Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey is known for his inventive way with words. So it’s no surprise that his acting process is largely centered on using language as his personal creative playground.

While at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, McConaughey explained when he’s feeling cut off from his character or not “in flight,” one way he prepares for the scene is to imagine a monologue for his character–or as the native Texan puts it: “Get the guy’s monologue, then I can have the dialogue.” This technique helps him feel in the moment.

In addition, transitions into and out of scenes fascinate McConaughey, and prove to be fertile ground for his imagination. He explains, “I love it when you catch somebody in a scene…I love doing all the work about let’s backload about where the guy’s coming from, and why, how he got here, and where’s he going? I love to finish scenes. Any time there’s the old dot, dot, dot, finish it up–write it out.” McConaughey admits he writes a lot to explore the character’s intensions, words, and actions that would occur just before he enters or after he exits scenes; and although his written words never get spoken in his roles, they inform his acting–and ultimately help him feel more relaxed.

A last tip Matthew mentions is to select a line from his character’s dialogue that he can take literally to find out what really motivates his character. He says it gives him “something to fly with” in case he finds himself grasping for a way through a scene. For example, his character in Dazed and Confused says, “That’s what I love about those high school girls: I get older, but they stay the same age.” McConaughey asserts, “Well that’s a line that you’re like ‘Well who is this?!’ Now. that guy’s got a history. And what if it’s not an attitude; if that’s really his constitution?”

Do these approaches sound familiar to you? What techniques do you use to tap into your characters?

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