Matthew McConaughey gets serious about the roles he takes on, and is earning accolades for his choices.
MENTION Matthew McConaughey, and images of him shirtless and grimy in romantic comedies such as Failure To Launch, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Fool’s Gold and Sahara come to mind. Sure, he’s been in some good ones like Frailty and A Time To Kill, but they don’t register so much.
Of late, however, this has changed; when he shrunk in size to half a man for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, he showed he is a far better character actor on screen than many gave him credit for.
McConaughey seems to be having a second wind where his career is concerned, thanks to the kind of jobs he has been choosing lately. This is borne out by his win at the Golden Globes last week for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, beating the likes of Robert Redford and Tom Hanks.
In it, he plays a man dying of AIDS who helps other HIV+ patients to get the medications denied to them because of strict drug laws. He followed that role with what has been described as a “scene-stealing” turn – as chest-thumping mentor to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street. His current streak should continue with Interstellar, the highly-anticipated Christopher Nolan sci-fi feature set for release in November.
But first, McConaughey has made the leap to television, starring and executive producing HBO’s eight-episode miniseries True Detective. Its US debut last Sunday brought in 2.3 million viewers, making it HBO’s biggest drama premiere since Boardwalk Empire in 2010.
At the recent 2014 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, California, McConaughey joined the True Detective panel comprising co-stars Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan, series creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga.
According to him, he was not wary of moving to television to do this project at all, as he said that some of the best storytelling at the moment is happening in this medium.
The 43-year-old, who had a recurring role in the HBO series Eastbound & Down, elaborated: “It’s a different time in television. We didn’t know, at the time when I got it, where it was going to be. All I knew is I read the first two episodes, and I was in. I was just, at the time, looking for quality.”
McConaughey said a lot of work he did in the last year is only coming out now. And the projects he has picked are the ones that felt relevant to him. “They resonate.”
True Detective is told in both flashbacks and the present day, covering a period of 17 years. The first season revolves around Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson), two Louisiana State Police homicide detectives, as they track down a serial killer. They are first partnered up in 1995, in Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division to look into a grisly murder committed by a killer with occult leanings.
They soon discover that this was not his first kill. As they get deeper and deeper into the mystery, their partnership becomes increasingly volatile, even as their respective personal lives become intertwined with the case. This leads to Rust’s decision to leave the department in 2002.
Then in 2012, a similar killing occurs and the investigation has the new detectives interviewing Rust and Martin separately to learn all they can about the old case and its possible connection to the new one.
Hence, the story flits back and forth across these three crucial years – 1995, 2002 and 2012 – coming to an end in Episode Eight. (The next season will deal with a new case and have a new cast.)
When asked how the two actors struck a balance between playing younger and older versions of their characters, Harrelson – who first worked with McConaughey in the 1999 film EdTV – joked: “I just got rid of my wig.”
To which McConaughey added: “I just put on my wig.”
McConaughey continued: “One of the fun things about this is, who this guy was in 1995 – he needs the case to keep his s**t together. In 2012, everyday he is alive, he is paying penance. So a lot of fun about the show is, you slowly find out what has happened in those 17 years, where he is telling the truth, what really happened. That is the fun in watching the episodes.”
It was revealed that McConaughey was originally approached to play the part of Martin Hart instead of Rust Cohle. When he read the script, though, he was drawn to Rust. “I understood objectively why they would be coming to me with the role of Hart. I understood that, (he’s) probably closer to some of my past work, but Cohle was the voice that I remember writing down, ‘I can’t wait to turn the page and hear what’s coming out of this guy’s mouth.’ It’s got fire on it every time.”
Rust is a former undercover narcotics detective from Texas, described in the series’ production notes as someone who embraces isolation, articulating a pessimistic and bleak world view.
To get into that headspace, McConaughey went deep into his character during filming in Louisiana.
Harrelson recalled: “With this project, we didn’t use a lot of our normal kind of shorthand, the way we kind of finish each other’s sentences and s**t. He was an island. He is one of the most gregarious, awesome guys I know, but in this he was fully in character, and he was very much an island.”
Did that take a toll on their close friendship? Harrelson, who calls McConaughey his brother, said with a smile: “I didn’t talk to him the whole time. Not at all. (But) I can’t imagine anyone playing that part better. It was different than any other part I’ve seen him play before, and he knocked it out of the park.”
The Texas-born McConaughey, who never lost his original accent in person or in most of his films, said this when asked if he is having the best year of his career: “I haven’t been looking in the rearview mirror. I’m in the present still, not in a retrospective mode. I am enjoying the ride.”
True Detective kicks off its eight-episode first season tonight at 9pm on HBO (Astro Ch411 / HD Ch 431).