24 Oct 2020

Matthew McConaughey: Searching for green lights

From Saturday Morning, 4:55 pm on 24 October 2020

"All right, All right, All right" - Matthew McConaughey's Dazed And Confused catchphrase sums up how life has turned out for the actor.

Now 50 and the father of three children, the Academy Award-winner has mined his diaries to write a candid and philosophical memoir Greenlights.

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey Photo: supplied

In Greenlights, he reflects on growing up in rural Texas as the son of parents who married three times and divorced twice, and his career which has included starring roles in Dallas Buyers Club, Magic Mike, The Wolf of Wall Street and HBO show True Detective.

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Photo: supplied

McConaughey says of the central philosophy of his book: "If you know how, and when, to deal with life's challenges - how to get relative with the inevitable - you can enjoy a state of success I call catching greenlights."

He told Saturday Morning he has kept a diary for 36 years. Early on, it was during the bad times, but he realised once he was enjoying life he needed to include the times his career and relationships were going well so that when "the red lights came" he would be able to remind himself of the good times.

True Detective - in which he starred with Woody Harrelson - was a dark series, but was also a lot of fun because "any time with Woody just makes you get younger, it always feels like a Saturday with Woody."

"When he and I get going... we just add on to each other and just roll."

McConaughey's Dustin Cole was a stoic character and Harrelson challenged him that he was not injecting any humour into his part.

"I remember telling him: 'Woody, I think my hunch might be that over time in this relationship in True Detective that might actually be funny' which in some ways it was. So it was a whole new way for he and I to work together ...we got frustrated with each other quite a few times but we're great friends so that's all part of it."

Actors Woody Harrelson (L) and Matthew McConaughey speak onstage at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on August 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Woody Harrelson, left, and Matthew McConaughey at the Emmy Awards in 2014. Photo: AFP

He still misses watching True Detective every Sunday night, he said, and it's a series that remains among his favourites.

'Solo expeditions'

After enjoying hugely successful film roles in Dazed and Confused and A Time to Kill, he has made a habit of going off on "solo expeditions" to places such as the Monastery of Christ in the desert in New Mexico as well as "walkabouts" in Africa and a solo trip to Peru.

"Got to recalibrate... got to go somewhere where my head and my heart and my spirit can really start communicating more freely."

He said after becoming famous, he was bombarded with offers.

"You get fame, you have no anonymity any more... I've got to go and find some anonymity so I can listen to myself and be able to be creative and true to myself."

The reason his absences were so long was that during the first 12 days he didn't enjoy his own company but once he emerged from that, "all of a sudden the trips are great...then I'm off on the adventure."

One brief story in the book concerns taking peyote (the psychoactive alkaloid from a cactus) in a cage with a mountain lion in south Mexico. "True story - I will say that mountain lion ended up purring in my lap at the end of that."

McConaughey, who was alone at the location in south Mexico during this experience, said he knew the lion wasn't hungry and after an hour the actor felt comfortable enough to get into the cage with the lion.  

He has always wanted to be a father but he always enforces boundaries - making sure the three children respect their mother is one priority.

"Respect and trust are big - self-reliance is big... Those are the sort of values that were instilled in me..."

His parents chose corporal punishment as punishment but he and his wife, Camila Alves, do not go down that pathway.

(FILE) Matthew and Camila Alves McConaughey Donate 80,000 Masks to Coronavirus COVID-19 Frontline Heroes.

Photo: AFP

A year in Australia

As an 18-year-old he spent a difficult year in Australia, and he said he began creating things to achieve "to maintain his sanity".

He became vegetarian and celibate and ran 10km every day.  

US luxuries such as having a girlfriend, playing golf and driving his own car "came to a screeching halt for sure".

While a trial for him, it has paid off, he said.

"I would not have the life I do now if I did not have that year. I was forced inward... It forced me to find myself."

US actor Matthew McConaughey arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of "The Beach Bum" at the Arclight cinemas on March 28, 2019 in Hollywood. (Photo by Chris Delmas / AFP)

Photo: AFP

After earning success in romantic comedies, he decided to go "cold turkey" and disappeared for 20 months. He wanted more challenging roles and he made a pact with people close to him that he would turn down any more romantic comedy roles.

Hollywood kept increasing the multi-million salary offers with one increasing from $US8 million to $15m but while tempted, he said no.

After that he was offered nothing for two years and he considered changing careers, however, he kept the faith that his career would take off again.

Finally came all the run of top movie roles, such as Killer Joe, he did over the next 10 years.

"I became a new good idea because I was gone, I was unbranded..."

He said a good movie is a miracle - even a great script and director do not guarantee great results.

He has taken risks on some small projects, such as Dallas Buyers Club, which no-one wanted to make but it turned out wonderfully.  

Matthew McConaughey accepts the best actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club.

Matthew McConaughey accepts the best actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club in 2014. Photo: AFP