WE ARE MARSHALL
AN INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY
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WE ARE MARSHALL
December 18, 2006
With all the attention that Matthew Mcconaughey receives for his off-screen appearances, what people forget at times, is that when given the opportunity, the man can act. Granted, his last few films have been heavily commercialized to a great deal of success with hits like “Sahara” and “How to lose a guy in 10 days”, but when he first came into the business, he started off with a bang in “A Time to Kill”. In his latest film, “We Are Marshall”, Mcconaughey shows off his best performance thus far in playing Coach Jack Lengyel in this trus story of a football team and the town of West Virginia overcame tragedy to survive and move on. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Mcconaughey talks about his role and what’s next for him.
Were you familiar with the story before the script came along?
Mcconaughey: Nope, nope, read it the first time in Austin Texas in my trailer and had no idea of the story. But one read, I knew I had to be a part of it. Not glad it happened but glad I had the opportunity to be a part of it. Most gratifying and honorable working experience I’ve ever had. Hands down.
When actually met Jack, the guy you were playing, did you meet him earlier or later on?
I talked to him up front and then he sent me some audio and I got a lot of his audio recorded. A lot of his audio off of the documentary, From Ashes We Rose and there were certain things with speech rhythms that I was listening to and then slowly started just to understand what was this guy’s approach. He’s an eccentric. Anyone who’s going to say, “Yes I want that job,” is not your normal coach, especially stepping into a situation, which is, I mean there’s definitely no playbook, here’s how you go handle that situation. But he wanted to do it for the simplest and purest reasons. As he says in the beginning “why, because I thought I could help.” Simple. They ask him the bigger questions and he didn’t go in there to be a savior, he didn’t go in there and say I’m going to get this town back on their feet. He wanted to coach a football team. And when he was asked the bigger questions, what do you think about people that think...we shouldn’t be thinking about getting back in the field. It’s a disgrace. He was very quick to say, “Hey, I’m a football coach. I don’t know that’s not for me to say.” And there are many instances in the film where he says I don’t know and a lot of stories or films would have taken advantage of those spots and go “this is a great spot to write a beautiful soliloquy.” No, the guy’s a small town guy from Wooster, Ohio who had a family and loved his kids and had a big heart and saw a situation and, was drawn to it and went to go coach the team. He didn’t go say I’m going to go prophesize the place. No, that was never where he was coming from. So there’s simplicity there. In those things that would have written in those positions that’s what people can hopefully walk and talk about in the parking lot after the film.
This character is very corky and eccentric for you. The roles we have seen you play in the past have been more charming and well spoken. Besides the fact that it’s a great story, why did you decide to do something so different?
It’s just what who the character became really. I mean those others, they’re just different games, you know. This one is what it required from my point of view some work. It’s a different the game. It’s not my place to go I’m really going to create a certain character. It’s wrong. Not only is it not necessary, it would be false. It would be over choreographed for instance. This character came about very organically but like I said it started with rhythm of speech and approach it in the way like “who is that guy who comes from out of states? I want to come and [see] who’s teaming this situation.” Well that’s not everybody. I went and interviewed different coaches. Yarbrough at Louisiana State University, white coach in the late 60’s, he was a member of the NCAA. Talk about eccentric, that guy came down, he found Shaquille O’Neal in Germany. You know he had all kinds of eccentric ways at that time people were just like “what are you doing,” but very successful. And so I looked at different places and talked to other coaches I know who had been in different situations that were not ideal coming off really hurt team where they lost a player. I remember being at the University of Texas, the week after UCLA beat us 66-3, I was at practice all that week at my University of Texas. It was so…the whole week was applauding successful fundamentals. I mean if there was a clean snap, and this is a division 1A grade college football program and after that loss they sort of debilitated, their confidence was so low. If they just got a clean snap and clean hand off and didn’t fumble on the play. Coach had the entire offensive team congratulate the quarterback because they needed these simple fundamentals, (claps) “hey good job” because they weren’t a team who was good enough or had their confidence high enough to only celebrate on the touchdown.
Your character Coach Lengyel stayed with them for four years even though they had a lot of tough seasons. How did he deal with that?
[They were the biggest losing] team in the 70’s in the NCAA. Well not until 1990 to 2005 where they were the winners of college football team in the NCAA. That’s a 15-year period.
Was he still around? How did he get into the football hall of fame?
No he wasn’t still there, not then. No not then. He was only around for three to 4 more after years after ‘71 season. He is now and intern AD where he goes to colleges…remember when Colorado had trouble a couple of years ago? He went in, was called in for three weeks while they were in upheaval to sort of hold the fort until they sorted their stuff out. That’s what he does. He goes in and is the band-aid for moments. We didn’t talk much about what happened after that season. I know that the next week after their win they got beat 66-6. I mean it’s funny but it’s also beautiful because it helps the moral of the story, which is not about winning or losing right now, it’s about how we play the game. It’s that we play the game, that we take the field. I know he wanted to win. He didn’t enjoy the losses. No coach does but you know I guess the resonance of that comes out in that chapel when he’s talking to coach Dawson about “and I thought it was all about winning or losing, for any other coach it does and before I came here I thought it was but we’ve got to get really realistic expectations. And the one thing we got to do is just keep taking that field.” So I wouldn’t really talk about the three years after that.
How important is it for you not to play the stereotypical person from the rural in a film like this?
I never really thought about it ‘cause it just wasn’t you know. Now we got down there and sure had people considering the story we weren’t telling going what are you guys doing putting a mirror on this time in our lives when the town is sort of built on it. Everyone’s related to it by blood, friendship or lore in the town you know. “What are you all doing here? This is not something we would just like to uncover and you’re coming here to make a movie about it?” Then you had people saying exactly that. “I mean everyone always just shows us as the bucktooth bumpkin hillbilly” and we were like “no, no, no, no, we’re trying to tell the truth.” We’re not making any caricatures, there’s no joke here. We never had an ulterior agenda though. There’s a responsibility you have when dealing with a true story, to emulate the story truthfully but because our hearts and minds were in the right place, the script was in the right place. The responsibility never garnered a weight; it almost garnered a freedom and privilege because it was an open book. There’s no such think as closed or meeting. Townspeople would come out to the set. We’re going to talk about seeing a fifty-yard line. Everybody let’s go. Not everyone’s going to get their way but we’re going to openly discuss it. There’s no secret. There’s no secrets, there’s no camps. Nobody camped up, that’s how amazing it was. We didn’t camp up, present ourselves to the town any differently than we were representing ourselves to each other, the producer didn’t camp up and try get something going. I wasn’t camping up and trying to do something different than the producer. It was an open door policy. There was a lot of freedom in that and it was a highly creative process.
What was it like for you to play a father?
Loved it! Very easy too! I love kids; I don’t have any of my own but had three children and a wife in the film. To be a coach instead of a player…I’m usually the player. I still think I can make that pass so I’m going to keep taking. I’ll say this, five years ago, I wouldn’t be as prepared to play the role as now. Just from growing older, but it’s so easy for me to look at kids an love them or look into a woman’s eyes who’s supposed to be my wife and love her you know so with that there comes a…everybody, all my friends who have kids say “man life just opens up and it doesn’t become about you, it becomes about them.” There’s a resonance where your heels where your heels I’m sure dig into the ground a little harder and sturdier than they would as a single gypsy or whatever. I mean you have responsibilities and you’re responsible for the well being of quite a few people that need to be led along the way. Keep them safe, and fed and lead them in the right direction but that was very easy for me to understand.
There are a lot of funny metaphors your character uses to get his point across. Are those real? Did he really use those types of lines like the one about changing the diaper?
I don’t know that he actually said that. But he was full of comedic metaphors like that and how he would handle situations with humor. It’s very useful, not that he did it to manipulate consciously but it was useful because here’s a very heavy situation and his comedy is coming from his heart. He wasn’t trying to tell a joke. We shot scenes with a quarterback where he was nervous and kept pitching the ball too early and he wouldn’t allow himself to get hit. I kept telling him to take his time and wait ‘til the last second. I asked if he had a girlfriend and he was “like yeah I do.” I asked one and he said “two.” I’m like “you like to dance.” He goes “yeah.” I asked who’s your favorite musician and he said “Marvin Gaye.” I’m like, run your options like Marvin Gaye man, take your time, take your time. Wait ‘til the last second to get rid of the ball and if you don’t, I’m going to tell one girl about the other one! Sometimes you need levity. You hear great stories about great champions like a Joe Montana leading the drive to win the Superbowl against Cincinnati. They’re in the huddle in the Superbowl final drive. They’re on 20 and they have 80 yards to go, and he kneels down and tells the play and he tells the lineman, he says “hey scoot over, that’s john Candy!” He was in the stands on the other end. He was being serious but it was the perfect thing or the huddle to hear, because they’re all going oh shit, we’re down by whatever and we got to go down there to score.” It’s like hearing “hey clean your nose you got a booger.” It’s the perfect thing. It takes you out of the situation and takes the weight off and you can play with your instincts and get out of your head.
I’m off in Australia right now shooting something called Fool’s Gold. Myself, Kate Hudson, we really have a great cast off characters, Donald Sutherland. It’s a great adventure comedy with Andy Tennant. Got to find a treasure and get the girl.
Like Romancing the Stone?
Very much like romancing the stone. Modern day.
What do you hope to receive this holiday season and what do you plan on giving?
I’m giving out a lot of headlamps, the things you wrap around your head. Look mom both hands. I think it’s one of the best inventions going. I gave electronic toothbrushes last year. I’m going to spend the Christmas with a family that I lived with in 1988 when I as an exchange student over there. And my mom’s not upset about that, she understands completely. I haven’t seen him in 19 years and when I left he had 5 daughters and 1 granddaughter and now he’s got 5 daughters ad 12 grandchildren.
What I hope to receive is all of that. It’s going to be a good Christmas for me to remember sort of the friendships and stuff that are made over time. Right now I just keep wishing for health. My mom is 75, healthiest she’s ever been. My older brother who’s 53 just had a baby boy. And all my friends are having babies so there are babies all over the place. It's going to be a good one.
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