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Exclusive Interview With Matthew McConaughey

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Mar 18, 2011 | 10:17am EDT

Matthew.jpgCould we be on the cusp of a Matthew McConaughey renaissance? Those familiar with the actor’s recent output – a couple of regrettable rom-coms and the straight-to-video-ish Surfer, Dude, with an inspired supporting gig in Tropic Thunder sandwiched in between -- might be inclined to scoff at the suggestion, and I’d have been inclined to scoff along with them before I witnessed his work in the new legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer. McConaughey’s performance as Mick Haller, a bottom-feeding defense attorney who operates out of the backseat of his Continental, is drawing near-universal praise from critics, and for good reason: It’s terrific, a glowing reminder of what he's capable of when handed the right material.

And there’s reason to be optimistic that McConaughey’s resurgence might well hold: A glance at his pipeline reveals several intriguing upcoming projects: Killer Joe, a comedy co-starring Emile Hirsch and directed by William Friedkin; Bernie, in which he reunites with Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater; and the Dallas Buyer’s Club, the true story of an AIDS patient-turned-pharmaceuticals smuggler, which Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria) is currently attached to direct. The pedigrees of the filmmakers involved and the conspicuous lack of Fools Gold- or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past-esque loglines happily indicate that a significant uptick in quality could be forthcoming.

Recently, McConaughey spoke with Hollywood.com about The Lincoln Lawyer and more in an exclusive phone interview:

Your character in this film works out of the back of a Lincoln Continental. I hear you've been known to use a vehicle as your office as well.

Oh yeah. I’ve always loved to customize my own cars and work out of them. I once had this 1996 Savana GMC van. I stripped out the back, put in a nice couch that unfolded into a bed, put in a big table with a bunch of AC hookups. I had a fax back there, a printer, everything. It was my mobile office, pretty much like Mick Haller’s in this film. And then I moved up to trailers, started customizing trailers, which I still do to this day. Part of its [appeal] is getting two things done at once: You’re moving, you’re heading somewhere, but you’re taking care of business on the way. And it’s still sometimes one of my favorite places to work.

Sounds like there might be some potential there for a side business.

Well, I’ve got some ideas about that, actually, about some McConaughey Signature Series mobile offices and live-in places.

Sign me up! When I saw The Lincoln Lawyer, it was at a special screening at Lionsgate, and you showed up along with Michael Connelly, the author of the book on which the film is based, to give a brief introduction beforehand. I noticed afterward that you stood in the back of the screening room throughout the entirety of the film. Is that something you do often?

No. I was there to introduce Connelly. And then when Connelly said, "Hey, hang out for the opening credits." Then the director [Brad Furman] called and said, "Check out the opening credits and see what you think because there's a new edit." So, I was just going to hang through the opening credits. And I stand and I'm watching the credits and I see what they did ... and then I just got kind of hooked. I'm watching the first scene and then the next one then the next one and then I'm halfway through it and I'm thinking, "Wait a minute, how does Haller get out of this?" [Laughs] I obviously know how, but I wanted to see it. Next thing you know, it's the final credits and I've been there the whole movie standing up.

Look, when I go see a movie that I've made, you gotta remember that usually it was filmed like a year ago. Nine months to a year is about how long ago you finish making a movie. And to come back and watch it -- I don't know, for me it's always been somewhat of an overwhelming experience because you're looking at three months of work, twelve hours a day, six days a week, compressed into two hours of film. And so every scene brings back lots of memories of, you know, the six hours it took to shoot that three-minute, four-minute scene. And sometimes they're easier to watch, sometimes they're not. But I'm pretty happy with Lincoln Lawyer. It was a lot of things I wanted to get across, and I think what we're all trying to get across happened. I think it's good. I think it's a good, strong, legal thriller. I think it's surprising as hell. It's got a killer cast. An all-star cast. It's the kind of movie I want to go see in the theater, you know?

Definitely. The cast is one of the hallmarks of this film. When you're working with multiple award-winners like Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy, does it compel you to sort of raise your own game?

Honestly? I've been asked that and it's always a good question. It's not about raising your game in the sense that you need to do more. A lot of times, it's about doing less. It's almost like you don't have to try as hard because you're dealing with someone who's good, who's easier to listen to. They're easier to react to. They're easier to believe.

That's an almost zen-like notion, accomplishing more by doing less.

Look, I had a lot of heavyweight stuff to deal with as this character, Mick Haller. Every scene for me is loaded. You know what I mean? Dealing with self-preservation, taking care of my family, their security, trying not to be arrested for a murder, trying to defend a guilty man and get an innocent man out of jail. I got a heavy load that's adding up on my shoulders in this film -- Mick Haller does. So I had of plenty to consider about where I was coming from and going to as a character. So, you know, what's uncomfortable and what makes it hard to act sometimes is going into scenes and going, "I'm not sure where I'm coming from or going in this scene and what it's about." That's when a scene can be tough.

It's certainly one of the more challenging characters I've seen you play in a while.

Yeah. The guy's up against massive challenges, dealing with consequences, and figuring how to get what he wants and what he believes is right. He's living his worst nightmare, and he's doing everything he can. He's a damn good lawyer and he knows the system, but he's having to pull jokers out of his sleeve and win certain things on sheer willpower and gamble and meddle, you know? So that's what dramas allow, more so than a comedy. It's real-life consequences. The blows, the punches really hurt. The bullets really land. The people really bleed. People really cry. People really enjoy victory. People really feel pain and defeat. You can love harder. You can cry harder. You can be more angry, harder. That's what dramas allow.

Were you looking to flex your dramatic muscles? I know you're coming off a stretch of comedies.

I liked the story. It was a legal drama that had a great page-turning thriller aspect, a whodunit cat-and-mouse chase. I just wanted to be the guy to get into those situations and play the guy who's gotta handle them. And then I read it and I was just like, I haven't done anything like this in awhile and it's exactly where I am and where I feel like being right now. So, that's where I dove in, you know?

You've got a lot of really interesting projects coming up. Do you see this perhaps as the beginning of a new stage of your career?

Maybe, you know? I'm not much for seeing things as full stops, fresh starts. I think it's all part of the same evolution and career, you know? I think, probably, another stage is worth saying. Or maybe another chapter, same book -- yeah, I'll go with that.

I just think there are certain parallels that can be made to the beginning of your career -- playing a lawyer again, like you did in your first big lead role, in A Time to Kill; reuniting with director Richard Linklater, whose 1993 film, Dazed & Confused, gave you your breakout role; etc. I was just wondering if you were making a conscious attempt to re-connect with your acting roots.

Not that conscious, but I'm sure it's not coincidental. It's things I'm interested in right now, stories I'm really wanting to be a apart of, and directors like Rick who I really want to work with and find things with. Not consciously, though. But I guess when you say it that way, though, those are things I did do earlier in my career, and here I am doing them again.

The Lincoln Lawyer is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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