Discussing that era on Apple Music's Beyond the Influence Radio With Tim McGraw, the Oscar winner recalled, "I'm successful at rom-coms. The go-to guy at rom-coms. I’m living in a pad in Malibu, surfing on the beach shirtless. I'm shirtless rom-com McConaughey and I'm like, 'You damn right I am. Those rom-coms are paying for these houses that I'm renting on the beach, baby. Guilty. Come on.'"
The 51-year-old said he was "fully happy with that" amid the success of 2001's The Wedding Planner, 2003's How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, 2006's Failure to Launch, 2008’s Fool's Gold and 2009's Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. But then it became monotonous.
"I started to feel like every rom-com script I did, I go, 'Oh, that’s a good one. I think I can do that tomorrow morning.' And then I was like: 'Well, I’m glad you feel like you could do that tomorrow morning,' but I was like: 'I want to be scared. I want to look at something and go, 'Whoa! I don’t know what I’m going to do with that.' I want to dive in a pool and trust I’ll come up to the other side than take the journey and come up bloody."
He felt up for new challenges, he said as his own life became more fulfilling after falling in love with now-wife Camila Alves and having their first child. So he decided to hold out for better roles. However, offers for dramas weren't coming his way, even if he took a "90 percent pay cut," and the rest of the scripts were for rom-coms he didn't want to be in. It started a work "drought" for him, leading him to move back to Austin with his young family and considering changing professions.
"Six months go by, I'm getting offered nothing but rom-coms," he said. "I read them, I say no." He admitted he cried "many a tear" on Alves's shoulder worrying if he made the right move. Then came the infamous offer of $14.5 million for two months' work in a rom-com, which he wrote about in his book, Greenlights.
"They started at an $8 million offer. I said no," he recalled, still not naming the film. "They started $10 million. I say no. They go to $12.5, I said, 'No, thank you.' They go to $14.5, I said, 'Let me read that script again'" he laughed. "Let me tell you, at $14.5 million, it was the same words as the $8 million offer, but it was a more well-written script, sir... But I said no."
He felt that when he said no to $14.5 million, "sort an invisible lightning bolt went across Hollywood" and studio execs realized, "'Oh, McConaughey is not bluffing.'" Then everything stopped. "For another 14 to 15 months, nothing came in.”
It took two years after swearing off rom-coms that he was offered the defense attorney role in 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer. That was followed by Killer Joe, Bernie, The Paperboy, Mud and Magic Mike. Just three years later, he won the Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe for 2013's Dallas Buyers Club. The following year, he was nominated for a Golden Globe and Emmy for TV's True Detective.
McConaughey and McGraw, 54, both considering studying law — and they compared notes in the interview on how they broke it to their parents they were going to pursue entertainment instead. McConaughey recalled his dad telling him "don’t half-ass it" when he said he wanted to study film instead at the University of Texas at Austin. McGraw recalled calling his mom to say he was considering dropping out of college and moving to Nashville. He remembered her saying if he didn't do it, he'd always wonder.
McConaughey said since his best-selling book came out, he's been working on a theory that as parents, "We raise our kids. We give them some structure. Here's some rules to follow. Stay in line here. And if you stay in line here, you'll probably succeed to some certain level."
He continued, “If we stayed on that path and became lawyers, we probably would have done alright and been decent lawyers," he told McGraw. "And our parents would have been happy. But what makes a parent really happy? When their child comes to them and they don't come a bluffing. They don't come really asking for permission. They say, 'I'm going to go my own path.' As a parent, you're like, 'Yes! That's what I was hoping you would one day do.'"
McConaughey said he "wasn't sleeping well" with the idea of going to law school before changing course. "It was keeping me up at night in the wrong ways."
Ahead of Father's Day, the men also spoke about their motivation to become dads — now both fathers of three.
"It was when I was 8 years old when it hit me: I wanted to be a father," said McConaughey, who has children Levi, 12, Vida, 11 and Livingston, 8, with Alves. "My dad was a 'sirs,' and 'ma'ams' and 'please' and 'thank you' man, and he would introduce me to his friends. I'm 8 years old looking up to them and shaking their hands saying, 'Nice to meet you, sir. Nice to meet you, sir. Nice to meet you, sir.' At that moment ... what went through my mind is, 'Oh, the common denominator about all these men that I'm saying 'sir' to is that they're fathers. That's why they're a 'sir.'"
He continued, "I remember in my 8-year-old mind going: That's when you've made it. That's when you become a sir. That's what success is. It hit me then, and it's never left me as the paramount example of what being a sir or being the greatest success you can be as a man."
McGraw said having a "complicated relationship with my father or fathers" — having discovered his stepfather wasn't his biological dad and then having his real dad, Tug McGraw, not acknowledge him until he was 17 — motivated him to want to be a parent. The singer said he wanted to "build the family I didn't have" and have the "experience" he didn't as a boy.
He said he felt it took him a while to become a parent, marrying Faith Hill at 29.
"I thought that I waited a little long," said McGraw, who's dad to Gracie, 24, Maggie, 22, and Audrey, 19. "I know you were a bit older than that, but I thought: 'Man is it ever going to happen?'"
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