Interstellar's Matthew McConaughey continues to blast into stardom

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      BEVERLY HILLSScience pinpoints the origins of the so-called McConnaissance in 2011. Prior to the release of the film Bernie three years ago, Matthew McConaughey was a likably eccentric Hollywood heartthrob who bounced around between forgettable rom-coms like The Wedding Planner (2001) and even more forgettable “blockbusters” like 2005’s Sahara (aka Sah-what?). His feature-film debut in 1993 as jailbait hound David Wooderson in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused was so indelible that the character passed into pop-culture legend. Everything after that, it seemed, pointed to another grim tale of Tinseltown squander and waste.

      But Linklater remembered what really made his old friend tick. “I’ve always said Matthew’s a great character actor,” the filmmaker told the Georgia Straight when Bernie opened in 2011. Linklater actually complained that he was “too good-looking” when McConaughey first walked into his audition for Wooderson some 20 years earlier. The actor insisted that he “knew” the type in the script. “And then,” Linklater recalled, “he kind of fell into this character: his eyes turned into little quarter slots; he’s like, ‘Hey, man, you got a joint?’ And I was, like, ‘Holy shit!’ He became that guy.”

      It’s fitting that McConaughey had to go home again—back to Texas and back to the creative partner who helped launch his career—in order to find himself. After taking on the supporting role of the too-tanned hotshot DA Danny Buck in Bernie, McConaughey recalibrated his internal compass, ditching the leading-man roles that should have been going to the male bimbos and dominating the screen in a string of grown-up critical hits, including Killer Joe, Magic Mike, and the film that brought him his first Oscar, 2012’s Dallas Buyers Club.

      The transformation was so powerful that McConaughey more or less ruined his next film. The Wolf of Wall Street never really recovered from his wild, improvised 10-minute cameo, an early moment in the movie and the only time that anybody visibly races toward the outer rings of performance in the way Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel used to do for director Martin Scorsese, back when Scorsese mattered. Leonardo DiCaprio looks on in awe, and you wonder if he’s really acting.

      All of which brings us to Interstellar, a blockbuster by any measure and the film that decisively brings McConaughey back into the mainstream.

      But this time it’s on his terms. McConaughey establishes an instant coyotelike presence when he walks into the swish Beverly Hills hotel media conference for Christopher Nolan’s three-hour space opera, chewing on a toothpick and wearing cinched, high-waisted jeans that would look ridiculous on anybody else, his eyes darting around the room as he sizes everybody up. Yet there isn’t a hint of tension in his body. On-screen, McConaughey always seems to be a little behind the beat: a preternaturally relaxed Texan who appears to perceive the rest of the world in slow motion. He’s cooler than fuck, in short. It’s why straight guys love him as much as their partners do.

      It’s a little intimidating that he radiates the same vibe up close. A ripple of unease courses through the room when somebody inquires about McConaughey’s plans for his post-Oscar future, and the actor replies, locking eyes with the journalist: “I’ve got some things that I wanna do that I won’t share. They’re for me.” Softening a little, he adds that he and Nolan talked at length about the obsessiveness that drives them. “The job that you’re doing, it could be the last one,” he says. “So I’d say probably with respect to what’s happened to me over the last couple of years, I have more obsession over what I’m doing at this moment. And, you know, it could be the last one. I hope it’s not! But it could be.”

      Once the dust settles on Interstellar and the results are in, the film will be noted for its combination of Nolan’s characteristically epic vision and McConaughey’s intimate and moving performance. He plays Cooper, a grounded pilot and single parent of two sent into deep space to find habitable new worlds—via wormhole, no less—for a species that “is gently being nudged off the planet by the Earth itself”, as the director puts it during the same conference. It’s shot in 70mm and features the kind of visual scope that Nolan is uniquely equipped to deliver, but sitting in the middle of this truly awe-inspiring effects extravaganza is the story of a guy who has to choose between trying to save humankind and sticking around for his kids while the planet dies.

      “My biggest challenge was you’ve got a, quote-unquote, ‘hero’ and I’ve been playing a bunch of antiheroes, which are much less considerate human beings, God bless ’em,” McConaughey said at a preview screening the previous night at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the cinema is synonymous with Hollywood’s golden era and is a shrewdly symbolic venue for this, the biggest moment in the actor’s career. “But all of a sudden we’ve got a hero and also, quote-unquote, ‘the Everyman’. And I remember thinking about it for months, going, ‘Who in the hell is the Everyman?’ ”

      In the end, McConaughey built his character around Cooper’s flaws. “Invest in his spite,” he decided, “his feelings of where he got screwed around by not being able to live his dream, by NASA not being financed, by losing his wife, by being stuck on the Earth, by fighting gravity, with doing his duty to raise two kids even though it’s not what he’s supposed to be doing on this Earth in this lifetime. I guess a lot of his courage came from his fear of dying and not being able to do those things. Whether it’s said or not, those are things I was able to grab on to, to help me go through each day and feel, ‘Okay, I feel my bloodline; I’m having a personal experience.’ ”

      In Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey (with Anne Hathaway and David Gyasi) portrays an astronaut sent off to find new worlds where humanity can live.

      In a nutshell, you could view Interstellar as the three-hour rebuttal to a key speech McConaughey delivered in True Detective—the other major coordinate in this stunning career revival. McConaughey’s Rust Cohle declares in the chilling HBO series that he was “spared the sin of fatherhood” when he lost his two-year-old daughter. In Interstellar, black holes and the rings of Saturn aside, the most mind-blowing visual in the entire film might be the close-up of McConaughey’s face as he sobs over Earth transmissions from his rapidly aging children. (Time dilation: it’s a bitch!)

      “It’s one of those things for me as the guy playing Cooper that I read and I put a proverbial tack in it and go, ‘That better work,’ ” he says, smiling. “On purpose, I didn’t see any of the footage beforehand. I didn’t want to. And we didn’t rehearse; we said, ‘We’re going to shoot the first one up.’ ”

      “What’s in the film is the initial first reaction,” Nolan adds, “and it’s one of those moments you get to do in film where you get to drop the theatricality and the artifice and you get to tap something very raw, very human, very personal, very, very intimate. And, you know, there were a lot of very manly man tears in dailies the next day. It was an extraordinary thing to be involved with, and I just think, I mean, everybody knows what an incredible actor he is, but it was really electrifying to see.”

      If there’s a source to McConaughey’s conversion from lightweight People magazine fodder to this era’s most compelling movie star, it’s the same thing that arguably drew him to Interstellar in the first place. Since meeting his partner, Camila Alves, in 2006, he’s become a daddy three times over. That’ll make anybody more serious.

      “Let me say this. I’m in a fortunate position because my family, my kids can come with me when I head off,” he says. Pointing to Nolan, his screenwriter brother, Jonathan, and the director’s producer wife, Emma Thomas, he adds: “If you take a snapshot of this panel, we’ve got some Nolan lineage up here…and, you know, Chris has a daughter, so it was apparent to me early on that this was about family, that this was about parents, and that’s obviously where the aorta of the film sits. Even if you’re not parents, you had parents, and you’ve been in those situations where there’s a certain kind of goodbye. Nothing, hopefully, as extreme as this, but that’s what I think everyone linches into; it’s the common denominator that runs through this that everyone can understand.”

      It might be a fairly glib insight from anybody who didn’t invest so much in the work of making Cooper believable. But the real clincher comes minutes later. Leaving the conference, flanked by journalists trying to get one more quote out of their inscrutable hero, McConaughey politely ignores them all and exits holding the hand of his six-year-old son. It’s the coolest thing we see the coyote do all day.

      Follow Adrian Mack on Twitter at @adrianmacked.




      Nov 5, 2014 at 2:00pm

      So you don't know how to act until 40 and then you suddenly know how to, and this turns one into stardom?


      Nov 6, 2014 at 7:49pm

      Heard someone who was at the local premiere lastnight and said this dog deserved to be put down.A drag from start to finish.