Much has been made of Matthew McConaughey’s recent career resurgence. In one year the actor has essentially gone from a filler in rom-com throwaway’s to a respected thespian within the industry. His powerful turn as an AIDS riddled cowboy, Ron Woodroof, in Dallas Buyers Club has garnered him an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award, among others. Furthermore, his transition to the silver screen as Detective Rust Cohle in the hit new series True Detective has him positioned as the frontrunner to win an Emmy for best performance by an actor. Yes, this past year has been an extraordinary one for McConaughey. And with any luck, it will be a sign of continued success for years to come—McConaughey is already set to star in Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar.
I am personally delighted to see this transformation over the past few years—though McConaughey just enjoyed the most success recently, the shift in career direction started in 2011 with his films Killer Joe and The Lincoln Lawyer. Both films showcased a more serious side of the actor known for his easygoing personality and southern charm; which were too easily relied upon in romantic comedies like Fools Gold, Sahara, and Failure to Launch. It was continually disappointing for me to watch those movies because of the talent and charisma that was being under-utilized. Although McConaughey is known for his laissez faire attitude, he was clearly blessed with talent. This was evident in his earlier films like A Time to Kill, where he owned the screen with industry giants like Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson, and Dazed and Confused—despite the fact that it was a comedy, the film showcased McConaughey’s inherent confidence that oozes out on screen. Very few actors have the type of natural confidence and charm that McConaughey possesses, this was always clear even in his less serious movies. All he needed to do was make an active shift towards seeking more serious roles, where he had a chance to showcase his talent alongside his star persona.
Obviously, he succeeded. Not only was he spectacular in Dallas Buyers Club (and certainly deserving of the Oscar), he was almost equally brilliant in earlier films Mud and Magic Mike. In the former role he was able to embody the enigmatic and self-reliant title character exceedingly well, and managed to carry the movie and keep the audience entertained. Still, I believe the perfect example of the “McConaissance” was his role as Mark Hanna in The Wolf of Wall Street. Although only being on screen for less than 10 minutes, he managed to steal every scene completely—and that’s saying something considering he was working alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Jordan Belfort in the movie. He is perfect as the savvy, coked-out trader who is the first to show Jordan the “real ropes” of Wall Street (his chest thumping scene even has a remix on YouTube). Bottom line is McConaughey is a very talented actor, who is just as much a star as anyone else in the business, and this career resurgence is anything but unexpected—rather, its been a long time coming.