I didn’t mean for it to happen, it just did. He’s always been appealing in the most vapid sense of the word. Any man is appealing if he has dimples, and a healthy tan, and that defined group of V-shaped muscles that sits on one’s pelvis. (Is there a name for that? I’ve always just called it a sex triangle, but I have a feeling that’s not the technical term.)
But that’s not the thing that made me dismiss him as a worthwhile actor. It was the idea that he wasn’t actually ever acting. His entire demeanor isn’t an affectation. On screen or off, when he talks, the syllables hang in his mouth like they don’t want to leave. They linger in the back of his throat, and his S’s whistle past his teeth in protest, like he’s so sexy, his thoughts can’t bear to part with his body. In his free time, he runs around shirtless in the sand, frolicking in the waves with a frisbee, like he’s some kind of golden retriever. When you Google him, it’s almost impossible to tell if you’re looking at a paparazzi shot or movie still. And therefore, I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that one day he just accidentally wandered in front of a camera, and then kept accidentally wandering in front of a camera over and over again. And no one ever complained, because he’s an Adonis.
His early films are, for the most part, exemplary, but he surfaced in my awareness in 2001, a time in which he was making a number of inane choices, career-wise. This was the year he starred in The Wedding Planner, and I went and saw it because Jennifer Lopez was very important in those days. Even then, with my teenage hormones raging, I didn’t find any especially redeeming qualities in him. His performance was stereotypical, and he was uncomfortably attractive. He was the kind of attractive that’s just annoying. I prefer a leading man that makes me attracted to him based on his wit, or skill, or emotional depth, or anything but his abs, really. But something about his white teeth, his dimples, and his wavy, sun-bleached hair was thoroughly unsettling. I do concede that my personal tastes are not typical, as my own definition of physical perfection is Vince Vaughn.
But even as a fifteen year old, it seemed like an insult to my intelligence to cast Matthew McConaughey as a hunky, yet impossibly humble ballroom-dancing pediatrician whose playful whimsy charms gaggles of sick children. I prefer to be forced to work a little harder when making my mind up about whether or not I’m attracted to a male protagonist.
With each subsequent film I couldn’t tell if Matthew McConaughey’s teeth were getting whiter or his tan was getting darker; if his muscles were growing, or his t-shirts were shrinking. He was becoming more and more of what he was, and to make matters worse, he was in no hurry to convince me otherwise. I can’t begrudge him for his success; he found something that worked and stuck to it. But around the time Failure to Launch was released, I started rolling my eyes at Matthew McConaughey.
My life went on like this until a strange thing happened. The trailer for The Lincoln Lawyer was released, and I… I was intrigued. Suddenly before me was a Matthew McConaughey performance that I couldn’t simply glean from staring at a photo of him in People Magazine. Then came The Paperboy, and then Mud; a whole string of performances that expect a little more of the viewer and are full of characters that are physically and/or mentally decrepit. This was the point that I confided in trusted friends, “Matthew McConaughey keeps doing good things.”
Then he did Magic Mike. I haven’t seen Magic Mike because I’m boycotting Channing Tatum for not really any reason at all. (If you need a synopsis and a review of his performance you can check it out here, or go to any wine bar and find a brood of middle aged females.) All I can figure is that he wanted to remind us all that he’s still smokin’ hot.
In Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey delivered a performance that not only conveyed a depth of character, but an impressive physical transformation. For this film, McConaughey did the Christian Bale thing, and lost 45 pounds of solid muscle, leaving him a sallow, skeletal version of himself, completely dissolving the caricature I had so come to loathe. Instead, he accomplished a feat of which I’d never imagined he was capable. He made me forget he was Matthew McConaughey. Give him an Oscar. Give him all the Oscars, because anyone with that inflated of a persona cannot easily disappear on screen. Brad Pitt can’t do it, George Clooney can’t do it, and I have never once forgotten I was watching Leonardo DiCaprio.
His next move was one practiced by a number of highly respected, not-conventionally-attractive film actors. He signed on to a well-written HBO series, a la Jeff Daniels and Steve Buscemi. His performance in True Detective is so nuanced, it nearly overshadows the driving plot line: a 17 year old murder revisited by McConaughey and his partner, played by Woody Harrelson. While a good amount of the viewer’s anxiety stems from the suspense of the manhunt, a sizable amount comes from trying to figure out if McConaughey’s character really is a sociopath, or if he’s just a jaded detective with no discernible sense of humor. Either way, I stare at him for a solid hour every week, and I never, ever roll my eyes.
Next on the docket for Matthew McConaughey is the sci-fi film Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan, who gave us blockbuster gems like The Dark Knight and Inception. He’ll star next to Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, who have also been making really good, Oscar-y choices lately. My prediction based on the teaser trailer, the bare-bones synopsis, and the drop dead gorgeous leading ladies he’s acting against, is that he’s managed to find a film in which he can exercise all the complexities he’s made us privy to as of late, and gently remind us that he’s smokin’ hot at the same time.
In the end, Matthew McConaughey found the recipe for success and the key to my heart: He’s a beautiful actor who’s not afraid to be ugly.