More than two decades ago, Matthew McConaughey auditioned for the role that would jumpstart his career: Wooderson in Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused." And thanks to video released by Criterion Collection on Monday -- part of the company's "Dazed and Confused" special edition -- fans have the chance to see what started it all.
The story of how McConaughey came to audition for the role of charmingly creepy Wooderson has been re-told to many reporters over the years. But it's really best to just let casting director Don Phillips and McConaughey himself recall how the magic happened. Here's a section of an interview each did with Texas Monthly magazine for a 2003 oral history of the film:
Phillips: I went to Austin to cement the cast with Rick, who put me up for the weekend at the Hyatt. Usually I took all the perks I could, which meant staying at the Four Seasons, but it was graduation weekend at UT and I couldn’t get in. So it’s the end of the day, and I’m up in the bar having a couple drinks to unwind, and I see this really good-looking girl at the end of the bar with this pretty cool-looking guy.
Matthew McConaughey: It was, like, a Thursday night that summer, man, and I wanted to stay in and watch some flick, but my girlfriend talked me into going out to have some drinks. There was this bartender I knew from film school who worked at the Hyatt and would give us a discount, so we went there. And when we walk in, he’s there, and he goes, “Hey, man, the guy down at the end of the bar is in town producing a film.” So I went down and introduced myself. That was Don.
Phillips: Next thing I know, I’m having a drink with this kid and talking about golf. I think I remember him saying briefly that he was studying to be a director.
McConaughey: Gets to be four hours later, and my girlfriend is gone, man, and Don and I are pretty lubricated. We’re talking about life and women and some great golf hole he’s played, and I guess we got a little rambunctious.
Phillips: And a little loud, because some big-muscled, red-shirted, UT-football-player bouncer guy escorts us out of the bar. So Matthew and I went to my room and he said, “How dare they throw us out of the bar, Don. Don’t they know who you are?” And I said, “No, and they don’t give a damn either.” So he said, “You know what I’m doing? I’m calling a manager.” And he does. And he demands an apology. Wow. So after all that, I ask him if he’s ever acted before. “Naw,” he says in that Texas drawl of his. “I’ve been in a beer commercial and a music video.” And I said, “Look, I’m in town casting a movie with Rick Linklater. We have this character, Wooderson, who’s a little bit older than the high school kids. He’s only got a couple lines, so it’s too expensive to bring anybody in from Los Angeles. Why don’t you come to my office and pick up the script? Maybe we’ll put you on tape to see what you look like.”
Ten years later, for the film's 20th anniversary the cast and crew sat down with Maxim for yet another oral history of "Dazed and Confused." Again McConaughey, Phillips and Linklater fondly recalled how the then-23-year-old University of Texas student landed the audition:
Matthew McConaughey: Had I not gone out that night and met Don? Not sure what I’d be doing today, but I’d still be in the storytelling business at some level.
Don Phillips: I come home to the hotel one night and go to the bar, and this handsome dude comes in with a beautiful blonde. The bartender says to him, “See that guy down there? That’s Don Phillips. He cast Sean Penn in Fast Times.” And Matthew goes, “I’m gonna go down and talk to this guy.” Matthew comes and has a vodka with me. We get louder as the night goes on, and midway through the evening he says to his girlfriend, “Look, I’m gonna stay here and talk to Don. Here’s some money for a taxi.”
Don Phillips: Rick didn’t like him at first, because he was too handsome.
Richard Linklater: Matthew said, “I ain’t this guy, but I know this guy.”
Matthew McConaughey: Society says, “You’re too old, Wooderson. You’re a has-been; you gotta get on with your life.” But Wooderson knows who he is, what he wants, and is a very simple and content man. I always saw him as right on time, in his glory days—in his mind, and that’s all that matters.