Matthew McConaughey: Friends thought I was ill

Texan actor Matthew McConaughey, 43, stars in the Dallas Buyers Club alongside Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto, in which he plays a man suffering from HIV. Having to lose an enormous amount of weight to play the role, it sparked some controversial rumours which he addresses today while promoting the movie in Los Angeles.

McConaughey most recently starred in Magic Mike, Mud, Killer Joe, Bernie, and The Lincoln Lawyer. His breakout role came in 1993's Dazed and Confused and he went onto appear in a variety of genres including the slasher film Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, the thriller flick A Time to Kill, and the historical drama, Amistad. He also starred in such movies as Contact, EDtv, and U-571. He’s best known for romantic comedies including The Wedding Planner, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

Married to Brazilian model Camila Alves since 2012, they have three children: son Levi, born in 2008, daughter Vida, born 2010, and son Livingston, born last year.

INTERVIEW

Q: With the severe weight loss, there must have been a point where you thought, ‘I can’t go any further.’

MCCONAUGHEY: No, that could be a good story to say, but that isn’t true. That became the right thing and one point was, I could kind of get a gauge from people I hadn’t seen in a while, and there was the gauge of early on. It went from, ‘Losing a little weight?’ and then it went to, ‘Everything all right with you?’ and then when it got to, ‘Are you okay?’ and the last one was, ‘Oh my God, are you sick!?’ and that was it. And there wasn’t a double flinch, that was like, that’s where it is, so there was getting to that weight and that was where it needed to be.

And so we got down there and then I got to the weight and I was like, ‘That’s good, that’s where I want to stop at,’ and I didn’t stop losing weight. I tried to, I stopped eating more, but my body had already committed on a cellular level, like, ‘No, we are going south.’ And I remember, I kept losing weight and I started wolfing a lot of food down, I kept losing, I had to eat more to finally get to stop because it was almost really like on a cellular level, the whole body had the blinders on and it was like, ‘No, we got the message, we are going south.’ And so that was at 47, 47 pounds and we stopped there.

Q: What is it like when you look at yourself in the mirror in this state?

MCCONAUGHEY: It was so gradual for me, just like it was for my family that it didn’t shock my wife or kids.

Q: Is it amazing, because I would imagine they would be the ones that might be upset by it?

MCCONAUGHEY: No, but one time my daughter said, ‘Papa, why is your neck long like a giraffe?’ (laughter) But that was it. They saw it day to day. Now, when I would go see someone who I haven’t seen in months, like I said, that’s the people that would go, ‘Oh my God, you are sick?’ And someone started something, I heard this, they said, ‘Oh he’s got some disease, so he’s taking this role to use it as a cover.’ So because it was gradual, there wasn’t ever, not even for my kids, and even when they see it today, they don’t even really flinch.

Q: But this experience, some people probably thought you were HIV positive.

MCCONAUGHEY: I think that’s a bit literal, and I wasn’t engaging with any opinions from the outside world at the time anyway. I had enough work to do getting into the character of Ron and I was a bit of a hermit at the time anyway because I damn sure didn’t want to take a meeting at my favourite steakhouse and put myself under that foundation, (laughter) so I stayed home and tried to stay out of the sun.

Q: You are from Texas like your character. Do you feel connected to him in some way?

MCCONAUGHEY: Well I have never really ridden bulls. There’s a sense of place and some people say that there’s a sort of anarchic spirit that Texans have, but there’s some colloquialisms I threw in there, and I know some people who will get the joke and I know some people won’t get the joke.

The Texaco card, that’s a call back to my dad, because that’s what he had when he was growing up and he didn’t have that much money. That was what you get your gas on right, the Texaco card? Well I had my first Texaco card when I was eighteen, and your parents say, ‘Okay, you can get gas on this for a month,’ they say what do you do at eighteen, you fill up a tank, but you also go, ‘Hmm, why not throw a six pack on there.’ (laughs) Or a bag of chips, trying to get my groceries on the Texaco card, (laughter) but there’s only like a forty or thirty dollar limit on the thing and so a little change in my pocket and a Texaco card. So, that was a little wink to my dad because he ran a Texaco station and in the south, I don’t know if it’s other places too, if you can’t really afford American Express or a Visa, you got a gas card. (laughter) It’s kind of like, you are living the high life.

Q: In the press notes, it says that Texas is the toughest place to be gay in the '80s…

MCCONAUGHEY: Like in Dallas?

Q: Yes. Do you think it’s still the case today?

MCCONAUGHEY: No probably not, but I don’t know where else would be the toughest place. I mean, the taboo on it is nowhere near the extent to what it was then. And I remember it wasn’t just in Texas, it was all over. No one knew what the hell the disease was, no one knew where it came from, no one had any idea that it was anything other than a homosexual disease. And then I remember there was quite a bit of phobia, and understandably so, because nobody knew, the doctors didn’t even know. And then I remember Magic Johnson came out and that was the first guy on the pulpit that we all looked at as larger-than-life, and then there was the All-Star game he was going to play and some players said, ‘I am not playing on the same court,’ and then I remember people going, ‘You bigots!’ But yet, they had a point. No one knew. I remember people thinking can you get it from shaking someone’s hand? Is it saliva? No one knew the answer, so some of the phobias were warranted, but we just didn’t know much about the disease. So, it was probably hard in a lot of places.

Q: Aside from being passionate about the project and an interesting story and a challenge as an actor, do you have a personal connection to the subject?

MCCONAUGHEY: There’s nothing too personal, there’s no one immediate to me, and I know some people that have moved on from having AIDS, but I don’t have any one too immediately close to me that it affected my life. I know quite a few people who have passed, but not anyone in my immediate family.

Q: When you put the weight on again was it more difficult?

MCCONAUGHEY: The weight on was more dangerous than taking it off. I’ll say that. I don’t know if it was more difficult, the challenging part about taking the weight off was going to go exercise, putting your shoes on is the hardest part. Once I said that that’s what I am doing, then I controlled my meals. I didn’t take meetings at the steakhouse, I stayed in and that was it and I had a family that supported that.

Q: How long was that?

MCCONAUGHEY: I think it was four months, three pounds a week or four pounds a week, four to four, sixteen, whatever that turned out to be. And I took what I found out, which was great, the first two weeks, I was burning eighteen hundred calories a day and then I tweaked my ankle and I had a week where I couldn’t do any exercise. I said, ‘Well I am not quitting exercise’ (laughter) but I lost the same amount so I thought I was really getting away with something there.

Q: What is your weight now?

MCCONAUGHEY: 175. I usually walk around at 182. But this weight is right for what I am doing right now.

Q: It must be a liberating experience in front of the camera because usually, as a leading man, it’s about the looks and in this case, you said, ‘I don’t care anymore.’ You care in a way which has to be authentic.

MCCONAUGHEY: Your second half is where you are on it. I mean, if I am going to be in a romance, that’s a romantic comedy, it doesn’t make sense to go ‘Hey, let’s get down to 135.’ Why throw the curve on the basketball if it doesn’t make sense? I am not one to be eccentric for eccentricity’s sake, and this was not being eccentric. To get down to 135 was what the role needed, so that’s what I did.

Look, as much as I worry or don’t worry, because I don’t really worry about what I look like in front of the camera, the difference would be, ‘I think I need a scar, across the middle of my forehead.’ Maybe the character as a dragon slayer in Reign of Fire, may make some good sense. I got a scar right here, 78 stitches, well, if I am doing a romantic comedy, I don’t think we need to highlight that scar. But doing the dragon movie, ‘Hey, let’s highlight the scars.’ So it’s not a big thing and I quit worrying too much about what I look like in front of the camera years ago.

Q: In this extreme situation, what did you learn about yourself that you may not have known before?

MCCONAUGHEY: Well, that there’s still just so much deeper and further than man can go and even if it’s down to the literal sense that the body is much more resilient than sometimes we give it credit for. So is the mind and if I can get something where I get a role like this where it’s a full on immersion to an adventure to a place where I don’t have to look in the rear view mirror and put the blinders on for six months, that’s ideally fun. That’s fun about what we get to do. It’s more than dressing up and playing Halloween, it’s, ‘Don’t act like the guy, go BE the guy.’ And if you get a role and you get a space where you get to go be him and not act like the guy, that’s what’s really fun about what we get to do as actors. /Viva Press

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