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Matthew McConaughey Goes From Sex Symbol to Inspirational Coach in ‘We Are Marshall’

Better known as the king of romantic comedies, the sexy and charming southerner Matthew McConaughey, has made a name for himself by starring as the leading man in films such as How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Wedding Planner and Failure to Launch.

Inspired by a true story of tragedy, courage and survival, in his latest film We Are Marshall, also starring Matthew Fox, Anthony Mackie, Ian McShane and David Strathairn, McConaughey expressed a deep compassion and commitment to recreating the role of Jack Lengyl, a coach brought to Marshall University following a fatal plane crash, to rebuild a nonexistent football team. Struggling to cope with a devastating loss, the coach encouraged hope and helped restore faith in a community in the face of adversity.

Although his character is the antithesis of the sex symbol status he is otherwise known for, McConaughey displayed a great sense of humor and devotion by showing up in character as the eccentric coach, sporting a 70’s outfit with his signature golden locks slicked to one side. He sat down with us to discuss the challenges and significance of making a genuine film, drawing on personal football experiences and the importance of commemorating a community that continues to mourn a great loss.

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Hollywood.com: Were you familiar with the Marshall story before the script came along?
Matthew McConaughey:
Nope, nope, read it the first time in Austin, Texas, in my trailer and had no idea of the story. But one read, I knew I had to be a part of it. Not glad it happened but glad I had the opportunity to be a part of it. Most gratifying and honorable working experience I’ve ever had. Hands down.

HW: When did you actually meet the real Jack Lengyel? Was it early in your involvement or later on?
MM: I talked to him up front and then he sent me some audio and I got a lot of his audio recorded. A lot of his audio off of the documentary, From Ashes We Rose and there were certain things with speech rhythms that I was listening to and then slowly started just to understand what was this guy’s approach. He’s an eccentric. Anyone who’s going to say, “Yes I want that job,” is not your normal coach—especially stepping into a situation, which is, I mean there’s definitely no playbook, here’s how you go handle that situation. But he wanted to do it for the simplest and purest reasons. As he says in the beginning “Why? Because I thought I could help.” Simple. They ask him the bigger questions and he didn’t go in there to be a savior, he didn’t go in there and say ‘I’m going to get this town back on their feet.’ He wanted to coach a football team. And when he was asked the bigger questions, what do you think about people that think…we shouldn’t be thinking about getting back in the field. It’s a disgrace. He was very quick to say, “Hey, I’m a football coach. I don’t know that’s not for me to say.” And there are many instances in the film where he says I don’t know and a lot of stories or films would have taken advantage of those spots and go “This is a great spot to write a beautiful soliloquy.” No—the guy’s a small town guy from Wooster, Ohio who had a family and loved his kids and had a big heart and saw a situation and, was drawn to it and went to go coach the team. He didn’t say “I’m going to go prophesize the place.” No, that was never where he was coming from. So there’s simplicity there. In those things that would have written in those positions – that’s what people can hopefully walk and talk about in the parking lot after the film.

HW: This character created a very quirky and eccentric turn for you. The roles we have seen you play in the past have been more charming and well-spoken. Besides the fact that it’s a great story, why did you decide to do something so different?
MM: It’s just what the character became, really. I mean those others—they’re just different games, you know? This one is what it required from my point of view some work. It’s different – the game. It’s not my place to go “I’m really going to create a certain character.” It’s wrong. Not only is it not necessary, it would be false. It would be over choreographed for instance. This character came about very organically but like I said it started with rhythm of speech and approach it in the way like ‘who is that guy who comes from out of states? I want to come and [see] who’s teaming this situation.’ Well, that’s not everybody. I went and interviewed different coaches. Yarbrough at Louisiana State University – white coach in the late 60’s, he was a member of the NCAA. Talk about eccentric! That guy came down, he found Shaquille O’Neal in Germany. You know he had all kinds of eccentric ways—at that time people were just like “What are you doing?” But, [he was] very successful. And so I looked at different places and talked to other coaches I know who had been in different situations that were not ideal coming off really hurt team where they lost a player. I remember being at the University of Texas, the week after UCLA beat us 66-3. I was at practice all that week at my University of Texas. It was so…the whole week was applauding successful fundamentals. I mean, if there was a clean snap—and this is a Division 1 A-grade college football program, and after that loss they sort of debilitated, their confidence was so low. If they just got a clean snap and clean hand off and didn’t fumble on the play. Coach had the entire offensive team congratulate the quarterback because they needed these simple fundamentals, (claps) “Hey, good job,” because they weren’t a team who was good enough or had their confidence high enough to only celebrate on the touchdown.

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