He’s the current toast of Hollywood – and very charismatic with it. Stylist’s Susan Riley meets Oscar favourite Matthew McConaughey
There is absolutely no reason at all that Matthew McConaughey needs to know that, for many years, I have openly referred to him as Matthew McConaughey-hey-HEY. None at all. But if I did tell him (and obviously I don’t) as he sits before me in a black shirt and jeans in a Claridge’s suite, at least he’d know I took him seriously all along. And now the rest of the world has caught on. McConaughey – the hey-HEY no longer seems appropriate now he’s an Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner – is currently enjoying a new-found regard for his talents. Largely because for the last three years, he has selected his film projects with such precision that I’d rather like him to come round and pick me a new kitchen.
Magic Mike, The Paperboy, Killer Joe, Mud… They’ve spawned what’s been referred to rather ingeniously as the ‘McConaissance’. But it’s his latest film – Dallas Buyers Club – that’s really put him in the frame. Based on true events, McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a homophobic rodeo cowboy from Texas diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and given one month to live. In reality – thanks to his dogged search for alternative treatments, including smuggling non-FDA-approved drugs into the US – he lived for seven years and extended the lives of many others. The story itself is spine-tingling; both McConaughey and Jared Leto – who plays transsexual HIV patient Rayon – are electric.
In person, McConaughey is charming. Not cheesy charming like a Rom-Com character he might have once played – he’s just a thoroughly nice bloke. It’s 4pm, I’m his final interview of the day, and he’s leaving for the premiere in an hour. But he’s focused, considered, entertaining; a real raconteur. I knew I was right.
Ron Woodroof died in 1992. How much responsibility did you feel to his family in portraying him?
We told them – this is not word for word what Ron did, but if I can capture his spirit and his rage and his will to survive… They understood that. It must have been superbly overwhelming [to watch] – this was their son, brother and father; his whole life put into two hours – but they reacted very favourably.
What would you have done if you’d been dealt Ron’s hand?
I’d like to think I’d have the same fervour and will to stay alive. Ron had a 7th grade [year 8] education but found out more than many doctors. He was a hustler, smuggler and wild outlaw and I love that, in staying alive, he still loved his Cadillac and gold watches.
What was the most memorable thing you learned from researching the film?
It was a reminder that any time there is ignorance, the default emotion is fear. Everyone was in the dark [so] people were made into pariahs. For me, it harked back to 1988 when I was a senior in high school. I remember hearing about [HIV] in ’86 but then realising in ’88, when I was becoming heterosexually sexually active, that I needed to talk to a doctor because everyone was looking for the pamphlet with the dos and don’ts and there wasn’t one. So I said to three different doctors: ‘I’m a heterosexual male, I’m not having sex with hookers or things like this – talk to me about how careful I need to be.’
Which is a surprisingly mature thing to do as a teenager…
I was the only one of my friends who did. The doctors had three completely different [answers]. One said: ‘You’re heterosexual? Nothing to worry about.’ Another said it’s one in a million and the other said it’s 1 in 110. Then there was the Magic Johnson thing – he was the first person in the limelight [to have HIV] – and the [basketball] All-Star game where a couple of players didn’t want to play. They were chastised for it, but this was when people were being told you could get HIV from swapping perspiration. So I was reminded of how much fear came out of the ignorance.
Real-life adversity often makes for the best movies. Whose other lives have compelled you?
In the Eighties, Steve Biko’s story, in apartheid South Africa. Thomas Merton, a Benedictine monk who was a real rebel and then died from an electric shock in a monastery. [Stunt rider] Evel Knievel – talk about a will to live. Those are a few people who’ve been an inspiration.
You’ve said an Oscar was never on your bucket list. What was?
The number one thing on my bucket list since I was eight years old [was to be] a father. It’s the reason as a kid I called men ‘sir’ and ladies ‘ma’am’. To have children is the most awesome position a man can be in – then and only then can you have any chance of going from a prince to a king. So I’m doing that. Steven Spielberg always said: we do movies, but having children – that’s your epic. It is.
In interviews you come across as profound and spiritual – how do you maintain a zen life?
Sometimes I find that through exercise, or through prayer, or just by ensuring I get rest. The family life helps; we try and stop as often as we can, take a minute with God and say thank you. It gives me perspective and helps keep me connected to my past and where I’m going. Also, I’m not advertising for anything – it’s easy to be at peace when you know what you know and don’t know what you don’t. I’m not trying to put on airs for anybody. I’m only trying to impress myself by doing the best job I can do.
How does technology fit in with your world? I read you were only introduced to Skype while making this film…
Yeah, that’s true. I have a better relationship with technology now than I used to because I’m less intimidated by it and I’ve learned to measure it. Little things like, I got rid of my voicemail. If I’m here I’m here; if I’m not, I’m not. I’ve seen some very socially incompetent people because they don’t know how to do this [gestures to our conversation], or they’re shy out in the real world. I thought Spike Jonze created an interesting world in Her. I can guarantee there’s people whose best relationship is with Siri.
So you don’t spend time on social media or YouTube?
No. I never go online on my iPhone. Sometimes I’m tempted but I remind myself and the kids – it’s a tool. Use it as a tool. You’re not the tool. My iPhone, 85% of the time I’m writing down ideas. And my reality TV is watching sport. College football’s where I get real drama from, ’cause you don’t know how it’ll play out. It’s just 18, 19 year old kids who’re going to mess up ’cause they’re human. I get a kick out of that.
Dallas Buyers Club is released on Friday 7 February