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A Time to Shine

Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

(continued from page 2)

McConaughey is in New Orleans because he's just wrapped shooting on Killer Joe, a film based on the play of the same name by playwright Tracy Letts, who won a Pulitzer Prize for "August: Osage County."

In Killer Joe, a dark comedy, McConaughey plays the title character, a private detective who moonlights as a hired killer.

Director William Friedkin, an Oscar nominee for The Exorcist and an Oscar winner for The French Connection, says, "Normally it would be played as a character who was much darker. But I wanted him to have charm, ease and good looks—like Matthew. Not only does Matthew have comedic instincts, but he's one of the best-looking guys around. He has an inherent star power."

McConaughey, who leapt to stardom playing an idealistic defense attorney in A Time to Kill, assays a more cynical character in Mickey Haller: a defense attorney for whom the law has long since lost its glitter, one who uses whatever means are at hand (usually within legal limits) to sow enough reasonable doubt to get his clients off the hook. But he comes up against something different when he is hired by a rich real-estate agent (played by Ryan Phillippe) accused of murder, whose past has an unexpected tie to one of Haller's former clients.

"One of the things I liked about Mickey is that he seems to be one step ahead of the game—but there are many points where I don't think he really does have a plan," McConaughey says. "He's just rolling the dice and he doesn't know whether it will work. It's a great story about the system.

"I didn't have any idea that attorney-client privilege extends as far as it does, which means that Mick is walking some tightropes. And I had no idea that 90 percent of cases are dealt with out of court, through settlements or plea bargains. They're all wheeling and dealing, playing the game, and Mick plays the game well. But he's in a game with more serious consequences than ever. And he's got to play well just to survive."

Talk about deals and working the system sets McConaughey off on a discussion of the current legal climate, in which, he says, the people who should be pointing the way are instead being led by public opinion.

"Public opinion is the tail wagging the dog, which is the law," he says. "It should be inverted. We elect these people because they supposedly know the law. Experts supposedly make the law. Judges are judges because they're supposed to know the law. But when the public shouts first, public opinion creates a verdict before something even gets to court.

"Look at the Michael Vick thing. The NFL didn't go hard on him until public opinion said, 'Hang him.' Then the feds and the NFL stepped in. I don't think the penalty would have been what it was until the public's outrage was expressed. I'm not saying he shouldn't have served time. But look at all the high-profile people who've been allowed to stay free while doing heinous things to other people. But you create any kind of smoke and a team or an institution is going to say, 'We don't like this attention,' and they'll fire him."

Playing defense attorneys gives McConaughey a taste of what his life might have been like had he followed the impulse that guided him through his first two years at the University of Texas: "I was going to go to law school," he notes.


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