Matthew McConaughey: Commerce And Vanity

Sep 27, 2019
Originally published on September 27, 2019 12:34 pm

He's an Oscar winning actor, a University of Texas alum-turned-professor, and the unofficial (yet also kinda official) face of Austin, Texas. He's Matthew McConaughey. In an interview at Austin's Paramount Theatre, with Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another, McConaughey discusses his undying devotion to his city, what it means to be crowned the "Minister of Culture" by UT, his dicey history with bongos, and the origins of his famous catchphrase, "All right, all right, all right!"

While McConaughey has been acting for 27 years, it was his recent run of projects — including Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective, Magic Mike and The Wolf of Wall Street — that reflected how he successfully "rebranded" himself in Hollywood and jump-started the "McConaissance."

A Bevo fan and a true Texan, Eisenberg challenges McConaughey to a game of college mascots.

Interview Highlights

On being Austin's Minister of Culture:

Matthew McConaughey appears on Ask Me Another at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas.
Jessica Mims for NPR

"Living in Austin, I wanted to invest in the town that I'm living in; invest in the town that me and my family call home — invest in the university that I graduated from. And Austin — the city of Austin — as we all know, we're going through a bit of an adolescence right now. Which is great: it's changing, it's growing. So how do we preserve the core? How do we preserve our DNA or everything we love about this great city, but still embrace progress?"

On his short-lived career as a hand model:

"I think I was a sophomore, maybe a junior in college, looking for a little extra cash. I always bit my nails. And this agent goes, 'You know, you have really great looking hands.' And I was like, 'Oh wow, thanks.' She goes, 'Maybe you could make a little money off of that. There's a hand modeling job I could send you out to go audition, but you have to let those nails grow a little quicker.' So she gave me two weeks. And I haven't chewed my nails since! Commerce and vanity! I quit chewing my nails. I got the hand modeling job, made like 300 bucks. That's the only {hand modeling job} I ever got, but I'm still available."

On the origins of his signature catch-phrase on the first day on set of Dazed And Confused:

McConaughey's first onscreen role was as party-boy David Wooderson in Richard Linklater's 1993 film, Dazed and Confused.

"I start telling myself in my head, 'Who is my man? Who is Wooderson? What am I about?' And I go, 'Alright, I'm about my car... there's one.' I said, 'I'm about rock and roll... there's two.' I said, 'I'm about getting high... there's three.' And as soon as I say that to myself in my head, I hear 'Action!' And I tell myself, 'The fourth thing Wooderson is about is picking up chicks.' I got three out of four: 'All right, all right, all right.'''

"People always ask, 'Hey, do you get tired of people saying that?" I say, 'Hell no man. That's the first three words I ever said [in film].'"

On his playing the bongos a little too loudly- and the proper way to address it

In 1999, police were called on McConaughey after playing the bongos a little too loudly in his birthday suit. He told host Ophira Eisenberg about a lesser-known bongo incident that happened when he first moved to Hollywood:

"[When I moved into my first home out in Hollywood], a great producer, Bob Ezrin — who produced Pink Floyd and Kiss and a lot of those albums — [lived next door]."

McConaughey said he was playing the bongos loudly, when suddenly, "this big ham came flying over the wall." It was a gift from his neighbor, who also wrote a polite note asking McConaughey to keep it down.

"It was the nicest shut the f--- up letter I ever heard in my life. And the next day, I took the ham back with a bottle of wine and he and I have been friends ever since."

Heard on Matthew McConaughey: Commerce And Vanity.

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia coming to you from Austin, Texas.


COULTON: I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. He's an Academy Award winner. He is so good at acting he created a one-man, pop-culture renaissance. Please welcome Matthew McConaughey.


MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Come check this mic. Check the mic. Can you hear me on the mic?

EISENBERG: I got to tell you. It's the first time I've had a minister of culture on the show.



EISENBERG: (Laughter) So yeah. You are UT Athletics' minister of culture. How long has this been happening now?

MCCONAUGHEY: Well, I guess it became legit about five months ago, six months ago.

EISENBERG: Brand new.


EISENBERG: OK. So what does this honor...

MCCONAUGHEY: What does it mean?

EISENBERG: Yeah. What are...


EISENBERG: What are you doing with it?

MCCONAUGHEY: Good question.


MCCONAUGHEY: So culture...


MCCONAUGHEY: ...My greatest educator (laughter) - living in Austin, I wanted to invest in the town that I've lived in, the town that me and my family call home, invest in the university that I graduated from. And...


MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah. And, for me, the best I can explain - it's about aligning values and bridging certain relationships. It's my hope that the university becomes more of the backyard for the city of Austin. It is my hope that the city of Austin becomes more of the backyard for the University of Texas. And so...



MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah. And Austin, the city of Austin, as we all know - we're going through a little adolescence right now...


MCCONAUGHEY: ...Which is great.

EISENBERG: It's changing.

MCCONAUGHEY: Where it's changing, it's growing - so how do we preserve the core? How do we preserve our DNA of everything we love about this great city but still embrace progress?



EISENBERG: You went to UT Austin.


EISENBERG: I read that, actually, when you were in college, you were approached by an agent for hand-modeling work.

MCCONAUGHEY: Yes. It's a great story.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

MCCONAUGHEY: My first (laughter)...


MCCONAUGHEY: Yes, so I think I was a sophomore. Maybe I was a junior in college looking for a little extra cash. I was - you know, I was a waiter down at Catfish Station on 6th Street - anyone remember that?


MCCONAUGHEY: Great blues and jazz joint - and I always bit my nails - always bit my nails. And this agent goes, you know, you have really, really nice-looking hands. And I was like, oh, wow. Thanks. And she goes, you know, maybe you could make a little money with that. I was like, really? How's that? There's a hand-modeling job. I can send you out to go audition. And she looked at my hand. She goes, but, you know, you got to let those nails grow a little quicker, so she gave me two weeks. I haven't chewed my nails since.


MCCONAUGHEY: Commerce and vanity - I quit chewing my nails. I got the hand-modeling job...


MCCONAUGHEY: ...Made, like, 300 bucks. Yeah.


EISENBERG: OK. So you got the hand - you did one hand-modeling job.

MCCONAUGHEY: That's the only one I've ever had. I'm still available.

EISENBERG: OK - oh, still available for hand modeling.


EISENBERG: And, of course, it's not - it's impossible to not associate you with one of the most quoted phrases in pop culture.

MCCONAUGHEY: All right. All right. All right.


MCCONAUGHEY: Does anyone know - does anyone even know the story about where that came from? Check this out.


MCCONAUGHEY: So as most of you know, I go to the right bar the right night here in Austin, Texas. Bartender - he says, hey, there's a guy at the end of the bar producing a film. I go down to introduce myself. Four hours later, we get kicked out of this so said bar. On the way home in the cab, he says you ever done any acting? I said, well, I did a hand-modeling job.


MCCONAUGHEY: And he goes, well, you might be right for this part. I'm in town doing this film. It's called "Dazed And Confused." There's this guy, David Wooderson. Come down tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. Pick up this script. I come back. I read. I get the job. Linklater's shooting on set. They're shooting another scene. I come out of the trailer - looks at me. He comes up laughing. (Laughter) This is great. This is Wooderson - oh, great. He goes, hey, man - he goes, you know, Wooderson - he's a guy who's probably been with the typical hot girls, you know, the cheerleaders and stuff - blah, blah. But you think he'd be after - go after the redheaded intellectual. And I go, give me 30 minutes. So I start telling myself in my head, who is my man? Who's Wooderson? What am I about? I go, all right. I'm about my car. And I go, well, I'm in my '70 Chevelle. There's one. I said, I'm about rock 'n' roll. I said (expletive). Nugent's in the 8-track - "Stranglehold." There's two. I said, I'm about getting high. I said, oh, Slater's riding shotgun. He's always got a good doobie rolled up. There's three. And soon as I say that to myself, in my head, I hear, action. And I tell myself, the fourth thing Wooderson's about is picking up chicks. Put it in drive. In my head, I said, I got three out of four. All right. All right. All right.


MCCONAUGHEY: (Laughter) And I didn't know if that was going to be my one day of work, a summer hobby. And that was in 1992, so we're talking 27 years ago.


MCCONAUGHEY: So people always ask, hey. Do you get tired of people saying that? I said, hell no, man. That's the first three words I said. And they - I was getting a check for $320 a day. People were saying, can you come back tomorrow? And I was like, can I get away with it again?



MCCONAUGHEY: And now it's turned out to be a career I love and that was the first three words I ever said. Yeah.

EISENBERG: It's amazing.


EISENBERG: Now, you go from Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine in 2005...



MCCONAUGHEY: (Laughter).


EISENBERG: To critics' darling when you come back in the most epic fashion - "Magic Mike," 2012, "Wolf Of Wall Street," 2013, "Dallas Buyers Club," 2013, "True Detective," 2014.



EISENBERG: I mean, did you intentionally push to work with Martin Scorsese and Chris Nolan and Steve Soderbergh and...

MCCONAUGHEY: I intentionally - here's what I did. So I guess it was right around after "Lincoln Lawyer," the only things that were really coming at me at that time were romantic comedies. What I had to do was I said I'm going to not do what I've been doing. And I remember going, I don't know how long this is going to be a dry spell. I go to my wife, I go I may not get work for a while and you know I get a little wobbly if - and she goes, I got your back, stick to it. So what happens after 20 months or so, William Friedkin called first for "Killer Joe" but then Soderbergh called. Soderbergh had never called me before.


MCCONAUGHEY: "Dallas Buyers Club" I had for a while. I had held onto that for years because I was trying to get it made, but nobody at that time would make it. A lot of people liked the script, but they said I'm not going to make it with McConaughey. And then "True Detective" came along the way.


MCCONAUGHEY: Then, you know, just went on a run. And I think what happened is in that time away, I unbranded, I didn't rebrand. And then all of a sudden I became a new, hey, you know who would be an interesting, good idea? McConaughey. Which if I would've taken that time off and said no and outlasted Hollywood and said - Hollywood got the signal. He's not doing those other films we're offering. I don't care how much money we put to it.

EISENBERG: Right. And, I mean, yeah.


EISENBERG: It's always a risk, right? That is the - it's always a risk. And to top it all off, you're now teaching a class at UT called advanced producing script to screen.


EISENBERG: So you were a visiting professor at the school for a few years. It's the...

MCCONAUGHEY: About Four years.

EISENBERG: And now full professor.

MCCONAUGHEY: Full professor.


EISENBERG: It's a lot of work.

MCCONAUGHEY: It's another, to go back to the earlier...


MCCONAUGHEY: ...Question or the - it's another way - I mean, I'm enjoying investing in things that are legacy for me and my family. And this is a class that for 12 years, I had the idea; and it was a class I was like, oh, when I was in film school, I wish I would've had that class.

EISENBERG: What's within it that you wish you had?

MCCONAUGHEY: So script to screen - what I noticed after 27 years of making films is the final product that you see on screen is so different from the original script.


MCCONAUGHEY: And the emanations that that script goes through is quite the journey. And so I go to what films I go work on and I go to the producer and director and said, listen, would you share the information? I've got a class. There's 35 serious film students. We will take them chronologically through the scripts all the way up to the final film, and they will see the differences. And it's - hopefully just prepares these younger students, these storytellers, to understand that there is a magic to the process.

EISENBERG: Do the students refer to you as Professor McConaughey?

MCCONAUGHEY: A lot of them do.


MCCONAUGHEY: Professor McConaughey.

EISENBERG: That's awesome.


EISENBERG: That's great.

MCCONAUGHEY: Howdy, howdy.

EISENBERG: All right, Professor McConaughey. Are you ready for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?


MCCONAUGHEY: Well, I'm going to find out.



MCCONAUGHEY: I guess, yeah.

EISENBERG: I think so.


EISENBERG: Before the show, we were told that you'd be into a quiz about college mascots.

MCCONAUGHEY: Let's try it - college mascots.



EISENBERG: Are you into college mascots? Do you know them?

MCCONAUGHEY: Not really.

EISENBERG: All right.


EISENBERG: No problem.


EISENBERG: All of these questions are multiple choice. And if you do well enough, Caitlin Roetheli from Austin, Texas, will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.



EISENBERG: For about 100 years, UT Austin's mascot has been a live Texas longhorn steer named Bevo. What unfortunate fate befell the original Bevo? A, his enclosure was left open and he ran away never to be seen again.


EISENBERG: B, he was accidentally tackled at a football game.


EISENBERG: C, he was barbecued and served at a team banquet.


MCCONAUGHEY: A, B or C. That's it?



MCCONAUGHEY: Wait, ran away...

EISENBERG: Which one is it?

MCCONAUGHEY: ...Got ran over or got eaten?




EISENBERG: It is true. He was barbecued and served at a team banquet.


MCCONAUGHEY: Cannibalize.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Apparently, he was not really beloved.


EISENBERG: And (laughter) they thought it was really just too much to take care of him, so they fattened him up and ate him.


EISENBERG: Ohio State mascot is Brutus. He's mostly human except he has what for a head? A, a football; B, a buckeye; or, C, a diorama of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.



EISENBERG: They're just...

MCCONAUGHEY: Buh, buh, buh, buh (ph) - B.

EISENBERG: Buckeye is correct.

MCCONAUGHEY: (Laughter) Two for two.


EISENBERG: That's right. Ohio is the buckeye state. Buckeyes are hard, brown poisonous seeds. Which of these nicknames did the Nebraska Cornhuskers go by in the 1800s? A, the bug eaters; B, the fly overs; C, the buffaloes.



MCCONAUGHEY: I got A's and B's.


MCCONAUGHEY: The bug eaters you said?



MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah. Bug eaters.

EISENBERG: Bug eaters is correct. Yeah.

MCCONAUGHEY: Bug eaters.


EISENBERG: It's because the state has a lot of bug-eating bats.


EISENBERG: All right. Here's your last one. What do the mascots of Wichita State, Syracuse University and Scottsdale Community College in Arizona all have in common? Their mascots are, A, all extinct animal species; B, they're all space objects; or C, they're all agricultural products.


MCCONAUGHEY: Is Syracuse orange? Yeah, C.

EISENBERG: That's right, yeah - the Syracuse Orange. You're right.


EISENBERG: Syracuse has Otto the Orange.

MCCONAUGHEY: Who's Scottsdale?

EISENBERG: Scottsdale has Artie, the fighting artichoke.


MCCONAUGHEY: And Wichita State is...

EISENBERG: Wichita has a muscular bundle of wheat called the WuShock.


MCCONAUGHEY: We eat oranges...

EISENBERG: And artichokes (laughter).

MCCONAUGHEY: ...And artichokes, eh?

EISENBERG: That's right.

MCCONAUGHEY: Put that on your menu.

EISENBERG: Matthew...

MCCONAUGHEY: Four for four - thank you.

EISENBERG: Yeah, four for four. Congratulations, Matthew. You and listener Caitlin Roetheli won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cubes.

MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah. All right, Caitlin.


EISENBERG: Matthew will be back later in the show to play another game. But right now, give it up for Matthew McConaughey.


EISENBERG: Want our next special guest to play for you? Follow ASK ME ANOTHER on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.