Matthew McConaughey’s Life Lessons Learned Through His Acting Career

May 28, 2018

Many wise and inspiring words are shared during commencement speeches across the nation. Here is Dallas Buyers Club star Matthew McConaughey sharing valuable insights gleaned from his personal experiences of being an actor. The Academy Award-winning thespian spoke to graduates of the University of Houston, and here are just a few of his main points; these ones refer specifically to lessons learned via his career.

Find joy in the process

When starting out in the industry, Matthew found himself placing a lot of emphasis on what others thought of his work. But, with more experience, he came to the following realization:

“Now personally, as an actor, I started enjoying my work and literally being more happy when I stopped trying to make the daily labor a means to a certain end. For example, ‘I need this film to be a box-office success. I need my performance to be acknowledged. I need the respect of my peers.’ All of those are reasonable aspirations, but the truth is, as soon as the work–the daily making of the movie, the doing of the deed–became the reward in itself for me, I got more box-office, more accolades and respect than I’d ever had before.”

Know who you are and who you’re not

As for actors who have their hearts set on getting as much screen time as possible, McConaughey understands; he’s been there before. But he’s learned that sometimes it’s best to keep the bigger picture in mind. He told a story about watching his earliest film, the 1993 coming-of-age comedy Dazed and Confused, several years after it had come out. As a more mature actor, he noticed a flaw in his character’s behavior. Indeed, Matthew had been initially hired to play the high-school girl-chasing David Wooderson and was given three lines within three day’s work. The director Richard Linklater, however, made a creative decision to go with the charisma of this new young actor and invite him back to set over the course of three weeks–increasing Matthew’s screen time and lines each step of the way. A lot of McConaughey’s lines were either written on the spot or improvised to give him more screen time. Eager and grateful, Matthew accepted each opportunity, happy to be collecting $325 per day. Years later, older and wiser McConaughey noticed a problem though. “I noticed two scenes I really shouldn’t have been in. And in one of these scenes, my character Wooderson exited screen left. I head somewhere, and then I re-entered the screen and double checked if any of the other characters wanted to go with me. Now, in rewatching the film … Wooderson’s not a guy who would ever say, ‘Later,” and then come back to see if you were sure you didn’t want to go. Now when Wooderson leaves, Wooderson is gone … Wooderson has better things to do–like liking those high-school girls.” But in those early days as an actor, he said he loved, “cashing that check and having a ball, I wanted more screen time, I wanted to be in the scene longer and more and come back into the scene, right?” He concludes: “It’s just as important where we are NOT as it is where we ARE.”

Dissect your successes

When it comes to bad reviews, McConaughey notes that he doesn’t “obsess on the unfavorable review,” but rather, he looks for a golden nugget of encouragement in the words. After all, he believes the critics’ “displeasure actually uncovers and makes more apparent what I am successful at, and then I dissect that.” By choosing to focus on what he does right, he believes his positive state of mind and joy are what makes him evolve and improve as an actor.




Matthew McConaughey on Balancing Preparation and Spontaneity

November 13, 2017

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.

Golden Globe Actors Who Started in Commercials

January 12, 2014




“The only reason I made a commercial for American Express was to pay for my American Express bill.” –Peter Ustinov, English actor, writer, and dramatist

While it’s true, landing a role in a good commercial can make you some extra dough, it’s the exposure commercials grant that can make all the difference in building a successful career in the acting industry. Take for instance Golden Globe Best Actor nominee, Christian Bale. He was nominated for his role in American Hustle, and has already won countless awards including Best Supporting Actor in The Fighter in the 2011 Academy Awards. But his first acting jobs consisted of a role for Lenor fabric softener when he was eight years old, and a Pac-Man cereal commercial at the age of 9 in which he played a rock star. “I started my career without fans,” Bale once said. This is just another reminder that a career is built, and not preordained.

Likewise, Matthew McConaughey began his acting career in 1991 appearing in…you guessed it: commercials. Now he’s been declared the Golden Globes winner for Best Actor acknowledging his gut-wrenching performance in Dallas Buyers Club.

The much-loved Jennifer Lawrence just took home a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role in American Hustle. She can add it to her growing collection including the 2012 Oscar and Golden Globe award for Silver Linings Playbook. So how did she start her to-die-for career? She kicked it off appearing in commercials for MTV’s My Super Sweet 16.

Never underestimate the power of legitimate work. Okay, you may be selling fast food, insane video games, side effect-laden drugs, or some other farcical product; but, you’re gaining valuable experience and you’re taking the steps to become a more seasoned, confident, and nuanced actor. Commercial acting is not easy. It’s like any other form of acting, but it’s expressed in 30 or 60 second increments. It’s authentic work, and it just could lead you to the red carpet of the Golden Globes. And the money’s not bad either!