He’s played just about every kind of character; Matthew McConaughey is one of our most eclectic and unique performers. Having initially captivated audiences with roles in DAZED AND CONFUSED and CONTACT, McConaughey went on to be a tremendous success — so much so that his post-2010 career even got a name: “the McConaissance,” which featured a Best Actor Oscar® as a particular highlight.
Now McConaughey is back on the big screen with SERENITY, opening January 25. Steven Knight’s psychological thriller focuses on fishing boat captain Baker Dill (McConaughey), who’s approached by his ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), to kill her abusive husband (Jason Clarke). Unfortunately for him, the situation is more muddled than he thinks.
Before SERENITY arrives, let’s look back at McConaughey’s best movie roles.
DAZED AND CONFUSED
There can be a difference between a great role and a great performance. Nothing highlights the two possibilities like McConaughey’s breakout role in Richard Linklater’s high school comedy. David Wooderson isn’t written as a real standout character — but the moment McConaughey hits the screen Wooderson becomes an icon.
The actor’s ultra-confident drawl and slow strut immediately show us why this 20-something is kind of a hero to the high school seniors of DAZED AND CONFUSED. Even as we know that Wooderson has to be kind of a loser — he keeps trying to date high school girls, after all — McConaughey’s performance is so pure and charismatic that we want to see more of him. The character is a small part of the film, but McConaughey’s performance is so good it launched his entire career.
Thanks to DAZED AND CONFUSED, McConaughey landed in some huge mid-’90s movies. Steven Spielberg’s AMISTAD stands out, as does Joel Schumacher’s John Grisham adaptation A TIME TO KILL. And then there’s CONTACT, directed by Robert Zemeckis, which features McConaughey as ambitious philosopher Palmer Joss.
It’s a great role. While Joss initially looks like a pretty stock love interest for Jodie Foster’s scientist Dr. Ellie Arroway, that’s not how things turn out. As Ellie discovers evidence of alien communication with Earth and plans to journey to space, Joss evolves into a more complex and often unlikeable character. McConaughey plays the part perfectly, showing us how Joss cares for Dr. Arroway, but how his own evolving interests bring them into conflict.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER
The 2000s saw McConaughey largely working in romantic comedies. He was great in some (like HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS), but they weren’t all gems. Then McConaughey returned to drama with 2011’s THE LINCOLN LAWYER, an adaptation of Michael Connelly’s crime novel of the same name.
McConaughey plays morally ambiguous lawyer Mickey Haller. After years spent defending guilty people, Haller’s life is turned upside down when his latest client turns out to be a serial killer. McConaughey shines as the silver-tongued defense attorney. He’s witty and confident, but the cracks in his armor start to show as he struggles to figure out how to deal with the client without putting himself or his family in harm’s way.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
McConaughey took on one of his most challenging roles in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. The hard-hitting biopic focuses on Ron Woodroof, who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1985. Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of AIDS treatments available at the time, Woodroof smuggled unapproved drugs into the United States. He sold them to AIDS patients, creating a business known as the Dallas Buyers Club.
The actor transformed himself for the role. He lost 47 pounds and studied every aspect of Woodroof’s personality to properly recreate his mannerisms. His dedication showed. McConaughey’s performance was lauded by critics and earned him an Oscar during the 86th Academy Awards.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
McConaughey’s role in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is short but impactful. He plays Mark Hanna, a corrupt stockbroker and mentor to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort. During their first meeting, Hanna introduces Belfort to the seedy side of their business. The actor takes command of this scene as he delivers a fascinating, six-minute monologue on the many vices stockbrokers “need” to have to stay at the top of their game. McConaughey’s irresistible charm makes the slimy Hanna one of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET’s biggest highlights.
He stayed home in CONTACT, but McConaughey did eventually get to leave Earth. INTERSTELLAR marked a departure from the actor’s typical roles. He leads Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi adventure as Cooper, an ex-NASA pilot sent into space alongside other astronauts to establish a human colony on a new planet.
McConaughey takes us on a gripping psychological journey as Cooper finds himself torn between pursuing his lifelong dream of space exploration and staying with his family. Cooper’s character arc is the centerpiece of INTERSTELLAR, and McConaughey brings it to life in spectacular, heart-wrenching fashion.
Matthew McConaughey returns to theatres in SERENITY on January 25.