Charisma has never been in short supply with Matthew McConaughey. But it was only when he married it with pathos and a deep commitment to his craft that he suddenly reinvented himself as a leading man who could ride that charm deep into awards season. He won his Best Actor Oscar for 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, a role for which he dropped nearly 50 pounds from his famously buff body to play the part of a heroic outlaw with HIV. His career has blossomed since what has become known, perhaps regrettably, as “the McConaissance.” But that hasn’t dampened his newfound dedication. For Gold, his new biopic of Kenny Wells, a paunchy, hapless mine owner searching for the big score, he packed on the pounds with pizza every night and milkshakes for breakfast, while maintaining the roguishness that has buoyed many of his characters. In fact, he found inspiration for the character in his own father. Here, he tells some of his favorite tales about Dad, and explains why Mom prefers the pre-McConaissance McConaughey.
How did Gold come to you? It was sent my way about five, six, seven years ago.
Oh, really? Before Dallas Buyers Club? I guess I’m exaggerating. I think four years ago, right after Dallas. Anyway, I got Gold and it’s one of the three scripts that immediately when I read the character I was like, “I’ve got to play this guy. I don’t think anybody else can do this.” I saw him from the inside out and knew his spirit with the first read. And the only other two like that were Magic Mike and Dazed and Confused.
Because it reminded you of your dad? I’ve been getting off to the idea that more truth can come out of an impression than what really happened. And this was an impression of my dad, but also people that he’d worked with back in the ’80s. And I remember there was a time in the mid-’80s when the bottom had dropped out of the oil business and a lot of people owed my dad money. Everyone was going Chapter 11, Chapter 13, and my dad wouldn’t go bankrupt. But we’d go try to collect money from people that owed him money, and he’d take me with him.
So here I am, 12, 13 years old. My dad’s taking me to go see these people so we could shame them into paying him, right? But my dad loved shady deals. The whole family said he would much rather do a shady deal with some fun people than do a good deal with a bunch of straight asses. And he did these things. I mean, he would invest in diamond mines in Ecuador…
Really? … and took my mom to Ecuador, and has this [picture] with the machete coming out of the jungle. There were no f–king diamonds there. It was a scam. This story I’m about to tell you is really the one that encapsulated who Kenny Wells was for me. It’s Christmas Day, I’m about 16 years old. We’re in southwest Houston. My dad says, “Let’s go get some stocking stuffers,” which means we’re gonna go to K-Mart and get a bunch of nailclippers and, you know, Q-Tips and stuff.
Those are stocking stuffers? Q-Tips? That’s stocking stuffers. Stockings stuffers are big in the McConaughey household, whether it’s cotton balls to nail clippers to whatever. So we head out. It’s raining. It’s a sleety, gray afternoon. He pulls off the highway about eight exits before the K-Mart we were headed to, and into this abandoned single-story strip mall. Broken glass, graffiti. We pull around back. There’s dumpsters, fallen power lines, and there’s a white van down there flashing his lights at us as soon as we arrive. My dad goes, “This is Chicago John.” We pull up the car next to him. He leaves it running. He goes, “Stay here.” He gets out.
I look out the window. This little guy gets out of the van. He’s in a black leather jacket. He’s bald. He’s got a big pouch. He goes around the back of his van and he opens it up and there’s f–king washing machine, a dish sink, candleholders. And he opens up a shoebox and pulls something out that’s wrapped up in a bunch of paper towels. He walks around to the open door of his passenger van, backs into it. And my dad’s facing him, so now my dad’s back is to me, right? And I’m looking through the window and the guy opens whatever he opens. And this is what I see my dad’s shoulders do. [Turns and hunches.] I hear him go, “Goddamn it,” and he reaches in, pulls out his wallet, and I see this motion, counting off Benjamin Franklins for whatever is wrapped up in these paper towels.
He gets back in the car. He hands it to me. He goes, “Put it in the glove box, buddy, so nobody gets it.” I don’t know what it is. Is it a ferret? I don’t know what the f–k it is. We drive. He doesn’t say a word for about five minutes and I’m sitting there. What the hell’s in the glove box? But I know something shady just went down. And he goes, “Open up the glove box, buddy. Make sure it’s still there.” I go open this thing up. I grab it. I put it in the middle console and I open it up. And he looks right and he goes, “Oh, goddamn, so that’s a $22,000 titanium Rolex and I just got it for three grand. Goddamn!” That Rolex wasn’t worth 500 bucks. It was a hot ass watch but that’s the thing. My dad loved to deal like that.
And that was the spirit of Kenny Wells. He’s one of those guys… there’s a little poem we have in the movie, which is “bear with no feet sleeps in the wind.” You know, that’s it. So at the end if Kenny gets the money or if he doesn’t, does it really matter? Would he change?
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.
Did you do a lot of research on him or did you just do what you felt? I did a lot. There was not a whole lot to learn. The guy’s original name is David Walsh, and they did pull off this scam. He’s dead now. He ended up [having a] heart attack or, you know, got speared by the end of a blunt object, is what I heard.
Oh, really? He died in the Bahamas. Yeah, he was living in a sort of prison-mansion to keep people out from getting him. They pulled off a royal scam, he and Mike Acosta [played by Edgar Ramirez in the film].
You know what? I like you so much I was like, He was innocent. Okay, because some people have said, “I like you so much I know you got away with it.” [Laughs.] I mean, again, in Kenny Wells there were parts of my father and the people around him who had that insatiable appetite for life and everything. It was: “Yes, yes!” People were using their hands. They were physical. They got out of bed. I remember my dad would get out of bed, you know, throw his legs over the side and be like: “Today’s gonna be the day, buddy. I’m gonna hit a lick.” That was his line. “I’m gonna hit a lick.”
“I’m gonna hit a lick.” What’s a lick? It means: “I’m gonna get the big sell.” “I’m gonna make something happen.” And it didn’t really ever happen all the way until the time that he moved on. It never really happened but that’s the Kenny Wells-es, and there’s a lot of them. These are people who never took the front door entrance to the American Dream. They were gonna con, finagle, and hoot-scoot their way in the side door.
And it prepared you for Hollywood. [Laughs.] Yeah, sure. I come from a line of salesmen, and that was my dad and a lot of people. So I did the research on David Walsh but little things—like impressions of my father and those people that he introduced me to—that was what really helped the spirit of Kenny Wells take flight.
Do you think your father would’ve liked Kenny Wells as a person? Oh hell, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And my brother. My whole family misses me being fat like that.
You were never fat like that. No, I never was. For the film, though, getting up to 217 pounds, my nickname was Captain Fun because I was “yes” to everything. Pizza night was four nights a week. Milkshakes for breakfast were a great idea. You want beer? Yeah! It’s 10 AM. I didn’t tell my brother anything. But when I came back and saw him right before I went to shoot, he got like tears in his eyes: “It’s Pop. You’re Pop,” which is what we called our dad. He’s like, “Look, just the way you’re wobbling. You’re not on balance.” Yes, I know my dad would dig it.
It’s an intense thing to gain and then lose that weight. Was it a big decision? It’s hard to say which came first. The real David Walsh, he was more that size. But also these people, my father and these other people had that girth; they were full-bodied. I kind of happened alternate. I mean, I started getting into Kenny Wells and all the sudden looked down and was like, I’m up to about 200. When did that happen? And so I wasn’t thinking about it. I was just living like Kenny and having a great time. I was like, Let it ride. And they pulled the fat suit out and I was like, “I don’t think we’re gonna need that.” [Laughs.] I’m well on my way.
Was it hard to lose it after all that? Yeah. You know, it’s the same with gaining it back. It’s like there’s a holdup at the decades—meaning I was 217, got down to 211, and then hung there for 10 days. Can’t lose another pound. Soon as I get to 209, vroom, easy. One week you’re down to 201. Then you hang up at 201 for two weeks, get to 199, then fly to 191 and then hang up for two weeks…
Did your kids freak out seeing you so different? No, it was gradual. Like I said, they thought I was Captain Fun in the household, you know.
[Laughs.] There was more of you to love. Yes, definitely.
Did your father ever give you any advice? Or Mom, for that matter. I mean, Mom had great stuff in the morning if you showed up. If you were not showing gratitude for the fact that you had a bed to sleep in she’d slap the table and send you back to your room. And all the way as you’re walking back to your room she’s saying, “You’ll come out of that bedroom and come to this table until you’re gonna see the rose in the vase instead of the dust on the table!” That was always her go-to.
The other thing—you’ll love this one—is you were not allowed to gripe about anything. She was like, “You know what you sound like? You sound like the kid bitching about having no shoes. Well, let me introduce you to the kid with no feet, son.” “Oh, sh-t. I’m sorry. You’re right, Mom.” [Laughs.] It was a really good one. Dad’s deal was: “Don’t lie and don’t say ‘can’t.'” I think I got my first ass-whupping for saying “can’t”. The cuss words in our family were “can’t” and “hate.”
Your father died before your career really started going, right? He died six days into my first acting job, on Dazed and Confused. I’ve always felt there’s a bit of serendipity to that because everything before acting was a fad—you know, 18 and talking him into getting me the skateboard and the knee pads and the helmet. But for the first six days he was alive and saw me doing what ended up being a career.
And does your mom get protective? Did she get it when you changed up your career? Yeah, she’s 84 now. Still stays up an hour later than me every night and gets up an hour earlier; never been able to keep up with her. For us, it was not like, “That was then, this is now.” Us McConaugheys… she would never look at it like that. Life’s a long adventure. She liked the romantic comedies. You know, when she saw me in Gold, she’s like, “What’d you do to yourself? Oh god! Matthew, what are you doing?” And when I got really skinny for Dallas Buyers Club, she didn’t quite get it. [Laughs.] She was like, “Stop. Enough’s enough. Are you sick? You look really sick. Enough, Matthew. Stop it!” I don’t know. She probably liked me a little more with that look. She’s been wanting me to put on weight since Dallas. Whatever it is, four years later I’ve kind of settled back into where I was before. She likes to see me with a little meat on my bones.