Friday, February 28, 2014

On the Campaign Bus:
Matthew McConaughey Had to Say "No" to Get the Work He Wanted

No one deserves the Best Actor Oscar more than Matthew McConaughey. Then, again, the same could be said about Bruce Dern, Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Chewitel Ejiofor. All did outstanding work this year. All five men have enjoyed distinguished careers and can point to ample numbers of critically admired portrayals. What's an Academy Awards voter to do? We'll have to wait until Sunday to find out. In the meantime, here's what McConaughey, 44, had to say about his work in "Dallas Buyers Club" when he spoke to Dave Karger at a recent screening.

On McConaughey's relationship with the family of Ron Woodroof, the character he plays:

They opened their home to me. They opened every scrapbook they had... They did not sugarcoat who he was. The sister said he stole two of her cars twice, took all of her valuables. But then they said, you couldn’t help but love him. They were very honest about who he was... They said we have something we feel you should have, and then they gave me his diary, which was the diary he kept before he had HIV. That was really my secret weapon.

McConaughey explains what he means by "secret weapon":

As an actor you want to be seeing it from the inside. You want a secret. That [the diary] was my secret , the thing I had on my side. I ddidn’t share that with anyone else. There were certain excerpts that I would bring up to {director] Jean-Marc Vallee along the way that sometimes were added or improved, but it’s something that’s mine. And it was me and him. It was the thing that allowed me to be like, "There’s no way I could go wrong or tell and untruth in a scene," which is a great feeling to have when you’re going In to play a role.

On the difficulty of getting the film made:

It was around for 20 years. It got rejected 137 times… No way [it was going to get made, it's a] period piece, AIDS drama, with a bigoted hero. It’s not putting change in your pocket.. I wanted to do it. They said great, but no one’s going to finance it. A year went by, another year went by, and finally we set the date. People said again there’s no one to finance it. We said, "Fine, we’ll do it. We’ll get the money."

Jean-Marc comes on. We have the director, the lead, pieces are starting to come together. The producers didn’t flinch... We did believe that the film was real. We had a start date. We had locations. We had crew. And then at five weeks out the money fell out. It never went into escrow. I never asked if it was going to happen... At the time I didn’t have doubts. It’ll happen this fall, Nov. 1. There’s something about not pausing… We’re doing it in November.

What Jean-Marc Vallee said to him eight days before start of production:

(McConaughey imitates the director's French accent} "Matthew, I need eight million and 40 days to make this picture, the minimum. And now I have got to work with 4.9 million and 25 days. We’re not going to make this picture." But he said, "If you’ll be there, I’ll be there." We showed up, the money was just right behind us. There were credit cards pulled.

On minimalist filmmaking (no cranes, dollies, lights, no orchestra under score):

There was no time to be precious, really no time to be objective, to be considerate. It was so immediate... After Jean-Marc said we had $4.9 million and 25 days, he said in his mind, I have to change to way I’m making this movie. He said one camera, no lights. We’re going to have to move fast. When we showed up [on the set]  it wasn’t like we did a week and said, we’re so far behind we need to speed up... There’s no time to go, "what’ s the scene about?" You can’t have that discussion. Just go do it and get it on camera...

What was great about it was, we were in the bubble for the entire 25 days. There was no entrance or exit. You didn’t have the trailer to back to go. You didn’t have the pauses, the 15-20 minute set ups between scenes. You were constantly moving… It was wonderful being in that bubble. Time is so precious you’re forced to be creative. You can’t go, "Maybe we’ll try this and maybe we’ll try that." You’re making decisions and everyone’s running.
McConaughey, with Kate Hudson, in an earlier incarnation

On director Jean-Marc Vallee's approach:

If you see "Crazy," Jean-Marc’s earlier film, you see his tricks, you see the fun he has with it. And I quite enjoyed it. I remember with this he said, "I have to follow Ron Woodroof. I need to be out of the way... I need to do something different here than I’ve ever done."

On playing Ron Woodroof:

No one’s going to sympathize with him. I said, it’s not my job to get someone to sympathize with this guy. Empathize, understand him as a real human. That’s my job.

On what he did to change the direction of his career:

[Around 2008} I remember thinking I wanted to recalibrate my relationship with my career. Let’s pick some films that you want to go see, McCconnaghey. I made a conscious effort to say no to the things I’d been doing, and I remember going to my wife and agent. "I’m going to say no for a while and I expect things to dry up." For about six months I got offers and said no. Then for about a year nothing came in, not an offer for anything. Luckily at this time I had a newborn son to shepherd into the world.

I didn’t work for another year. I had a talk with my wife. "We’re going to be okay, but I don’t how long this is going to last." I said I’m going to find something or something’s going to find me. About two years after I stopped, I got a call from William Friedkin for "Killer Joe," I got a call from Stephen Soderberg for "Magic Mike." My theory is that somewhere in that two years, I undbranded a little. I didn’t rebrand, I unbranded. I gained some anonymity and  became somebody’s new good idea! It was about saying no, more than it was me finding what I wanted to do.

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