The career of Hollywood legend Matthew McConaughey has certainly been an unpredictable roller-coaster of change and reinvention in an industry that can only be described as hit-and-miss for actors and actresses looking for that big-break.
The Early Years
For this proud Texan, with looks fit for a Hollywood leading man, the question was not if he would crack the silver-screen, but when – and for Matthew, that break came in the form of a commercial for the Austin, Texas daily newspaper. With one single speaking line, that was all it took to turn heads and secure McConaughey his first film role in Richard Linklater‘s (School of Rock) high-school comedy, Dazed and Confused (1993), in which he starred alongside Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy) and Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil franchise).
Dazed and Confused (1993) proved to be the break McConaughey had been hoping for, with the film becoming somewhat of an instant cult classic, he found himself busy with a steady flow of small parts in movies such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), Boys on the Side (1995), and Lone Star (1996).
The Big Break
Many actors and actresses find themselves waiting years for that film that defines their big break moment – for Matthew however, his talent and skills in front of camera found him almost immediate recognition when he was cast alongside Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey in Joel Schumacher‘s, A Time To Kill (1996).
Centered around a distraught father, Carl Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), accused of killing two men that raped his 10-year-old daughter and the young lawyer, Jake Brigance (McConaughey) who chooses to defend the protective father from a law system that is still very much broken when it comes to skin colour.
The film was a triumphant success and officially put McConaughey on the Hollywood radar, although perhaps not in the way he may of envisioned.
The ‘Dabbling in Film Genres’ Phase
The late 90’s proved to be an exciting time for McConaughey as he dabbled in a wide range of film genres, gradually starting to cement his place as Hollywood‘s next go-to leading man.
Many would claim this Texan first worked his way into the hearts of women everywhere with his portrayal of Palmer Joss in Robert Zemeckis‘s (Back to the Future) Sci-Fi drama, Contact (1997). Co-starring Jodie Foster and Tom Skerritt, the film proved to be McConaughey‘s introduction to the mainstream Hollywood market.
Following on from the success of Contact (1997), McConaughey appeared in Steven Spielberg‘s Academy Award-nominated slavery biopic, Amistad (1997), starring Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins. The film garnered critical-acclaim for it’s hard hitting and often sensitive storyline, and made people sit up and take notice of this new-kid-on-the-block and his incredible versatility and stand-out screen presence, something not easy achieved when sharing the silver-screen with two legendary Academy Award-winning actors (Freeman and Hopkins).
The year (1997) proved to an incredibly successful and yet busy one for McConaughey, perhaps not so surprising then that the following year saw him scale back to just the one film – teaming up again with Dazed and Confused (1993) director Richard Linklater in the bank robbing biopic, The Newton Boys (1998). Co-starring Ethan Hawke and Skeet Ulrich, McConaughey took on the role of Willis Newton, one of the infamous Newton brothers who became history’s most successful bank robbing gang. Despite it’s gripping storyline and powerhouse cast, The Newton Boys (1997) proved to be McConaughey‘s first career flop, yet that wasn’t about to stop him.
The Leading Man’s First Leading Role
The 90’s were coming to an end and just over the horizon lay a new millennium – fitting then that McConaughey would star in arguably perhaps his most iconic role with fans around the world. Edtv(1999), directed by Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard (Apollo 13), became a cult-classic after it’s release and showed Hollywood why McConaughey was one of it’s most promising leading actors.
As well as providing McConaughey with his first leading role and turning him into a global sex symbol, Edtv (1999) would also be the beginning of highly successful onscreen partnership between McConaughey and real-life best bud Woody Harrelson.
New Millennium, New Career Chapter
The Naughties had arrived and McConaughey was well and truly in the pretty-boy category of Hollywood‘s finest leading men – but for this chiseled Texan, that may just prove to be his downfall. When emerging from the infancy phase of a Hollywood acting career, the next choices for any actor or actress are crucial in determining their future direction and any stereotypes that more often then not follow.
With his first outing as a leading man proving to be an outstanding success, McConaughey‘s choice to take on a World War Two biopic was incredibly brave considering the complexity presented with war films. U-571 (2000), tells the true story of the heroic American submariners hunting the infamous Nazi Enigma machines, who after losing their submarine to a German torpedo, are forced to take control of an unfamiliar Nazi U-boat in hostile waters.
Ten Years of Hard Grafting
With the box-office success of U-571 (2000), and an edge of your seat performance worthy of any leading man, you’d be forgiven for believing that McConaughey‘s career was about to explode onto another level – but for some reason it stalled somewhat as he found himself stereotyped into the dreaded Rom-com genre.
The Wedding Planner (2001), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Failure to Launch (2006), and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009), it seemed McConaughey‘s career was doomed – never to be taken seriously or cement his name as the gifted actor he showed promise to be. Fortunately however thing’s were about to change as his long overdue entry into A-list territory was about to take effect.
The Golden Years
In 2011, McConaughey‘s career took a drastic turn away from the repetitive rut that is the romantic comedy scene and he found himself finally presented with the opportunities to turn in career defining performances, starting with The Lincoln Lawyer (2011). The story is centered around defense attorney Mick Haller (McConaughey) who has a crisis of conscience when he represents a wealthy, but shady, client who has a foolproof plan to beat the system. McConaughey‘s performance gathered rave reviews, putting him on the radar of Hollywood‘s elite filmmakers.
The next year (2012), McConaughey put in a performance worthy of critical-acclaim, as a harmless and mysterious fugitive, in Jeff Nichols spirited drama Mud (2012). Also starring Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, and Sam Shepard, the film premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews.
This Texan A-Lister may now be on the top of the Hollywood pile for seriously talented actors, but that doesn’t stop him embracing his sex symbol status and providing women all over the world with a serious case of high blood-pressure.
Magic Mike (2012), directed by Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh and charting the lives of a group of male strippers as they welcome new blood into their brotherhood, was a box-office smash for McConaughey – not surprising considering every woman on the planet probably went to see it. For a film that cost a mere $7 million to make and took over $160 million worldwide, it proved to be a very smart move for McConaughey, especially considering the year he was about to have.
The Highest of Accolades
Every actor and actress dreams of making this career milestone, and in 2013 Matthew McConaugheyachieved this with a performance that can only be described as unforgettable.
Dallas Buyer Club (2013), which charts the story of AIDS victim Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) in 1985 as he works around the fractured system to hustle medication into the US for fellow patients, earned McConaughey the Academy Award for Best Actor and propelled him into the elite of Hollywood‘s finest.
The year would go on to be the most successful in McConaughey‘s career so far, with the release of Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), it would put him into a very select group of individuals who’ve had two films in the Academy Awards Best Picture category in the same year. As well as winning the Academy Award, McConaughey also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for Dallas Buyer Club (2013).
TV Partnership Gold
To say 2013 was an exhausting year for McConaughey would be an understatement, especially considering the physical stress he went through for his award-winning role in Dallas Buyer Club(2013), losing an incredible 30lbs for the part. So we’d forgive him for wanting to take some time out to consider his next big role – but that would not be the case for this dedicated actor.
Re-teaming with his best-bud and Edtv (1999) co-star Woody Harrelson, McConaughey took up the part of Detective Rust Cohle in the Primetime Emmy Award-winning TV series, True Detective(2014). The series became an immediate hit and one of HBO‘s most watched programmes in it’s history.
The Future and Beyond
There’s no doubt that Matthew McConaughey‘s career has been an unexpected roller-coaster but in the end this gifted actor and all-round awesome guy has found the success he so rightly deserves, and with his current Hollywood blockbuster, Interstellar (2014), making the list of the ten greatest films ever made, there’s no limit to the heights this silver-screen icon will reach.