product. No one’s trying to make a piece of crap (laughs). It’s really hard to make a good one. And then you have to have a lot of good fortune, even if you do make a good one, for that to translate and be shared and to be accepted and people have an appetite for it and want it.
Q: Do you like producing?
A: I do, but I wouldn’t want to do it every time. This is one that I just had instincts for right off the bat. It wasn’t an intellectual process to say, “Oh, I think I could be of help here or there.” It was instincts. I knew the world, understood the relationships, knew the story, knew it was particular to this time and this place, and for that reason I thought it would be an asset for me to be a producer, to have that creative input on things more than just my character.
Q: When the director calls, “Action,” do you forget that part?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Q: Is that hard?
A: I don’t like taking off the subjective hat that acting affords me. I don’t really like hopping out of that subjectivity and then being objective and making objective decisions. I think I’m pretty good at it sometimes, but it’s not my favorite part by any means. I’m more, I would say, hands on objectively in the pre-production process and the post-production process. In the daily shooting of it I’m just doing my best as an actor, to lead by example, to make sure to do what I can to make sure that everyone has the best chance to create what they’re trying to create. It puts me in a good position if i’m the lead. That means I’m there a lot and that means things are kind of following me a lot.
Q: Sounds like it’s a relief to go back and just act.
A: Yeah, for sure. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last eight years, when I shut down my production company, shut down my music company. I said look, just go be an actor for hire. Show up and be ready on the day and do your job and go away, and when you’re finished let them show it to you and if you like it, go sell it. There was a lot of relaxation in that. The singular focus, that’s where the relaxation comes.
Q: At what point when you read a script do you start thinking of yourself as the character?
A: “Gold,” one read. I was like, I know this guy. I am Kenny Wells. No one else can be this guy. That was very subjective, very quickly. My goal is to get there as soon as possible. Sometimes I don’t get there till the first day of shooting. Sometimes I don’t get there until halfway through the shoot. I’ve had times where I never got there and the shoot was over.
Q: Kenny’s appearance changes a lot — he gains weight, loses his hair. Is that beneficial to creating the character?
A: Well, they’re part and parcel. The inside comes first, the outside comes second. But yeah, they lend to each other. Once I understood this guy Kenny from the inside, all of a sudden I looked up and I had been putting on weight. And I was like, “Oh, OK, here we go.” I didn’t set out to say, “Let’s make him be 217 pounds.” But guys like Kenny, they’re consumers, of life, food, drink, smoke, joy, pain, loyalty. They consume all this stuff and they have insatiable appetites. And the Kenny Wells I’ve known, they’re big, kind of burly. Kenny’s full. He’s not fat.
Q: He seems like a guy who goes to the buffet table one time too many.
A: Yeah, but you know what, he’s also a guy that knows that pleasure is good for you.
Q: You famously lost weight for “Dallas Buyers Club.” You gained weight for this. A stupid question, but which is easier?
A: The gaining’s more fun.
Q: How do you do it?
A: Basically I just ate what I wanted. Lot of cheeseburgers, lot of beer. And I did not get tired of it.
Q: Is the trick losing it?
A: Yeah, yeah, for sure. That was a six-month road, to get back.
Q: Now that your career is where it is, are there limitations in choosing roles? Can you now only take what seems like a prestige part in a drama?
A: No, I don’t think so. I’ve really been turned on by dramas over the last 10 years. Dramas are sort of the genre that it’s picked out to be in that area you’re talking about. Look, I’m still looking for the right comedy. I don’t have any reverse pressure. At least I don’t feel any. … Am I choosing stuff that’s like, “Ooh, this scares me a little bit? I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this?” Yeah, that’s part of my decision-making paradigm now. Things I’m not sure I’m going to do, things I’m not sure I’m going to pull it off. But not necessarily to prove a point.
The challenge with comedy is finding one that can sustain three acts. A lot of them work for act one and act two, but they don’t hold up for act three.
Q: You need to write your own.
A: Well, I’m working on that (laughs).
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