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A Time to Shine

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

(continued from page 4)

Says Linklater, "Matthew said, 'I know this character,' and then he transformed into him. His whole demeanor changed; he transformed right in front of me. I said, 'OK, you've got the part. Now don't cut your hair and grow some facial hair.' It certainly was a case where he didn't get cast because of his looks."

After McConaughey's first day of filming, Linklater began to write more scenes for him, expanding the role of Wooderson until he became one of the film's most visible characters: "The character only had three or four lines when I started, but I wound up working for two and a half weeks," McConaughey says. "When I went back to college, I was a much better director because I saw that being a director wasn't a dictatorship."

By the time the film came out, McConaughey had acted in another Texas-based movie (Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre) for "$320 a week for 17-hour days" and then packed his belongings in a trailer and moved to Los Angeles. There, he slept on the couch of Dazed producer Phillips, who offered to help him get started as an actor. Within two weeks, Phillips had introduced him to an agent who had seen an early screening of Dazed and Confused and saw potential in the young actor.

He auditioned for Boys on the Sid—-"My first audition in L.A.," McConaughey says—and was told by the casting director that he wanted McConaughey to read for the director, Herbert Ross. A few days later, McConaughey auditioned for Angels in the Outfield—and wound up being cast and going on location for the role, too.

"I was getting $48,500 just to act and play baseball," McConaughey recalls with a laugh. "I thought I was rolling in dough. Two weeks into shooting that, I got called back to read for Herbert Ross and got that role too."

McConaughey then tried out for a small role, a vicious Klansman in the film of John Grisham's best-selling first novel, A Time to Kill. At the audition, McConaughey asked director Joel Schumacher who was playing the lead role, an attorney named Jake Brigance (who was a semi-autobiographical version of Grisham himself). Schumacher asked whom McConaughey thought should play the role.

"I think I should," McConaughey told him.

Today, McConaughey says, "I totally straight-faced him. He laughed and said, 'That's a great idea but it will never happen. I think you'd be great and it won't happen.' But I left feeling good that I'd at least gotten the Klan part."

Two weeks later, Schumacher got back in touch: He wanted to do a screen test of McConaughey for the role. "But it was done completely off the grid," McConaughey says. "He told me, 'The studio will never go for this.' They were after Kevin Costner, actors like that, for the role and John Grisham had approval. So it was a long shot."

A few weeks later, McConaughey was filming Lone Star in the Texas desert for director John Sayles, when he got a call from Schumacher at midnight: "He said, 'Matthew, there's somebody I want to introduce you to.' And he put me on the phone with John Grisham. And Grisham said, 'My wife and I saw your audition tape and we'd love it if you'd play Jake Brigance.'

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