On a recent Friday night, Matthew McConaughey is making his way to the rodeo. This isn’t a social visit.
McConaughey, 43, is in Louisiana, where he’s filming Dallas Buyers Club, a.k.a. the role for which he got razor thin. To portray the film’s HIV-positive lead, McConaughey dieted down to 143 pounds from his normal, hunky 181 pounds. “I’m a little more streamlined,” McConaughey says of the physical transformation that has the Internet buzzing. Tonight, McConaughey is using his star power for the good of his craft. He hopes his appearance will lure enough fans, “so we have a better crowd scene,” he says. “We’re doing a little indirect movie magic here.”
In 2012, McConaughey has flexed his muscles in so many different independent films, he could program the Sundance Channel for days. He played a hard-ass district attorney in Richard Linklater’s Bernie, a psychotic hit man in William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, and a closeted journalist in Lee Daniels’s The Paperboy. His most outrageous role, as Dallas, the buff strip-club owner in last summer’s Magic Mike, is generating Oscar buzz for the first time in his career. McConaughey spoke to Ramin Setoodeh by phone.
We’re talking to you because we’re trying to help you get an Oscar nomination for Magic Mike.
It’s a privilege and honor to be talking about the role. I had a wonderful year last year. It was very colorful. I’ve never really had a year where for [so many] roles back to back, I was so genuinely excited. I was working with directors who had a singular vision. But the hard part about independent film is getting to day 1 of shooting. They’re just hard to get made.
Was there a moment where you said, “That’s it for me, I’m going independent, I’m done with the studios”?
No, no. I wouldn’t be that stupid. I’m not done with big studio stuff. It just happened to be, the stuff I was seeing from studios was stuff I’d seen before. I said, “Do you know what? I’m going to hold out here and wait for something to scare me and shake my floor a little bit.” With Dallas in Magic Mike, Steven [Soderbergh] did nothing but let the leash go. Any questions that I had or ideas, he’d basically look at me and say, “Yeah.”
Did you meet any strippers to prepare for the part?
I went to one male revue in New Orleans. Channing [Tatum] and I went together. The one thing I got from that: this is not these guys’ real jobs. One guy I met that night was back from Afghanistan. Another guy was a lawyer and had three kids. They all looked like accountants when they were in street clothes. The other thing I learned is the production value is horrible. I said to Steven, “Can I run this production?” I took off on that. I became P.T. Barnum. I was channeling Jim Morrison and Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange.
Were you recognized in the strip club?
No, we hid out in the back so we could see an honest reaction.
Did you have to work out for the role?
Oh, hell yeah. I was just coming off The Paperboy. I hadn’t touched a gym in four months. I had 11 days to get ready, and the one thing that male dancers do in these male revues, you better be in shape. Why? Commerce, baby. The better you look, the more cash the women will pull out of their purses and put in your thong, and that money goes in your pocket. If somebody came in flabby, Dallas would knock them pay. The character was a wonderful capitalist. He was a hardcore capitalist. My mind worked a lot in preparation of this character, in terms of what’s going to make the most money. How are we going to entertain these women for two hours? The music has to be on cue, the lighting, the intros, exits, keep the show going. We’re not going to do any of that goofy stuff with dwarfs coming out. No one is going to be running out with big dildos sticking out of their thongs.
Did you see that in New Orleans?
Yeah, I saw that, and I was like, that’s a circus. But that’s not where we’re going. We’re going to give you Tarzan. We’re going to give you the Latin lover. We’re going to give you Big Dick Richie, and his secret weapon is evident in his name.
So there was no padding involved in your show?
No. No. All my guys go out there with what God gave us.
Was this your first nude scene?
Well, I had a thong on.
Didn’t it fall off at one point?
One side did get ripped off [by the extras in the audience]. And I remember that moment, it’s really clear to me. I did feel the chill of the air hit me in some spots that it hadn’t hit me before. As soon as I felt that, I stayed in rhythm, my hand went down, made sure I held the straps up, I cupped it between my legs and stood up and did a body roll out. I stayed on the beat and stayed right on tune, and then just kind of walked out of there, one hand up, one hand down, holding the thong on.
And that’s the take they used?
Oh, yeah. They had to use that one.
Let’s talk about the wardrobe. Did you have a selection of thongs to choose from?
No. But we talked about what the thong would be. Dallas would have a different thong than anyone else. I always said Dallas is like a rattlesnake, so we said let’s give him a rattlesnake thong. Then we started dealing with how long the tassels will be. This, that, and the other. All those very important details.
What did your wife think of the performance?
She thought it was a riot. She knew how much fun I was having and how much work I’d put into it. She was on set the day I went out and performed.
Is it true that there will be a sequel?
I don’t know yet. I’ve talked to Channing a couple times. I mean, it’s obviously something he has interest in doing. I’ve heard a couple different story lines, neither of which I’ll share with you.
Do you think you’ll do it?
Yeah, if there’s a good one. There’s a great sequel out there. How do you tell it? Do you come back years later? What are the guys doing now? Do you have a convention they are all going to and have it closer to the story line that was in Magic Mike? There are different ways to go about it. The movie worked out so well, you want to be pretty discerning about not throwing a crappy version out there, just to follow it up.
I read that you now weigh 143 pounds.
That is accurate.
Do you feel OK? People online are worried about you.
I feel fine. I really do. I got the means to lose the weight in a really healthy way. I’m eating fresh fish. I’m just eating small amounts. I’m not being starved. I’m sleeping well. I’ve got clean meals that I’m cooking for myself. It’s just really an exercise in discipline. If anything, it’s as much a spiritual journey as it is physical. My body is fine. I’m taking care of myself. Everything has shrunk quite a bit. It’s really been enlightening to understand my anatomy. I don’t have the leverage I used to. I have body soreness.
Are you medically fine?
I’ve been checked. My levels are fine. I’m as healthy as can be. My blood pressure, everything’s fine. The real health challenge is when you put it back on. It’s very easy to create a form of diabetes if you don’t do it right. You can’t just start eating cheeseburgers and ice cream. Your body will go into shock and it just won’t work.
Can’t you have a little ice cream?
No. I would love to.
Dallas Buyers Club is based on the real-life story of Ron Woodruff, who is HIV positive but not gay.
He’s heterosexual. This takes place in 1986. When that came out, remember, no one knew about the disease or where it came from. Everyone thought it was a homosexual disease. This guy gets it; he thought he had a flu, a bug he can’t kick. He took his life into his own hands and really pioneered progressive research into unapproved vitamins and drugs that the FDA wasn’t letting into America for people with HIV to take at the time. It’s a wonderful story told from an original point of view. I haven’t seen the subject matter told from the point of view of a heterosexual man.
Neither have I. I look forward to seeing it. And I do hope you make a sequel to Magic Mike.
I do too. Sorry you had such a shitty experience on the last Twilight film. I liked what you said in the third paragraph: look, I’m not throwing this movie under the bus. I really loved the first three. I liked that.
What!! Did you Google me?
No. I go on The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast is one of the websites that I check out.
Thanks for reading us.
I really like the online layout, too. I like it. Keep it up.