Matthew McConaughey on Dallas Buyers Club: “The energy I lost, I gained from the neck up”

The star of Oscar nominated Dallas Buyers Club speaks to about that astonishing transformation

He’s already won a Golden Globe and picked up a host of other awards, and now he’s waiting to hear whether he’ll come up trumps in the Best Actor category at this year’s Oscars ceremony. Matthew McConaughey’s career turnaround has been astonishing. With Dallas Buyers Club, the tall Texan cements his newfound status as a serious actor, following acclaimed performances of recent years in films like Mud, The Paperboy and The Lincoln Lawyer, and that scene-stealing cameo in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.


Ten years ago, it wasn’t like this. Critics didn’t think much of his roles in a string of romantic comedies and under-performing action-adventure fare, and while McConaughey is quick to point out he doesn’t regret any of his decisions, he does admit to calling time on this period in his career.

“I’m not arrogant enough to boo-hoo anything I’ve ever done in this career. And I have enjoyed it,” he says. “I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if I didn’t do what I’ve done in the past. So I’ve looked at it as a different chapter, same book.

“I did [make] a conscious decision to say, ‘You know what, I don’t really feel like doing some of the roles that are similar to what I had been doing’, so before I said, ‘This is what I want to do’, I had to say, ‘No, I don’t want to do that right now’. And somewhere in that impasse – which was about one and a half to two years, where nothing came in – in retrospect, I can say safely that I gained some anonymity and I became a good, fresh idea for people like William Friedkin [for Killer Joe] and Steven Soderbergh [for Magic Mike], and those roles found me at that time.”

The other astounding aspect of Dallas Buyers Club is McConaughey’s remarkable weight loss. He dropped over three stones for the based-on-true-events story of AIDS patient Ron Woodroof, a man who challenges the US government to bring unapproved medication to other sufferers. McConaughey tells how, despite concerns from others over the potential negative impact on his health, he found he had plenty of energy – mentally, at least – to complete the unremitting 25-day shoot.

“The amount of energy I lost from the neck down, I gained from the neck up,” he says. “I’ve seen people dying from HIV and cancer, and the last thing to go is the neck up. They are just savage from the neck up – their body is withering away but they are like a starving baby eagle in the nest waiting for the worm. So [during] filming, I had plenty of energy. I needed three hours less sleep a night.”

And, peculiarly, the fast-paced shoot helped him. “We were in the bubble,” he explains. “We weren’t out of the bubble until someone came up at the end and said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve wrapped’. And my reaction was, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’, and they said, ‘No, there is no tomorrow – you’ve finished’. That was the first time I looked up. It was the first time Jared and I met, it was the first time I met the whole crew. There wasn’t time. The fact that there was a singular focus and there wasn’t a lot of stop-start (there was no go back to trailer, there was no hanging out while they take 30 minutes for a set up) [meant] we were just in it. That’s a different type of fatigue than the anticipation of the stop and start, exit and re-entry and that type of fatigue. I get more tired from that.”

With excellent reviews, box office success and a heap of industry accolades, it seems nobody’s getting tired of McConaughey and his career transformation just yet – which is just as well because he’s about to infiltrate the small screen over here too, with TV series True Detective debuting in the UK on Sky Atlantic later this month.

Dallas Buyers Club is in UK cinemas from 7 February