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October 2005
Two for the Money: An Interview with Matthew McConaughey

Two for the Money: An Interview with Matthew McConaughey

By Fred Topel

In the last few films that we have seen Matthew McConaughey in, he's pretty much played the romantic lead in light of the story centering on something else. In "Sahara", he was romancing Penelope Cruz while searching for lost treasure, and in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" was cast opposite Kate Hudson, but with his upcoming film, "Two for the Money", the genre is more dramatic and there's no female to woo. He plays Brandon Lang, a former college football star who got injured and never got to play in the NFL. With his knowledge of the game, he becomes an overnight sensation as a successful bookie in the sports-gambling business and has to deal with zealous boss, played by Al Pacino, in continued to be great, not good. In speaking at a press conference to promote the film, McConaughey talks about his character and the sports-gambling business.


WHY DID YOU WANT TO PLAY THIS TORTURED GUY WHO THOUGHT HE HAD A LIFE AND FOUND IT MIGHT KILL HIM, AND SECONDLY NOW THAT TOM CRUISE AND MATT DAMON HAVE GOTTEN ENGAGED, BEN AFFLECK HAS GOTTEN MARRIED -

MCCONAUGHEY: Where can this question be going?


DO YOU FEEL THE PRESSURE? ARE YOU READY TO TAKE A BIGGER GAMBLE THAN ANYTHING IN THIS FILM?

MCCONAUGHEY: Well, you turned two into three, didn't you. To answer your second question first. No. Feeling no pressure. Feeling just fine. Never even thought about it until you just brought it up. To answer the first question as to why this film? I thought that it was a great story about a winner who starts losing. If you're a winner what do you do when you lose and how do you get out of that whole whatever it is? It's a great story about a guy who goes into a world and finds out that there's an illusion there. He finds out that the world isn't what it seemed. He finds out that his relationships are not what they seemed, and when it's time to get out and he wants out there is more to make back than just money. It becomes somewhat of a survival story by that time for him and for other people that he loves, his own family, and people that he's come to care about. That is all in this story set on him winning again. I just thought that it was a really great drama. I just thought that there was real good hard life there, but I loved it that it was a winner who is losing. What's a winner? If you're a winner and you start losing how do you win again instead of where a lot of times in some dramatic roles that will come across my desk it will be a loser who keeps losing. I like that this guy had great dreams, was a great guy, he played quarterback and loved to play football. He lost that ability to play great football because he got his knee taken out from under him. You see that everyday in some form or another. If you sing and you lose your voice box you can't do what you do anymore. If you play football and you lose your knee you can't play to that ability anymore. So what do you do? You do try to get by. As you're getting by what are you good at? 'Well, he's good at picking games.' He doesn't bet on them, but he's good at picking them. Hey, you're going to offer me good money to go do that? Sure. He starts to do it and getting things and those things I don't think are necessarily what corrupt him. I don't think that that's necessarily one of the lessons, but that world that he enters is not as it seemed at first.


DID YOU THINK ABOUT BOX OFFICE UPS AND DOWNS WHEN YOU THOUGHT ABOUT WINNING AND LOSING WITH THIS FILM?

MCCONAUGHEY: No. I didn't.


CAN YOU NOW?

MCCONAUGHEY: Well, I think that I used one word that I'm reminded of right now which is the word illusion. I mean, we're in the business of creating illusions just by making moving pictures for one, but then we sit here now and you plan and the movie is done. One, it's a miracle to get the movie made, but now is the coming up to the release and I'm talking to you and we're doing interviews, things start getting hyped and there is a build and expectations can rise. They can be exaggerated or they can be below reality and that's part of the illusion because you don't know until - you mentioned box office and so you don't know until it all of a sudden opens that weekend. You can be sitting there going, 'Man, I thought that was going to make twenty and it made two.' Or you can go, 'Man. I thought that I was going to make four and it made fifteen.' So you don't know. You're reminded all the time that it's not a science.


DID YOU FEEL THAT THIS WAS A SPECIAL ROLE FOR YOU IN TERMS IF BEING ABLE TO SHOW YOUR DRAMATIC SKILLS?

MCCONAUGHEY: It was a special role for me and I've been - I haven't had what I thought was a really good meaty role in what I thought was a drama come across my desk that I either liked or that was offered to me or was there for me to chase in a while. And I had just done some lighter fair, romantic comedies which have been successful and have been doing well and I really enjoy doing that, but coming off of what I had just done I was looking for getting into something else. Sometimes life is hard. It's not supposed to be easy. Romantic comedies are sort of designed so that the work is in keeping them sort of easy. That's not the same kind of work in a story like this. So as you would say, what is a drama? Well, the circumstances become much closer to life and death and survival and then it was just doing things that I was interested in. I love sports. I love competition. Even with betting, everyone, if you have any gamble in you whether it with sports or anything you'll be able to get off to this film. The betting, we all love to be able to tell the future and that's the main buzz with betting on games like this. So whether it was that - every weekend whether I bet or not I go through the lists and try to pick winners in my own life. So come Monday if I did well I can go, 'I told you.' And if I didn't do well I can blame it on something else.


WHAT IS YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH ATHLETICS, SPORTS AND WEIGHTLIFTING?

MCCONAUGHEY: My involvement with athletics? I don't play any professional sports. I grew up playing every sport that you could imagine and ended up still playing golf and still stayed really active and I like it because it's a great way to spend time with friends of mine and exercise makes me feel better mentally and physically.


DO YOU LIFT WEIGHTS LIKE THIS CHARACTER DOES?

MCCONAUGHEY: No. Not all the time. This guy, I mean, he was a quarterback and so I needed to be in good shape. I don't like seeing sports movies and going, 'Man. I don't buy that that guy could play quarterback. I don't buy that that guy was a real golfer.' I like seeing sports movies and going, 'Okay. I buy it that that guy was a good quarterback.' That's part of it. I look at that as being part of my job. So that was part of my responsibility, and plus it was fun. It's part of a whole ritual of say getting into shape and running passing routes and working out with a team that mentally is something that you don't just pop up and create and say, 'Oh, I'm going to play a quarterback.' There's a whole leadership mentality to it. There are all kinds of things. It's a very vital and physical experience that also plays mentally. So I enjoyed that. It was fun. But no, everyday? No. I've already gone on and done work after that where I needed to lose some weight and to lose some muscles mass. So more running. More Frisbee.


DID YOU SPEND ANY TIME WITH BRANDON [LANG] OR STU?

MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah. I spent some time with Brandon. No time with Stu that I recall.


WHAT DID YOU TAKE WITH THAT?

MCCONAUGHEY: What did I take from that directly? Well, a lot of it just listening and trying to pick things between the lines. He's the guy who picked the winners and had a great percentage and so you're always looking for what the science behind it was, what the secret was. Well, I don't know. If I knew that answer and if anyone really had a full proof answer to how to pick winners and foresee that future every week there would be a lot of people doing that for a living. Now some people do really do that for a living. And he did very well at it. So I don't know, I have a few things that I sort of just held onto for myself and those were my own sort of secrets that I picked up from talking to him, I think, and a lot of other people who were running touting services. But I do know this. I sure don't know how to give you one line that is the secret to it because, like I say, you win one game and then I'm a genius. I did it. See, I knew it. That's what everyone says when you win. 'I knew it. I told you. I knew it.' That feels great because you go, 'Everything I went over in my head about why, about what this pick was right was true. So I was seeing the future clearly.' If you lose, like I said, everyone looks around and starts going, 'Well, there is some conspiracy theory and they were against me.' It's funny. That's where you hear the most interesting stories with the people who gamble. It's what they'll say about why they lost. But this guy, my character was not a gambler. I mean, he was a winner who played football and also he could pick them. There is a very clear distinction that my guy was not a guy who gambled.


DO WHAT EXTENT DO YOU ENJOY GAMBLING?

MCCONAUGHEY: Do I gamble? Man. I think that we're gambling everyday. I mean, not a big player at all. I like to play around with my friends here and there and then once every couple of years get some good friends together and we'll go to Vegas and say, 'Hey. Let's go see if we can be geniuses for a weekend gambling.'


BUT NOT SPORTS TEAMS AND STUFF LIKE THAT?

MCCONAUGHEY: I play around, but not too much. Sometimes my buddies and I'll say, 'Well, we're just buying a ticked to the game.' Meaning if we can watch the whole thing on TV and have a grudge match between us, we want to talk a bunch of noise to each other and then if you can win you can sit there and the guy can hear about it for and if you lose then you have to hear about and you can sit here and tell him, 'Yeah, but if this would've happened and if that would've happened.' So it's a way of catching a little buzz on being able to watch every play of a game and trying to break it down. It's just another form of competition, which is why I like it, with buddies.


IT JUST SEEMS THAT THE GAMBLERS ON THE LEVEL THAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT ARE VULNERABLE AND THE PEOPLE THAT THEY'RE BETTING WITH CAN PUSH THOSE BUTTONS AND GET TO THEM.

MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah, sure. And we live in that world too where there are advertisements for everything. No. It's said in the movie- if you call a number - if someone calls and you pick up the phone they already approached you. So they are already going, 'Hey, give me some direction. Tell me what to do this weekend.' Like we say it's great stuff in the movie. Someone goes, 'Well, I like OU.' And I go, 'Well, it's a good thing that you called me because that's not the way to go.' People love to have their minds changed. Also, I think that it's human nature if you're calling a tout service to get a pick and they disagree and can tell you, 'No. No. No. Don't take OU. Take Texas.' If they say that you want your mind changed because then you don't actually have to blame yourself if you lose, and if you win they can sit there and say, 'See. I told you so. So next week if you want the picks again I'll give them to you, but you have to send me some of that Do, Re, Mi that you made this week off of my picks.' I mean, yeah, that's an obvious thing. People like to gamble. People like the buzz of scratching a lottery ticket. I know people who have quit their jobs because they feel like that's how they can make a living.


I'M ASKING IF YOU HAVE ANY VULNERABILITY LIKE THAT?

MCCONAUGHEY: Within me? Not really. Luckily, no. I've always been one who would really rather bet on myself because then if I win, and I do it everyday with movies - that way whether I'm trying to get a back end deal and get more money on the back end or whether it's doing press like this or for like the last film that I did where I went off and toured the country, that's me betting on myself. Then if it works out I can look in the mirror and go, 'Hey, man. Good job.' If it doesn't I can look in the mirror and go, 'What do we need to change because you have a large responsibility here.' Or I've gone out and played a game myself like golf, I'll bet with my brothers. I'll bet on me and if I make the shot I made the show. If I miss the shot and miss that 8-foot putt I only have one person to be ticked off at, and then it's very simple. I'd rather deal with that. But as far as betting games and stuff, like I said, I'll bet a little bit with my friends, but just enough so that we can kind of talk noise. But never have I put myself in a position where I was dealing with any money that was money that I couldn't very easily afford to just play with. I don't go to Vegas thinking that I have to go there and make some money. If I go there and lose some money it's never an amount where I have lost anything or I'm returning home going, 'Oh, no. I can't pay my rent. I can't do this. Oh, no. I really wasted that money.' That's not a place where I'm naturally drawn to luckily. It's a fun buzz, but it's never been my thing. I don't love it I guess. I guess that's it. It doesn't turn me on that much.


IN THAT SCENE WHERE YOU WERE FAKING A HEART ATTACK YOUR VESSELS LOOKED LIKE THEY WERE GOING TO BURST. HOW CAN YOU TAKE SOMETHING THAT FAR AND NOT HAVE A REACTION AFTERWARDS? ALSO, HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH HURRICANE KATRINA CHANGED YOUR LIFE?

MCCONAUGHEY: First question. Well, first of all that was a really well written scene and it was at a time in the movie where I had cared about him enough and cared about myself enough to where it's not the game that my character played. I didn't play games with people. For my character you don't tease and fake death and heart attacks. I've lost people in my family. You don't play with God, you don't play with fate that way, and don't you dare to that to me. No. So, I mean, that's kind of what naturally happened in the scene. I mean, as you saw it - I don't know. That was a day where the scene called for it and it was one of those days. That's hard stuff. That's hard living stuff. It was hard to do and then you go, 'Oh, just kidding.' 'Bullshit. You don't kid about that.' And then that works. That's where the characters were. I don't know. That's something that for my character you don't play with and you don't kid around about life and death stuff. That's such a place that you don't go for me. I personally understand that. It's kind of like that thing where you're in school, remember when you wanted to skip school and then some kids would come and say, 'Because my grandmother is sick.' And you're like, 'Don't be teasing about that because you know what's going to happen.' So I remember about those kinds of things I remember in school. If you are going to fib remember what you say because it might come full circle on you. I don't know. I just of that, but that's kind of a similar sort of situation. You don't really tease about life and death. There's nothing funny about that. The second thing about Katrina and the floods, I'll say this because we could talk a whole lot about this. I was down there for about ten days, and then in Waveland, Mississippi and Slidell, Louisiana. We went to New Orleans proper. I want to Zachary, Louisiana, which is north of Baton Rouge. I visited a wonderful shelter there that was in a church and we heard stories of how people got there and we talked to this great group of girls who talked about hot wiring a bus and stealing two batteries to hot wire the bus and drove and how this magical two gallons of gas got them all the way to Zachary. 'Don't know how it got us here, but it got us here.' And there were people that they picked up along the way on the road, I talked to a couple who both of them were 88 years old. The man had wrecked on the way. An ambulance had picked them up. His wife got whiplash and they ended up living in this house where this lady was holding 29 people that were family members in her home. I talked to people in Waveland who were there on the front line, on the beachfront property and had these big houses. They had money and one guy had built his house to withstand a hundred and sixty nine mile an hour winds because he lost his house in - what was the one in '69? Camille. He lost his house then. But we were running those folks. Then we talked to some people who were returning to their homes and we're seeing their houses for the first time and we're reuniting with their friends and families. And then we talked to people there in Waveland who had ridden the storm out and we're still sitting in their chairs in four inches of water. One of the things that we started to notice very quickly is that the people who didn't leave whether it was there or in New Orleans or anywhere else had said, when we said, 'Why didn't you leave?' They said, 'Because of Camille.' I mean, that was the precedent. 'That was the worst that it could get and we made it through that. So we didn't think that it could get any worse.' So of all the places I went to one thing that I really noticed that shined true was how quickly the spirit and how quickly we'll step up and survive and be thankful for one, our own health. 'Hey. I'm alive.' Two. 'My family.' It was either those looking for their family, that was their concern or those that had just been reunited with their family. Family and then neighbors and then community. And so it was health and the people that you cared about. Didn't care - I mean, property? They were like, 'Man. I hope that I can get back to get some memories. What I really want is to get those photo albums if I could because they are memories, but car, TV, house, that's nothing. I got my health and I got my family.' That was the hope that I saw people had and the thanks that people were finding immediately. Everyone was looking for a place to put a foot forward. Everyone wanted to move forward, but no one knew exactly where to place that foot or where to start to rebuild or exactly where to go to get help or assistance. We then ended up in Austin, Texas where there were over five thousand guests as the mayor was calling them which I thought was a cool way to phrase it. He met them when they got off the plane. He said, 'These are our guests.' I found out a lot of stories there of how a community made a convention center into what turned out to be a little city. Every social service that you could imagine from Catholic mass to Protestant mass to AA meetings. They were already setup in this place. The people were obviously displaced from their homes and wondering what tomorrow was going to hold. But again, just getting assistance from the community or where they ended up and then catching up through central means of communication with online service stuff, finding out where family members were. Not necessarily even having to be with them, but finding out that they were okay and that they were in Houston or finding out that they were okay, they were in Harrisburg. The thanks that people felt from that was great. I don't know this from it, now that things are starting to stabilize, and what I mean by that is the survivors that are there, most of them have been either rescued. Now we're finding a lot more of the deceased especially in New Orleans. What we need now is just going to have a lot to do with patience and endurance of service because like it or not the fact is that all these places now have guests that are going to be there long term. So how do you give a fishing pole instead of a fish because food, shelter, a house in a convention center for a month is fine for now, but that's not a constructive, productive, incentive type lifestyle. That is not a citizenship into a community. That is still receiving help and handouts, but not really being able to be a citizen and have a livelihood. Jobs. If you don't have resumes, job training. In the post, there's going to be a lot of obvious mental trauma. There's already stuff going on with the kids going into these schools. Man, you switch schools, if you weren't coming from a tragedy it's no easy thing to do when you were a kid of any age. Now what's my opinion on the best thing right now? I think that it's obvious, but I think that the best thing for the mental health here in the future, what's the best thing for mental health? Work. Getting a job and doing something is kind of the best thing that we can do four our mental health, and being able to get a job is a challenge coming up. So that's the long-term challenge. Right now, there are places where money and time and effort are going to be really needed and necessary three months from now, six months from now, a year from now. So how do we as people in our society sit there and remember that this is still a very vital effort a year from now when this isn't even in the newspaper anymore and it'll get there? New news has already started coming. Things go from page one to page two to page three to page four. And something else will happen in the world that we'll have our attention drawn to, but these people are going to need help for a long time and these communities are going to need help in that we've got to help them become citizens of the community and not just people that are being housed for a certain period of time. They have to have some sort of incentive daily be it their job, be it a place to go. 'Hey, now this is the place where I'm is going to be.' Then a lot of people are going to want to return to their homes and there will be a lot of people who moved in family members or friends i n other parts of the country too, but everything seems to be moving forward whether practically or not at least it's from the heart and the hope is to move forward. And everyone, I didn't hear one person regressing into the easy and obvious place that you know they were feeling which is 'It's doomed. It's over. Life is over.' No one, whether they felt it or not, spoke like that, that there was life was over or doomed. Everyone was saying that they were going to rebuild, but that they just needed to know where to step. 'I want to move forward. Just show me where to place my foot.' So a lot of people need that direction and it's a new thing. I mean, we're learning this as we go. There are accountability issues that a lot of people are talking about and they need to be addressed. I think that that stuff can be constructive without it being as much of a blame game in place. I've heard some people early on starting to point fingers on the blame game. What I noticed was that yes there are accountability issues that need to be addressed, but on the blame side what will happen is that I saw some people who went, 'If you give me a place to place my blame right now when I need every bit of my human spirit to stand up for myself it can help to give me a place to retreat to which is not giving me the place to be the most proactive and move forward and take care of myself and loved ones and seek help the best way.' So I did notice some of that. But like I said at the same time, overall it was all hopeful and everyone wanted to make a step forward. It's just how you make that step forward. So there is a big opportunity here. That's the long answer and covers a lot of things, but that's a lot of what I saw.


WE HEARD THAT YOU LIVED IN A TRAILER WHILE SHOOTING THIS MOVIE?

MCCONAUGHEY: It's true.


WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE AND I HEARD THAT YOUR COOKING OUTSIDE WOULD BRING SOME PEOPLE IN? AND THEN I READ THAT YOU WERE GOING TO TAKE SOME TIME OFF FROM ACTING. IS THAT TRUE OR NOT?

MCCONAUGHEY: About living in the trailer. I can have one of everything that I like, but no more because there is no room. I lived in a beautiful spot right there on an Indian reservation. And yes, I like to do my own cooking if I can if I have the time. Then I don't think that I'm going to be taking time off from acting. I don't have plans to work anymore this year, but I'm enjoying acting more now than I ever have in my life and I'm trying to lower my handicap with each job that I get and just keep trying to do the best job possible and tell the best stories.


DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING NEXT?

MCCONAUGHEY: I do not.


AND WHAT ABOUT THAT THIRD QUESTION I ASKED AT THE BEGINNING? IS MARRIAGE THE BIGGEST GAMBLE?

MCCONAUGHEY: Is it the biggest gamble? Not that I know of. Not that I know of [Laughs]. No. I'm sure that there are bigger gambles.


THAN GETTING MARRIED?

MCCONAUGHEY: Yes.


QUESTION: IS THERE A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT THAT YOU DON'T LIKE?

MCCONAUGHEY: I don't know. I don't know. Man, I sure do love a bass line. I love bass and percussion.


WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME THAT YOU PLAYED AIR GUITAR?

MCCONAUGHEY: Hmm. Yesterday afternoon. Yeah.

 

 

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