McConaughey matures ; Matthew McConaughey once reigned supreme in romantic comedies, but since turning 40 the Texan's taken a less clean-cut path. SUSAN GRIFFIN discovers a man who really is getting better with age
EVERYONE enjoys a trip down memory lane, Matthew McConaughey included.
It's one of the reasons the actor signed up to the independent movie Mud.
In a way, this film lives in the 1980s for me so it's a trip back to my youth, back to high school, wS hen I had my first loves, says the 43-year-old in his Texan twang.
In Mud, he plays the titular role, a fugitive befriended by two boys called Ellis and Neckbone.
When they discover this charismatic lone ranger on an island in Mississippi, the two teens decide to help him escape his bounty hunter pursuers and reunite him with his long-time love Juniper, played by Reese Witherspoon.
Everything about the film feels like an Eighties classic to me, with a full narrative, with entrances and exits and pacing and deliberation - like Stand By Me, says McConaughey. There's nothing cynical about it, and no one is ugly - everyone has reasons for what they're doing.
It's written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the man behind 2007's Shotgun Stories and 2011's Cannes Grand Prize award-winning Take Shelter, who had the actor in mind from the start. As he says: Matthew was born to play Mud.
In turn, McConaughey, the inner hippie who was famously arrested for playing bongos in the nude back in 1999, knew he could do justice to the role because he knows how to be someone who loves with all his heart, says the actor.
Mud's an aristocrat of the heart. He becomes an angelic conduit to this young boy Ellis, whose romantic dreams of what love should be are starting to break down because of real life - his parents are getting divorced and his dad's drinking, explains McConaughey.
With affairs of the heart, we grow up and we get selfish, we start to protect ourselves. But Mud is one of those guys who doesn't protect himself. I loved the innocence of it, the purity and simplicity of not really dealing with reality.
The son of a substitute teacher and petrol station owner, McConaughey contemplated a career in law before choosing to focus on the make-believe world of film in 1991.
He appeared in student films and adverts back in his native Texas. Then a chance meeting with the casting director and producer Don Phillips led to an introduction to director Richard Linklater, who cast him in the 1993 cult classic Dazed And Confused.
A raft of small roles in films such as The Return Of The Chainsaw Massacre and Boys On the Side followed and then, in 1996, he was given his big break as a lawyer in A Time To Kill starring Samuel L Jackson.
The uncompromising movie about racial tensions in America's Deep South proved he was more than just a pretty face, but then the Noughties rolled in and so did a number of romantic comedies such as The Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez and How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days opposite Kate Hudson.
These studio juggernauts were huge at the box office and, combined with his penchant for getting his pecs out, saw McConaughey being hailed as the king of romcoms.
But fast forward a few years and, just when the industry could have begun to question his eligibility as he fast approached his landmark 40th birthday, he seemed to change tack with 2011's The Lincoln Lawyer.
The movie, an adaptation of the bestselling novel in which he appeared as a sleazy defence lawyer, did well for an independent film and he followed it up with a number of low-key movies that looked at the seedier side of life.
In the last 12 months, he's appeared as a menacing cop in the dark drama Killer Joe; reunited with Linklater to make the docudrama Bernie, and then appeared as a sado-masochistic reporter in The Paperboy, alongside Nicole Kidman and John Cusack.
I didn't actually go out and grab all those things - some of them came to me - but I did put the brakes on some other things I was doing for about a year and a half and decide I was going to wait, says McConaughey.
I said to myself, 'I don't know exactly what it is I want to do but I want to wait until something comes in that really intrigues me.' I wanted to look forward to that journey.
McConaughey's aware most people will never see many of the great independent films made and for that reason is thankful that, like The Lincoln Lawyer before it, Killer Joe got seen.
The Paperboy, some people hated it, some people loved it, but it had an impact. And Bernie really hit a nerve with some people.
Those forlorn about the absence of his famous chest could at least take solace in last year's movie Magic Mike.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the story of male stripping saw McConaughey and Channing Tatum gamely lose their garments.
Preparing for Magic Mike was 10 days of a crash course, working out twice a day, morning and night, watching my diet, and just trying to get in as wicked-looking shape as I could, says McConaughey, who's not unaccustomed to physical graft.
Not so long ago, a day wouldn't go by when he wasn't papped working out on the beach with his mate Lance Armstrong, and for 2002's Reign Of Fire he recalls going out to his Texas ranch by himself for two months.
I'd wake up every morning and have a shot of tequila, then spend the day wrestling cows and picking up 20lb boulders and not putting them down for 15 minutes, he says.
Only recently he transformed himself once again (this time losing the bulk) to play HIV sufferer Ron Woodruff in the upcoming movie Dallas Buyers Club.
I was sitting there at 182lbs, which was obviously not going to work. I ended up getting down to 135lbs.
If he hadn't, he would have been embarrassed because I wouldn't have been doing my job right, says McConaughey, who reveals he loved it when people doubted his willpower.
I made myself controlled meals and my family knew all about it. I needed that structure.
He credits his wife, the Brazilian model Camilla Alves, with whom he has three children Levi, four, Vida, three, and four-month-old Livingston, for allowing him to be in the position to take on so much work.
I have the great privilege of having a wife who agreed, in fact suggested, that when I go to work, we all go together, he says.
Whether he chooses to populate that workload with big-time studio films or small independent movies is McConaughey's call, but you suspect this Texan will continue to surprise in his second act.
. ? Mud is in cinemas now.
'I have the great privilege of having a wife who agreed, in fact suggested, that when I go to work, we all go together'
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