Matthew McConaughey arrives for the ‘Sing 2’ Premiere on December 12, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Photo credit: DFree /

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey is celebrated for his performances in films like “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “Interstellar,” as well as the HBO series “True Detective.” Now 53 years old, the star has clearly harnessed his talent, skill set, and process. In a McConaughey Takes video, the Texas native shares valuable insights into how he breaks down a script, crafts his characters, and learns the lines. 

Learning all those lines

When it comes to scripts, McConaughey says the question he probably gets asked most often is, “How do you remember all those lines?” Here is his answer: 

“And I’m always like, well, you don’t try to remember all the lines. You look at what’s on the text. First you read it, you try to understand it, you read it again. Me? I read it after a run when my endorphins are flying; I read it late Saturday night when I’ve got a good buzz going; I read it right after church when I’m feeling in a very forgiving mood; I’ll read it when I’m mad, sad, glad, tired, happy, excited. At many different places where I am personally, I’ll read a script, and that means I’ll have a different look at the same scenes because I’m in a different place. And I gather all that for weeks, if not months, before I start really locking into making decisions on what my character would or wouldn’t do—“on truths of my man” as I call it.”

Explore at length before locking yourself into one approach

With each new reading, McConaughey broadens his understanding of the character and potential approaches to the material. He explains: “You have to watch in a script not to grab ahold of things that you want to take literally too early because you don’t want to get bound to anything; you want to stay loose. Well, over and over through repetition, you know the script, you know what it’s about. It’s not about knowing the lines. What’s the scene about? What does the character want out of this scene? What’s the obstacle in front of this character to get what he wants? What does the character need in the scene? And then overall what’s happening in the scene? So if you do it over and over, it’s never about memorizing the lines; it’s understanding what the hell you’re saying and what you mean, and what you’re trying to get, and what you need, why you’re having trouble getting it. How are you going to get past that obstacle to get what you need? You do that enough, the lines … are fringe on the carpet; I mean, they’re just words. And that’s the difference from writing and acting. The actor brings a bloodline to the role. It’s as much about what we don’t say as what we do. If I can pull off the meaning of a paragraph with one look, go with the look, not the words. So I always say it’s not about memorizing the lines. You don’t think about memorizing the lines at all.”

Writing his take on the character 

In his attempt to delve more deeply into his characters and insights from the story, McConaughey makes a practice of writing. “I write a lot,” he asserts. “I break down the scripts and scenes. Most of my scenes I’ll have a version that’s eight times longer than the scene because I’ve rewritten it so many times in so many ways. I may not say anything that I rewrote. But everything I wrote tells me more, informs me more on what was on the page.”