One outstanding performance a year isn’t enough when it comes to Matthew McConaughey. Starting off 2013 with the acclaimed and nominated Mud, as his next award-winning 2013 turn, he put balls to the wall with an electrifying performance as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. Already garnering multiple critics awards and a hot contender for Oscar gold for this performance, McConaughey has both a Golden Globes and Film Independent Spirit Award nomination under his belt for his turn as a heterosexual man diagnosed with advanced AIDS at the beginning of HIV research, in a time when AIDS was a dirty word and killing thousands by the day.
Describing Dallas Buyers Club as a film “to follow this one man’s life. . .what’s original is that you’ve got a heterosexual man. We haven’t seen that story from that guy’s point of view. And, he doesn’t start off as this crusader for the cause. He’s not waving the flag. If anything, he’s a selfish son of a bitch who’s doing what he can to survive. And also, it’s the fact that it came out at the inception of HIV. Nobody knew what the heck this thing was. The doctors didn’t know. It was all a brand new frontier. So, here’s this two-bit cowboy electrician with a 7th grade education who becomes an expert, basically a scientist, on how to extend your life in a healthy way [living] with HIV. And he was finding it out. It was the cusp. There was nothing to go off of. He just didn’t like what they were prescribing here, so he said, ‘I’m leaving the country. I’m going around the world. I’m going to figure out how to survive.’”
Written by Craig Borten, director Jean-Marc Vallee and McConaughey took the story and the character of Woodroof ever deeper. “Jean-Marc and I were real secure on what this story was and that allowed us still to come up with scenes. He added scenes. I added scenes. We added dialogue. We improvised. But we knew what movie we wanted to make. We were making the same movie, and we had to trust each other because there wasn’t time to go, ‘I’m not sure. Are we doing this right?’ You couldn’t be precious about it.” For McConaughey, that meant a lot pf personal research. “I found out so much information about the guy when I went and met his family that I was always coming into scenes loaded with going with different things that Ron would do and how he spoke.”
Key to finding that voice were Woodroof’s personal diaries, research and audio interviews which his family gave to McConaughey. “It was like a Pandora’s box. I had all the interviews. I had the research that you see from the outside in. You see, I had him, not just his words, but him on tape. And that was very informative. . . When I got his diary, I got his monologue. And that’s where I learned if you get the monologue to the man, then you can have the dialogue so to speak. . . When [the Woodroof family] gave me his diary, I saw who the guy was on Monday morning with his pager on, charged, an electrician, organized, waiting for the call that never came. I knew who the guy was on Saturday night getting high with himself, doodling in his book, writing poems and really blasphemous jokes, and actually wondering, ‘What’s with this life? I kind of want to get out of here.’ You’d see what he’d wear. I was like, ‘Is this Halloween? He’s dressed up like a gangster.’ And they’d say, ‘No. That was just one Tuesday.’ And he loved these 30’s jazz bands and stuff.”
Challenging, however, was finding the right balance for Woodroof. “Ron was just such a feverish son of a bitch. He was just attacking at all times. He was like a rabid dog.” Promising that his performance “was true to Ron”, for McConaughey, it all came down to trust, trusting that if they kept the character true to the man, “this sort of bastard would want to make money, would want to be Scarface”, trust that “if we keep him doing that, his humanity will come out of that.”