The "McConaissance" -- a word coined to describe the recent renaissance, if you will, of Matthew McConaughey's career -- has officially now steamrolled into Park City, Utah. The actor, who starred in four wildly different films last year ("Magic Mike," "The Paperboy," "Bernie" and "Killer Joe") is at the Sundance Film Festival with new film, "Mud," which has already garnered some serious buzz.
McConaughey and I met on the roof-deck of a Park City restaurant. When you first meet Matthew McConaughey, he is both cordial and charming. When he speaks to you, he leans in and looks you dead in the eye. McConaughey, with a tight haircut -- and looking healthy again after losing a considerable amount of weight for his upcoming film, "Dallas Buyers Club" -- is not the type to offer bullshit. He's keenly self-aware of what you think of some of his romantic comedies and is not about to offer any sort of ham-fisted apology for them; as he told me the last time we spoke, those films provide "mailbox money."
In "Mud," director Jeff Nichols' follow-up to the brilliant "Take Shelter," McConaughey plays the title character, a fugitive who murdered his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. After befriending two young boys, Mud devises a plan to escape to the Gulf Mexico with the love of his life (played by Reese Witherspoon). I spoke to McConaughey by phone about a month ago after he won a best supporting actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle. In that conversation, we looked back on the brilliant year that McConaughey had; here, we pick up where we left off and look ahead to what might be an even better year (in addition to "Mud" and "Dallas Buyers Club," McConaughey also co-stars in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street"). Just don't expect him to ever give up his now-iconic catchphrase, "all right, all right, all right."
Last time we spoke, we discussed the McConaissance.
I've seen it. It showed up other places.
It should. It's a great word.
It's the "sance" part of it that sounds so cool. It's got a good meter, doesn't it?
When you mentioned that, my first reaction was that it was so much better than "The Year of McConaughey."
Yeah [laughs], it's got a little more of a zoom to it.
I've decided, though, that this year is the Year of McConaughey, not last year. Because last year just set the scene that you're doing these good movies
Right, right, right ...
And now we're used to that. I mean, "Mud" premiered at Cannes last year, but it didn't get a lot of buzz until now. Do you think that's because people are now thinking of you differently?
Ah ... well, it doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt. Because "Mud" doesn't feel like a "knock, knock, knock, can I come in?" It feels like we're all in the room.
But why is the buzz hitting now?
Well, we're coming out in April, so obviously there's a machine that kind of gears up. And the fact that I had a successful last year sure as heck doesn't hurt it. It helps the film, for sure. It doesn't make it like a, "What?" or a, "Oh, that's novel." It's coming on the back of some work that I've done that people have liked and they go, "That's different and we liked it." Do you know what I mean? [McConaughey makes a trumpet-sounding noise].
How do I transcribe that noise?
[Makes the trumpet sound again] That's the opening music to the McConaissance. That's the "sance" in the "McCon."
From now on when you're introduced, that should play.
So I've got to go, "All right, all right, all right" ...
You don't do that one anymore -- we're moving on to your new theme.
I can't give that one up though, man. Those were the first words that I ever said on film. [Trumpet sound] That's the "sance" in the "McCon." There were some sort of satellite views on "Mud" from Cannes, but Cannes still felt like it was "over there." And now people are seeing it -- and I'm interested to see what happens. So far, it seems like there's been a lot of positive reaction to it for very specific reasons, which is cool. And I sure hope it gets ink because I'm endeared to this movie. It's got an innocence and, oh, it takes me back in a wonderful way.
For some reason from the description I thought it was going to be a comedy. I think it's because Mud is referred to as an "outlaw," so I got "cowboy" in my head.
Oh, you wrote that he's more of a fugitive.
I think that's the better description.
Outlaw sounds like there are more guns blaring and he's much more of an aristocrat of the heart. And, yeah, he did kill a man -- for one reason. Really, the only reason he kind of would: over the love of a woman that has kicked him off the porch a thousand times. And he ain't countin' and he don't care. And there's also more mystery. I love the mysterious aspect; the superstitions. It's not an aggressive movie.
I feel like you and Jeff Nichols are a good team.
It is a good team. I hear you. I love working with Nichols because, look, he wrote this thing. And we didn't change hardly a word. Didn't need to. I mean, I had things I'd go off on, but it was just to really help me understand and explain the actual text that he wrote -- which was always better. It's simple working with Jeff. This movie is very representative of who he is -- he's a really decent man. And confident enough to not insert himself when something is going well, you know? But, specific enough to go, "it needs to be this and this." Also, confident enough to go, "That's it, we got it." Let's move on, basically. A lot of directors who are younger will go, "OK, we've got that, how else can we do it?"
I feel bad because last time we spoke I may have been a little hard on "Fool's Gold." I mean, I do get your point about what you said about "mailbox money" and "90 days of Saturdays."
Yeah, that's the Saturday characters, those are ...
But I didn't mean to pick on "Fool's Gold."
I don't give a shit if you pick on it. I don't care. I don't care of you don't like me in a film. I don't give a shit -- we can still sit here and talk about it. I mean, thank God people have different tastes. But it is Saturday. Something like "Fool's Gold," something about romantic comedies -- they're built not to grab a hold. You can't have a character obsessed 100 percent. Mud is obsessed. You can grab a hold of that. it's not about coming back to the center because we've got to hit a plot point. All of the characters I've been doing lately, they're obsessed about something. And I've been able to get feverishly drunk on their obsessions. Now, you can't get feverishly obsessed in a romantic comedy. They're built not to do that.
The movie that I think was the transition from a movie like "Fool's Gold" and where you're at now is "Lincoln Lawyer." I think that movie started the McConaissance.
I think you're right.
It caught people off guard.
Well, what people did is -- and this is the objective awareness I'm throwing at you now -- what happened there, people went, "I like that thriller ... yeah, 'A Time To Kill,' man!" They flash-backed a little.
So a callback to your '90s work?
A callback ... so it switched that view on me a little bit. They didn't go, "Oh, it's brand new." It called them back a little, is what I felt. It called them back and they say, "That's right, he's good in that type of movie."
Was that the plan with "Lincoln Lawyer" from the start?
Well, I knew it had some of those aspects -- the drama and the thriller aspects. But I didn't know. I figured if it worked and people saw it and liked it, that they would go, "Oh yeah, we haven't seen him in something like that before." Because it had it in the script -- it could pop enough to be something that goes around and makes $50 million, or whatever it made. You know? And we didn't make it for that much. But I also thought it had enough solid drama in it, so it could balance that. It's not a serious film, but it's about some pretty serious shit. And it was a fun thriller. I love getting manipulated in that film, as viewer. And a good thriller, that's what it does: it manipulates.
You've done serious movies in the past, but something about the movies you're doing now feels different than doing a movie like "Amistad." These feel like real risks where "Amistad" had "big awards movie" written all over it. Does that makes sense?
I think in a way it does. Not only are in the roles I'm choosing are the guys outsiders, the whole subject matter is coming from the side. It's not coming in straight. They're coming in off the exit, getting on the autobahn. They're not on the autobahn taking the exit. When they're working, they're coming in -- "Killer Joe" came in like a lightning bolt.
People knew what they were getting with "Amistad."
Yeah, that's packaged as ... Spielberg, slavery, the middle passage. So, it comes packaged with that sort of expectation. You could argue "Contact" did with Zemeckis and Jodie Foster. It was packaged as Carl Sagan ...
I didn't see that ending coming.
Right. But those were both, in some ways, just as personal for me. Those were subjects that I had written about in college. But, then, here's the other thing -- here's the thing we don't know about: I could have done all five of these and I could have given the exact same performance and we might not be sitting here because maybe some of them didn't see the light of day. The thing is, they all had an identity. Some of them made bigger impacts -- "Magic Mike" is a $7 million movie and it makes $100 and a googol. "Paperboy" gets seen by a small group of people and it's really split down the middle. "Bernie," the little movie that could -- keeps on just hitting it. "Killer Joe," if you saw it, it left a brand on you. What I'm saying is: there's no guarantee that they get above the waterline.
But they did.
Because they're independent. That's what's cool with independent, it's just getting them to make it -- you get the friggin' money to go out of of escrow, because now we're making it. Then, after that, guess what? There's no machine behind us. So, we have to go, "Let's peddle. If it's good, it sits in front of us and all we have to do is speak about it. People talk about it, it gets a buzz and people go, "I'm going to choose that over this blockbuster." And then they get a life.
I hope it continues.
I'm gonna keep goin' to work. I'm lovin' it.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.