Matthew McConaughey talks The Lincoln Lawyer

Matthew McConaughey discusses his latest film, based on the popular novel by Michael Connelly

Actor Matthew McConaughey first gained attention in 1993 as high school dropout David Wooderson in director Richard Linklater's classic comedy Dazed and Confused. But it was his role as an idealistic young lawyer in '1995s A Time to Kill that made him a household name and put him on the map to superstardom. Since then the talented actor has gone on to appear in over thirty films including Amistad, Contact, U-571, The Wedding Planner, How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days, We Are Marshall, and Tropic Thunder. Now the actor returns to the courtroom once again for his latest film The Lincoln Lawyer, which opens in theaters on March 18th.

The Lincoln Lawyer is based on the novel of the same name by author Michael Connelly and stars Matthew McConaughey as Los Angeles defense attorney Mickey Haller, a lawyer who operates out of the back of his Lincoln sedan. Haller has had a successful career of defending petty criminals until he meets Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a seemingly innocent Beverly Hills playboy who is accused of rape and attempted murder. Haller agrees to defend Roulet but things become complicated when he begins to suspect that Roulet is not only guilty of this crime, but another one that a former client of his is currently doing time for. What happens next is a game of cat-and-mouse that will not only threaten Haller's career but his own life and the lives of his loved ones. We recently had a chance to speak with actor Matthew McConaughey about the new film, his character, his own personal passion for the law, and meeting author Michael Connelly. Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, your character in "The Lincoln Lawyer" almost seems like an evolution of your character from "A Time To Kill." That in a way, idealistic young Jake Brigance could have eventually grown up to become a jaded big city lawyer life Mickey Haller. Do you see a connection between the two characters and did that affect the way you played the role?

Matthew McConaughey: I mean there is a similarity in that I'm playing a lawyer, that's for sure. I'm on the defense again, playing a defense attorney again. Jake Brigance in A Time to Kill was much more idealistic. He was at the beginning of his career. Mick Haller's ideals have been pummeled down into reality quite a bit. He's still got a couple basic ones for himself, ideals that is, but he's much more of a pragmatist. If Jake Brigance had moved off to the big city and said, "I'm going to go and dwell with the bottom feeders. I'm going to defend the people that can't defend themselves. I'm going to be an outsider and a thorn in the systems side." You know, that is what Mick Haller is doing. Mick Haller is living paycheck to paycheck. But it's interesting because Mick Haller I think could have easily been a successful entertainment lawyer in Beverly Hills and have been a millionaire. But that's just not where he lives or where he knows how to live. But there's something about that world that I don't think Mick would ever really be able to sleep with it.

Is it true that you actually wanted to be a lawyer when you were a kid?

Matthew McConaughey: That's what I was headed towards from the time I was fifteen up to my junior year in College. That's what I was pursuing.

Do you think that is why you often play lawyers in your movies? Do you identify with them in a way?

Matthew McConaughey: I think that had something to do with it. I've always been really intrigued with the justice system, innocents and guilt, what determines that, the rehabilitation system, the prison system, and just to be in that position especially if I was on the defense. To know that somebody I was defending who is innocent could go to jail. This is very much Mick's nightmare that comes true. To be defending someone that you know is innocent. That is something that ever since I was fifteen I was like, I will not loose that battle. What ever it takes I will not loose that battle to free an innocent man. That was just something that really turned me on and I felt like I would go to the depths of hell to make that happen. So that is where my first interest in being a defense attorney came from. It's actually what Mick goes through and asks of himself in this film. I like playing lawyers. I like playing them more than I like them in real life. I instinctually relate to them and its what I practiced in school. I did a lot of debate in school and instinctually I like jumping into the shoes of lawyers. They are sort of the storytellers that take us through some very interesting conflicts, heavy-duty conflicts that deal with guilt and right or wrong. They've got to work the system in the system, and the system tries to work them. They're getting screwed over and sometimes they are screwing someone else over and all in the name of some kind of justice along the way. That's the meaty fun stuff and I love playing a lawyer.

Your character deals with a problem that many defense attorneys go through which is defending a client that you think could be guilty. Can you talk about how Mickey deals with that in the film?

Matthew McConaughey: Well you know the truth is I think all of these defense attorneys know that ninety percent of the time the client they are defending is guilty to some extent. If you go to any prison every prisoner claims his or her innocents. But defense attorneys know that to some extent their client is guilty. It's not like most Hollywood movies. Real life is not like that. These guys are not like that. There are not a bunch of one hundred percent innocent clients out there that are being wrongly accused. There are some but defense attorneys know that their clients are guilty to some extent. So the victory for the defense attorney is not full acquittal and innocents walk free. Most of the time, probably ninety percent of the time the victory for the defense is to lessen the sentence. Meaning if the prosecution says twenty years and the defense team can get them ten years, then that's a victory. That's usually, more times than not by a long shot, that is the victory and not full acquittal where you are walking free. Because they are not defending fully innocent clients that often and I think they know that.

The movie plays less like an ordinary courtroom drama and more like a suspenseful mystery wrapped up in a thriller. Is that the aspect of the script that you really liked and is that what made you interested in working on this project?

Matthew McConaughey: Yeah because lets face it, if you get stuck in that courtroom in a film for too long it becomes repetitive and mundane. So in this there is not that much but it is the most active courtroom that I've seen in a long time. It's not really about arguing the points in court. It's not a legal thriller in that aspect. It's more of a thriller and a who-done-it. You wonder how is Mick Haller is going to get out of the situation? You start to think, "here is what is going to happen," and then it never happens like that and just when I think its over ... its not. That's fun stuff to go watch at the movies.

In the movie, Mickey is really forced to go toe-to-toe with his client Louis Roulet, played by Ryan Phillippe? Can you talk about the relationship between those two characters?

Matthew McConaughey: Well without giving away the story of what Louis does and what I find out he does, he has a master plan. He has a master plan to get himself acquitted with me as his defense attorney. It's almost a master plan ... I'll say that. Louis Roulet picked the only guy but the wrong guy to screw with ... Mick Haller.

Finally, author Michael Connelly has said publicly that he thinks you really nailed the role of Mickey Haller in the film. Did you read the book or speak to Connelly about the part before you began shooting, or did you just take all of your inspiration for the character from the screenplay?

Matthew McConaughey: Well I read the script first and then I read the book when I came onboard. Michael Connelly and I got together through a mutual acquaintance. A friend of his who I had met said that Michael was coming to town and asked if I would like to meet him. So we met and had dinner. We basically talked about the book and we talked about plot points and some things like that. He talked about where Mick originated from in his mind, who those guys really were and where the story came from. Then I went on my marry way with my own process. You know, I swapped emails with him so I was able to write him when I had certain questions. Michael Connelly worked on the crime beat scene at the LA Times for years so he is really good with technical facts and just explaining how the system really works. So he was helpful to me along the way and he never intruded at all. He was very respectful of my process and the movie making process overall. In the end I think he really likes the film and I think he really liked what I did with Mick Haller, which makes me happy.