Matthew McConaughey has had one hell of a year. The hot streak that began in 2012 with Mud and Magic Mike burned even brighter with Wolf of Wall Street and his Golden Globe- and Oscar-winning performance as AIDS victim and activist Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. His next film is Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated sci-fi epic Interstellar, due out next fall.
Meanwhile, he’s reteaming with his EdTV and Surfer, Dude co-star Woody Harrelson in the excellent HBO series True Detective. They play Louisiana homicide detectives whose 1995 murder investigation becomes linked to a new case 17 years later. Juicy stuff, as are his thoughts about transformative roles, the challenges of his new show and working with his good buddy for the third time…
“Cohle is a deep, dark dude, a man with demons. He can’t sleep at night. His brain is constantly ticking. He could come off the rails at any second.”
You’ve had an amazing run this past year. Have you gotten better at choosing roles than you used to be?
I just chose different things. The narrative of the ‘then’ and ‘now’ is just untrue. I was able be in some things that I liked a lot last year. These things are feeling really relevant, and they’re piquing some people’s interests, and they’re resonating. I haven’t really thought about them as a year or ‘Am I going to have another good year?’ I haven’t really been looking in the rearview mirror for a while. I hope I don’t anyway. I’ve been running around the country doing all this stuff for Dallas Buyers Club, and I never get tired of talking about and supporting this film.
That’s not a surprise. It’s a great performance.
I had so many incredible personal experiences in the making of it, and I had to talk about those experiences and Ron Woodroof, this renegade revolutionary that nobody knew about—I didn’t know about him, either. There’s a lot to talk about with this film. It’s not just promoting the film. It’s the experience of making it and having people go ‘Yeah, that resonated with me, that stuck with me.’ I want to hear about it.
What drew you to True Detective, your first TV series?
It was a great character with a very clear identity and clear obsessions. I first read the role of Hart [Harrelson’s character]. I understood why they’d come to me with that role. It’s probably close to some of my past work. But Cohle was the voice that made me say, ‘I can’t wait to turn the page and hear what’s coming out of this guy’s mouth. It’s got fire on it every time.’ And I was like, ‘That I have not done, but boy, I know who this guy is. I love this guy’s mind.’ So I went back and said I really would like to be Cohle. He’s a deep, dark dude, a man with demons. He can’t sleep at night. His brain is constantly ticking. He’s an incredibly smart guy but will not deal with sentiment or emotion. He could come off the rails at any second. Having the investigation keeps him on track.
Because it takes place in three different time periods—1995, 2002 and 2012—you went through quite a transformation, physically and emotionally.
Yeah. The wig, the makeup, prosthetics—it was three-and-a-half hours in the makeup trailer to make me look like hell. One of my favorite things that I got to do with Cohle is go ‘Who is he in ’95?’ Here’s a guy who is coming on to a case, just barely hanging on. He needs a case to keep his shit together, literally. In 2012, he’s off the rails. He’s cashed in. He’s fallen prey to his own beliefs. And every day that he’s alive is another day of penance in this indentured servitude he calls life. What happened in the 17‑year interim to these two men? You’re going to slowly find out. You’re going to find out if what he’s telling is the truth, were our stories the same? Where do they veer from what really happened? That’s the fun. What happened in that 17 years and how we’re connected is really the fun of the eight episodes.
You’re friends with Woody and worked with him twice before, but in comedies. How was the dynamic different?
Part of why we’re friends and part of why, what we do worked in comedy is that we get on each other’s frequency, and we add on, and we affirm each other, and we one‑up each other and it can turn into an improvisation. But this was something different. There was opposition here. This was not about us coming together. But we thought, ‘There’s gotta be a place to put some kind of fun in it.’ Part of what becomes the humor is that we remain on these two opposite sides of the gulf that’s between us for so long. And it becomes frustrating for Hart, like, ‘What the fu** does that mean, Cohle?’ And that’s where I started to find the humor in it, in our relationship. And we found a new sort of comedy, but it was not the comedy of the two‑hander [where] I pass it to him; he passes it back. We were not playing catch back and forth.
Word has it you shot a lot of the 2012 interview scenes at once.
One day was 29 pages. I knew it was coming up. I’d broken it down for weeks because I had all these different stories to tell. And I remember at the end of that day, we had, like, one more piece, one more angle to do. And everyone was like, ‘We’re all burnt. We should really go home.’ I said, ‘No, we’re not going to home now. Let’s stay right here and do it.’