Imagine, if you will, the most laid-back, busiest man in Hollywood.
Quite a bit thinner than I had expected, Matthew McConaughey doesn't so much sit on a hotel couch as drape himself over it. Dressed in white chinos and a blue designer sport shirt, his arms are spread over the couch back like a condor in flight. His smile can best be described as "contented."
In fact, I can't help but think of the impression Channing Tatum — McConaughey's co-star in the male stripper film Magic Mike — did of him on talk shows and "Saturday Night Live" ("Alright, alright, alright! I see a lot of lovely ladies in the house tonight.").
It is in this state of relaxed dudeness that McConaughey runs us through the busiest year-and-a-half of his life. "Five in a row. It was Bernie, Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Magic Mike and Mud." The latter, an indie film about a boy who helps an escaped con (McConaughey) reconnect with his love (Reese Witherspoon), opens in March.
"It's picking time, so I'm going to pick the cotton," he says of his latest string of projects. Between cotton picking, he also managed to get married to model/designer Camila Alves, the mother of his two children (a third is on the way), earlier this year.
This month, the Southern murder mystery The Paperboy — which caused a stir for its lurid content when it debuted at Cannes in May, and also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival — hits theatres. It's director Lee Daniels' follow-up to Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and co-stars Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron and John Cusack. (Watch our interview with the cast and director here.)
"It was wild," McConaughey says of The Paperboy, in which he plays a newspaper reporter who happens to be gay. "It's this erotic sexual thriller set in 1969 deep in the Florida Everglades.
"I'm this guy who's an investigative reporter for the Miami Times who goes back to his hometown to reopen this case of a man [Cusack] who may or may not have been wrongly imprisoned for the murder of the local sheriff 15 years earlier. And from there it's a character study of all the people and his family in this small town.
"Y'know, it's murky, secretive, salacious, nobody is who they are introduced as. That was a very cool thing about it."
Playing a reporter, he says, "was kind of a strange challenge, since the bulk of investigating I've done in movies has been playing lawyers [A Time to Kill, Amistad, The Lincoln Lawyer]. "For a while I was listening to myself and going, 'Too much lawyer,'" he says.
The other concern was the accent. Being from Texas, McConaughey takes dialects from south of the Mason-Dixon line seriously. And, from experience, he says it's appropriate that the movie was actually shot in New Orleans.
"Florida isn't all one accent," he says. "I went more Louisiana, that deep Southeastern drawl, because if you listen to people, it starts to bleed. You can hear Cajun bleeding into the Everglades."
Meanwhile, McConaughey's thinness was not my imagination. At the time of this interview, he had lost 30 pounds "drinking a lot of tea" to play HIV-positive Ron Woodroof in The Dallas Buyer's Club for Quebec filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria).
It's the real-life story of a heterosexual-redneck-turned-HIV-activist who bucked the medical establishment in the 1980s to create an ad hoc AIDS support network, smuggling untested but potentially life-saving drugs. At one point, Brad Pitt was attached to the role. Shooting for the film, which co-stars Hilary Swank, should be getting underway right about now and was tentatively expected to take place in Quebec.
The temporarily thin actor actually keeps careful track of his weight, nudging 200 pounds while playing a college football coach in We Are Marshall, and hitting a previous low of 172 on Ron Howard's EdTV. For The Dallas Buyer's Club, his regimen had him somewhere south of 160 pounds on his six-foot frame. "I'm dropping the pounds, that's for sure," McConaughey says.
McConaughey has been a fan of Vallée's since C.R.A.Z.Y., so when the production came together he reluctantly pulled out of playing JFK in Daniels' next movie, The Butler, to take the role.
And while Woodroof died in 1992, McConaughey says that he's far from forgotten. "For a lot of people in the Dallas area, he was a hero, a dealer of homeopathic HIV medicines in a city where a lot of gay guys were contracting it."Woodroof, McConaughey says, is the kind of character that makes his crazy schedule worthwhile. "I went back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and it was the most creative and fun working year I ever had," he says.
"I got to work with a lot of very interesting directors and interesting stories, characters that didn't really pander or placate to any laws of government or parental guidance. When you're committed to those kind of characters, it's boundless how far you can go."Jim Slotek writes about movies for the Toronto Sun.