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The resurgence of Matthew McConaughey

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Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey

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Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Like many five-year-old boys, Matthew McConaughey's eldest son Levi is mad about fire engines, a topic of conversation that sprung up during a recent trip to New York.

"I was telling this to my make-up lady," begins the actor (44) who this year earned his first Oscar nomination, for the low-budget indie Dallas Buyers Club, "and she is like, 'My husband is the chief of the fire department and he is out right now. I can call him up and he can bring his truck around.' My son was like, 'Wow!'"

Up pulls the fire truck, stopping outside the hotel window. Levi was very excited.

"But as soon as we get down there, whoosh, there are like 40 paparazzi," continues McConaughey.

"It's not going to be a totally normal experience but dammit that was what my son wanted to do and that was the most important thing.

"That was more important than saying, 'No, son, we're not going to go out there because of the paparazzi.' He wouldn't understand. So he got the fire truck experience.

"The paps were a pain in the ass, but there are certain times when you have to put your rights as a father first."

McConaughey, unlike many of his A-list peers, has a healthy relationship with his celebrity. He does not court attention outside the promotion of his films, but he won't let press interest interfere with his everyday life.

"I have never chosen to really insulate myself," he says. "I was not doing that before I was famous and just because I'm a celebrity now I'm supposed to stay inside?

"It is not my choice though I understand why people do that. With my family, we don't advertise but we try and do what we try and do. I have the right to go wherever I want, shirt on, shirt off."

McConaughey, of course, has built a career out of taking his shirt off. After an impressive early run of films, including the likes of Dazed and Confused and A Time to Kill, he entered the 2000s as a rom-com star, racking up big box office figures in the likes of The Wedding Planner, How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Fool's Gold and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

In 2005, he was named the sexiest man alive by People magazine. His bank balance was healthy but his critical standing had waned.

All that has now changed, however. He still has plenty of cash, of course, but his viability in critics' eyes, has altered dramatically.

He is the currently favourite to pip 12 Years A Slave's Chiwetel Ejiofor to the Best Actor Oscar come March, and is also fronting both HBO's latest hit TV series, True Detective, and the forthcoming Chris Nolan sci-fi movie, Interstellar. Last month, he won his first Golden Globe.

He proved a favourite with his small but effective appearance in The Wolf of Wall Street, while his latest film, the Oscar-baiting Dallas Buyers Club, only got off the ground because of McConaughey's persistence.

The film, which tells the true-life story of a heterosexual and not very gay-friendly cowboy diagnosed with HIV back in 1985, was written in 1992 but was rejected, time and again, by potential financiers.

"They tried to get it made a few times but this time around the right group of people came together at the right time," says McConaughey.

"Five years ago, there wouldn't have been the momentum with my career and I don't know if I'd have been as dead set and clear-cut on it without flinching. What I've done recently as an actor has given me confidence."

He has certainly enjoyed an impressive run of late, racking up plenty of critical kudos with films such as The Lincoln Lawyer, where he excelled as a seedy attorney, the coming-of-age tale Mud, and the excellent William Friedkin movie Killer Joe, where he played a psychopathic hitman.

He's punctuated those with supporting roles in the likes of Bernie, alongside Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine, the Channing Tatum stripper movie Magic Mike for director Steven Soderbergh and also The Paperboy, from the director of Precious and The Butler, Lee Daniels.

"I was fearful of doing so many movies back to back," he says of his impressive clutch of recent films. "I thought I needed time in-between to press reset and do another character.

"But my wife helped me on that. She was like, 'Do you want to do all of them? Then do them and find out if you can. We'll work it out.'

"And it was highly intimidating at first," he adds, "but then I found out that once I finished a role my acting juices were flowing. I could more nimbly switch into the new hat of the new man I was going to play.

"It didn't take as much time as I thought it would so I didn't need to be as precious about the time in between."

The actor credits his wife, Brazilian model and TV personality Camila Alves, with helping him rebrand as a serious actor. They began dating in 2006, starting their family in 2008 and marrying in 2012.

The couple's other two children – daughter Vida and second son Livingston – were born in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

"I look at it and I've got my career, I've got my personal health, I'm a father and husband and I've got friends," says McConaughey. "Those are five things to measure, things that are important to me in my life."

He has come a long way since the early 2000s. In 1999 he was in the news after the cops were called to his Texas home to find him naked, high and playing the bongos. Now, he's settled and happy and the days of hedonism are in the past.

His wife and kids, he tells me, are with him on his current trip – we meet in London – and are waiting for him in the room next door. "I take them everywhere," he says. "It's not just me going away; we are doing it the right way. We make adventures out of it."

"We were in Calgary," he adds, recalling his forthcoming film Interstellar. "The city we were staying in was an hour away so we decided to go and live in a trailer in the middle of a cornfield, below a mountain range.

"That was an adventure for us and the kids for a month and half. On Mud, we camped out on the Mississippi River for a month and a half.

"It means more work and organisation but the effort pays off because we are creating stories together as a family." Stories about camping, stories about fire trucks. "And that is what life's about."

 

Dallas buyers Club: The six-time Oscar nominated movie that no one wanted to make ...

* First written in 1992 the film tells the true-life tale of Ron Woodroof, a heterosexual cowboy diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and given 30 days to live. He then began to import the non-FDA approved drugs into America to help himself and other AIDS sufferers, albeit illegally.

* He campaigned vehemently for effective drugs to treat AIDS in the face of opposition from the US Food and Drug Administration.

* A number of high-profile stars have been linked to the project over the years, including Woody Harrelson, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling, although producers could never raise the necessary finance to make the film.

* The current film-makers hoped for an $8 million budget and a 40-day shooting schedule but went into production with just $4.8 million and a 25-day schedule.

* Matthew McConaughey lost 50 pounds for the role. His co-star Jared Leto (playing his transsexual friend and business partner) lost over 30 pounds.

* The film is directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée, and has gone on to garner six Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role (McConaughey), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Leto), Best Film Editing and Best Make-up and Hairstyling.

Irish Independent