Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey is celebrated for his performances in many films including Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Interstellar. The Texas star is now 48 years old and has clearly harnessed his talent, skillset, and process. But he had a number of lessons to learn early on as he navigated his career. One challenge, in particular, had to deal with how to balance spontaneity and how much to prepare for his roles.

In this Lincoln Center interview, McConaughey tells the story about being in a hotel bar in Austin when he met casting director and producer Don Phillips. The two had a chance to talk–and even got kicked out of the bar for some reason–but, Phillips ended up introducing the young aspiring actor to director Richard Linklater. McConaughey auditioned for a movie which ended up being his breakout role: the coming-of-age drama Dazed and Confused. His three lines ballooned into three weeks worth of work and over 300 lines as Linklater encouraged Matthew to do improvisations. Indeed, McConaughey’s first scene on film was spontaneously thrown together; his character picks up on an intellectual high school girl in a memorable and often quoted “alright, alright, alright” scene. The spontaneity of the process worked out so well.

When Matthew then came out to Los Angeles, it was to work as a PA in film, and he hoped to pursue acting on the side. But he noticed his invitations for callbacks were proving to be unfruitful in the end. So, he wondered if he was preparing too much and not allowing the spontaneity that worked so well in Dazed and Confused to inform his performances enough. He figured he’d do better by just going with his instincts and not reading the material until the last minute; if he really knew his character, then he’d instinctually know how to pull it off. Well, that backfired when he realized way too late that his character’s monologue was both lengthy and all in Spanish! That’s when he corrected his thinking. He noted the importance of doing his due diligence in preparing for his roles and then letting go and allowing his performance to unfold in a relaxed and natural manner.

“I’m probably much more intentional than people would think I am,” Matthew says. “I make choices, I invest in them, I work on them. And I don’t choose to really share a lot of that. It’s my own private time. I try and do the work … so I can then appear like I’m blowing in the wind. I call it: Create your own weather so you can blow in the wind.”

The process of making films is what McConaughey says he enjoys the most–much more than watching the final product. “When I got selfish for [prioritizing the experience of filmmaking] when I got that process, enjoying that process, the day-to-day architecture of making a movie and creating a role, that’s when I’ve been the happiest. And more results have come that way in an odd way.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Matthew and 250 other Wild Turkey Gives Back initiative volunteers recently surprised families in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky with 4,500 free frozen Thanksgiving turkeys to spread holiday cheer.

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