Actor Matthew McConaughey a rising star, again

McConaughey and his wife, Brazilian model Camila Alves (both right, below), at the European premiere of Interstellar in London last month. McConaughey won a Best Actor Oscar for playing an Aids activist in Dallas Buyers Club (2013, above).
McConaughey and his wife, Brazilian model Camila Alves (both right, below), at the European premiere of Interstellar in London last month. McConaughey won a Best Actor Oscar for playing an Aids activist in Dallas Buyers Club (2013, above).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE PHOTO: SHAW PICTURES
McConaughey and his wife, Brazilian model Camila Alves (both right, below), at the European premiere of Interstellar in London last month. McConaughey won a Best Actor Oscar for playing an Aids activist in Dallas Buyers Club (2013, above).
McConaughey and his wife, Brazilian model Camila Alves (both right, below), at the European premiere of Interstellar in London last month. McConaughey won a Best Actor Oscar for playing an Aids activist in Dallas Buyers Club (2013, above).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE PHOTO: SHAW PICTURES

The award-winning actor says he enjoyed doing romantic comedies such as The Wedding Planner

The reinvention of Matthew McConaughey is now a well-worn tale: A movie star spends the better part of his career squandering his talents on throwaway romantic comedies; drops off the radar for a couple of years; then returns to stun critics with his performances in the films Magic Mike (2012), Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013).

But this neat little narrative - handily captioned the "McConnaissance" - is not quite how the man himself sees things.

Speaking to Life! about his new movie Interstellar, which opens in Singapore tomorrow, the 44-year-old says he fully owns those romcoms: "I have enjoyed doing romantic comedies that are not about any big idea."

This despite the fact that many of his fans would now flinch at those widely panned films, which include The Wedding Planner (2001), How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (2003) and Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past (2009).

Yet relaxing in an armchair with one foot propped up on the seat, he says in his trademark Texan drawl and with a hint, perhaps, of defiance: "They're what I call a 'Saturday character' - they're built to be easy, built to be lightweight."

And lightweight they certainly were, especially compared with his work in recent years.

His tour de force portrayal of Ron Woodroof in last year's Dallas Buyers Club saw McConaughey lose nearly 23kg to play an emaciated Aids activist - and won nearly every major acting award for it, including at the Oscars, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild.

He almost stole the show in another of last year's top dramas, The Wolf Of Wall Street, where his character memorably gives a coke- snorting, chest-beating pep talk to Leonardo DiCaprio; and he also starred in one of the year's most acclaimed television series, True Detective.

But the notion that all this represents some sort of radical transformation does not ring true for the actor.

"I have a much broader view, that rises or falls are very minor and natural little debits and credits along the way," says the star, whose first role was playing a stoner in the indie cult classic Dazed And Confused (1993).

"Twenty-two years is a long time and when I look back, I'm going, 'Well, that's absolutely natural, this is just part of the ride'. So I don't have a part of my career when I go, 'Oh, I don't know what I was doing then'."

He does not take offence, though, at the suggestion that he somehow sleepwalked through the Noughties, when the actor who had once seemed destined for great things - his sizzling screen charisma was compared with Paul Newman's after the courtroom drama A Time To Kill (1996) put him on the map - decided to do one risible romcom after another.

He also became a bit of a punchline offscreen after he got into a spot of bother with the police in 1999, in an incident infamously involving marijuana and naked bongo-playing.

Now, he is the very portrait of respectability: an Oscar-winning performer with top-flight directors such as Christopher Nolan (Inception, 2010; and Dark Knight trilogy, 2005-2012) and Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike) on speed dial, and a lovely family to boot: Brazilian model wife Camila Alves, 32, and three children, aged two to six.

"I don't mind it," he says of the McConnaissance references. "I understand how it's a much cleaner narrative to (compare) then and now, and give it a name."

He will admit, moreover, that there was a turning point.

"I was conscious and aware enough of where I was in my career and how it was perceived that I did take some time off to get some anonymity. Which helped me come out with what's considered a fresh start and doing a different type of role."

McConaughey, who has credited his wife and children for inspiring a change in him, puts it down to being older and wiser too.

"I think part of it is just that I'm in my 40s. I've got experience, I'm more secure with who I am, I'm a different person than I was then. I don't work any harder, but I may be smarter as to how I work."

One thing that has not changed is his criteria for selecting projects.

"The decision-making paradigm hasn't changed. I want to ask myself how I can have a personal experience in this film and this character; how I can get to a place where I feel like nobody else can do this but me.

"And then, am I going to have a personal experience and get places where I'm daring myself, and I'm a little bit scared of it in a good, healthy way.

"And then I'm really just involved in the process - forget the result. Also, I like asking myself the question: Is this the first movie you'd want to see if you had to choose from a set of 20?"

With Interstellar - which co-stars Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain and is already gathering momentum for the Oscars next year - the answer was a resounding "yes".

McConaughey plays a man who must leave his family behind on a dying planet in order to find mankind another home among the stars in the film directed by Nolan.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference earlier in the day, Hathaway reveals that her co-star is a "deep thinker" and the actor admits that he is rather fond of an existential chat, as well as films with "big ideas at work".

He says: "I enjoy the discussion. My favourite thing to do is talk to other men about what kind of men they want to be, where are we going, what are we responsible for. I love talking about life - it's the movie and the epic we're all in."

For him, the big idea in Interstellar - an action adventure that explores mind-bending ideas about space- and time-travel as well as the future of humanity - is "that mankind must have greater expectations than just ourselves. And the further we go out there in this movie, the more we learn about ourselves personally".

His character's complex relationship with the young daughter he leaves behind also resonated with the actor.

"As a father, you start a family and that becomes bigger than you - that becomes bigger and more important than making movies," says McConaughey, whose solution to his own career-versus-family dilemma is to take the wife and kids with him wherever he films.

Realising the importance of family has helped him "relax and be a better actor" because, paradoxically, he now sees that there is more to life than his career.

"One of the coolest things that just happened with Dallas Buyers Club was that, all of the sudden, my kids noticed that I was getting a light shone on me. And they were like, 'When did you do that?'

"So I said, 'Remember that town and that place, and you thought I was really skinny?'

"And they said, 'But that was a long time ago.'

"So I told them the work I did back then, now some people are saying they really liked. And they learnt a little bit about delayed gratification - meaning if you do your job right now, it can show up later and reward you."

It is a lesson, perhaps, that McConaughey is particularly well-qualified to teach.

stlife@sph.com.sg

Interstellar opens in Singapore tomorrow.