The sexiest man alive plays a doting father and football coach
Matthew McConaughey is an upbeat guy with loads of charisma. After an early morning start and some seriously lackluster interviews, Matthew breezed into our hotel room with a toothy grin and the craziest plaid suit I've ever seen. His mood was infectious and soon the serious talk led way to more lighthearted fair. We are Marshall is the tragic, yet inspirational story of the plane crash that killed the Marshall University football team and the people who rebuilt the team the following year. Matthew McConaughey leads a superb ensemble cast in a very moving film. I think audiences will be pleasantly surprised to see the 'sexiest man alive' as a doting father and hard-nosed football coach.
Why did you want to make this movie? Do you think your traditional audience will accept you in this role?
Matthew McConaughey: I didn't think about this as something that someone should go see for me. This was the first script since "Dazed and Confused" that I'd read one time and said I would do no matter what. And remember "Dazed and Confused" was my first film. I read it in my trailer in Austin, Texas; shut it, and got on the phone to my agent. I laughed and I cried after reading it. A motto of mine is 'Just Keep Living'. I use it as a compass in my life. This is a 'Just Keep Living' story, a true story, no smoke and mirrors here. There's a resonance that comes with knowing something is true, you can really go and sit more comfortably. The story, the truth, it's that much better.
How accurate is the script compared to the real events?
Matthew McConaughey: It's pretty much right on the money. This is much more than inspired by a true story. I don't what the vernacular is, but this is more than 'inspired'. It's pretty much next to the nectar of what happened. A lot of people don't know this, but when they petitioned the NCAA to allow freshmen to play because they didn't have enough manpower to field a team, that lives on today. That's where it started, in 1971. You can do that in all of college football now.
What about the characters?
Matthew McConaughey: They did have to get players off the baseball team, the soccer team, the marines, the band. They were not the Bad News Bears, but they sure were a motley crew. They did start to look somewhat successful. The town did get excited. Then they got their butts kicked the first game, fired the president, and said, "What were we doing! We put salt on the wound." Red Dawson, Matthew's [Fox] character, did say, "We're disgracing them, not honoring them." But they went back, kept practicing, kept at it.
You're known for keeping very fit. How did you prepare to play Jack Lengyel?
Matthew McConaughey: I was sixteen pounds heavier than right now. I had a big caboose, had a big belly. (laughs) I had to pick up his rhythm of speaking. His approach, he kind of led with his chin, so that led into sort of a hunch over. And the plaid suits helped a lot. We didn't want to make his speech prophetic or too preachy, because he is talking to eighteen and nineteen year old kids. His job is a football coach. We wanted to be very responsible about that.
Were you worried about losing your 'sexiest man alive' title?
Matthew McConaughey: Hey, I'll say what George Clooney said, "Once you win it, you never lose it." (laughs) The title's still got my buckle.
Jack's character adds a lot of levity to the film. Is he a funny guy in real life? Or was that in the script?
Matthew McConaughey: Well, in ways he was a very eccentric man. Anyone who would say, I want this job, has to be an eccentric. And I don't mean eccentric for eccentricity sake. Nobody wanted this job. He didn't come in and say, "I'm going to save this town." He came in to coach the team. That was the stability. They needed a daily regimen. If you look at any loss or time of tragedy, like Katrina or 9-11, there's chaos. You need to find a little bit of order. So how do you find order? It's not a big idea of where you are going to be in ten years. It's what do we do first...we got to clean up. New Orleans is a very good example. I was there two days after the levees broke. I saw a lady, her head was high, she said, "I'm moving forward, I just don't know where to put my foot. Can someone tell me where to put my foot down?" In a way, Lengyel said we're putting our foot down right here. We're going to practice. You need that simple, step-by-step guidance to get started. It doesn't cure it, and it doesn't negate the grief, but you have to get on with life. There's no playbook for grief, but you have to get on with it.
Did that approach help you through your difficult times?
Matthew McConaughey: 'Just keep living' came from my relationship with my father after he moved on. He died during my first job, "Dazed and Confused". The body's gone, but it doesn't mean the relationship with my father has to stop. That's the point where I became a man. You have a father figure, where you know if you get in a pinch, they're there. Well that was physically gone. I was twenty-one at the time. I went home, my brothers and mother, they said get back to work. Get back to your job, that's what your father would have wanted. It's an incredibly sobering experience. You look at things straight in the eye, much more level after that.
Why go to New Orleans two days after Katrina?
Matthew McConaughey: I was having a beer at the beach, getting ready for a two-week vacation, and I saw it on TV. It was the first time for me where it was happening live and I could get to it. This is live, it is chaos, and it looked like they could use some help. I didn't know what we were going to do, but the situation needed help. That was basically it.
You and Lance Armstrong have become good buddies. Is there any truth to the rumor that you'll play him in a movie?
Matthew McConaughey: We are buddies, but I do believe that's going to be Jake Gyllenhaal. I don't want to speak out of turn, but that's what I understand. Lance is a very good friend of mine. It's definitely been one of the great new relationships I've had over the last few years.
Why have you two become such good friends?
Matthew McConaughey: He's a great man. You look for people, or people with ideas of life who are unanimous. They're hard to find. He's unanimous in what he's doing in his second chapter of life. He knows he's the face and the leader of cancer research. He's attacking it like he did with the tour.
We Are Marshall is in theaters now and is rated 'PG' for emotional thematic material, a crash scene, and mild language.