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Matthew McConaughey backstage at the 2014 Spirit Awards

Matthew McConaughey at the 2014 Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif.
Matthew McConaughey at the 2014 Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif.

The 29th Annual Film Independent Spirit Awards took place on March 1, 2014, at the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. Here is what this Spirit Award winner said backstage in the Spirit Awards press room.


Best Male Lead

(“Dallas Buyers Club”)

What can you say about “Dallas Buyers Club” director Jean-Marc Vallée?

I had a wonderful time working with Jean-Marc. I said it out there in my acceptance speech, but you have to do so much more pre-production work. We knew we had to, because we knew we only had 25 days to shoot this full, 125-page script. And Jean-Marc and I were on the phone nightly. It became nightly, anyway. But months prior to shooting it became about not knowing exactly what the other one was going to do but making sure we were making the same movie, and tweaking things in the script, and showing variations.

One of the things for me that made me think, “God, this is definitely the right guy” is he wrote some original scenes, one of them being Ron [Woodroof, my “Dallas Buyer’s Club” character] goes to the bar, and he’s praying, and you think he’s in a church, and you pull back between the legs of a stripper, and you see he’s in a strip bar. We wrote that scene. He had sent it to me. And I’m reading it.

And in the first page, I see candlelights and Ron is praying. And all of a sudden, I’m marking the script like, “No, Jean-Marc! Ron would never go to a church!” I flip the page, and he’s not in a church; he’s in a strip club. So he always understood the heart.

He’s a very sensitive guy to humanity, but he also got the anarchy. So many scenes in this film could have not had the humor. Actually, the humor in this story, in Ron’s story, reveals the humanity in ways that are arguably better than straight dramatic. And there are many in this.

You look at the scene where Ron hooks up and takes a girl in the bathroom who also has AIDS. We came up with that [scene] while shooting. That could’ve been a gut-wrenching scene. And it was in its own right, but when you cut out to the people in Ron’s office listening to what’s happening, all of a sudden, you find yourself laughing. So he found the right tone with the heart and the drama and also the anarchy that allowed people to laugh, in the midst of this guy trying to stay alive with other people around him dying.

What advice would you give to your 17-year-old self?

Like traveling back in time? Right now, I’d say, “Do exactly what you did.”

What do you think is the legacy that the real Ron Woodroof has left?

Overall, on a human level, I ask the question, “What did he really do overall?” He didn’t go to San Francisco at the end of the film and win the court case, but he did shake the tree.

He was successful enough on the black market that the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] came to shut him down three times, so he was making some noise. He made enough noise that the special interest groups, whatever congressmen or senators have on their desks, they moved that file of “How do we treat and handle AIDS patients going forward?,” they moved that file from the bottom of the stack near the top of the stack because of people like Ron who made that much noise.

So I think it’s fair to say, and I think it’s fair to hope, that what Ron did, if he wouldn’t have made that noise, maybe the strides that the FDA and the medical associations made with treating people with HIV, maybe those strides would’ve been delayed another five years. How many years? I don’t know. But I think things wouldn’t have happened as fast if he hadn’t made as much noise and if people like him hadn’t made as much noise.

Can you talk about emotionally and physically preparing for your role in “Dallas Buyers Club”?

I had heaps of information — a partial biography based on true events. I had a real man, but I also had 16 hours of interviews from the writer. I had his sister, his daughter and their scrapbooks. I went to them.

They didn’t sugarcoat who he was. They were very honest about who he was. I had his diary from two years before he had HIV. I said it before, but that really was my secret weapon, because that was who the man was before he had HIV, that’s who he was before he was soliciting the Dallas Buyers Club, as a businessman.

It was a man trying to find his way in life — a little bit wandering, a little bit lost in a small town in Texas. I got his humor from that. I got his humanity from that. And I got his conspiracy theories from that.

And the physical [preparation], that was something that was not an idea. I saw the pictures of him. I knew his condition. It was something I needed to do.

I had no idea how far I needed to go. I had no idea how much [weight] I needed to lose, but I knew I needed to start. So I gave myself four months to do it. I thought I needed to lose about 35 [pounds], but I ended up getting to 35, but it wasn’t enough. So 47 [pounds] was the final number.

And structurally, in my life, what it did was put me in a place to study all those things that I was talking to you about before — endlessly. So it gave me about eight hours a day, six days a week that I spent time just working on that. And it was research on him and research on the script and variations for each scene, because I knew we wouldn’t have time to talk about or think up a new way to handle a scene on the day, because we had to move so fast.

For more info: Spirit Awards website


Spirit Award interviews

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