Matthew McConaughey is on his knees, begging me to take him back. “I am nothing!” he implores, his hands clasped, rocking back and forth on his heels. “My life is nothing without you! If you’ll take me back I can be something!.”
He is halfway through explaining the DNA of the romcom to me. We’ve already done Boy Meets Girl and Boy Loses Girl. We’ve touched on one peculiarity of the romcoms McConaughey appeared in in the 2000s, which is Boy Strips for Girl — a scenario that tested the ingenuity of screenwriters in film after film (shower scene, surf scene, a change of shirt after a sweaty commute, change of T-shirt after it is splashed by passing truck, job as a submariner). Now we’ve got to the Man Chases after Girl, generally by motorbike (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) or moped (The Wedding Planner). We’re at the climax. The kisser. Crunch-time.
“The directors in those things always want the man to come crawling back on all fours,” McConaughey says. “‘I was nothing’, and so on and so forth... I was always like, what woman wants that guy? I’ve got to find a way to keep the balls on the guy. To walk back in with dignity and stand tall.” He leaps to his feet with one bound, and starts pacing. “I don’t mind going, ‘I’m sorry I screwed up.’ Say you want to give it another shot. I can do that. I can understand that. End it with a little bit of hope. But do we have to wrap it up with the guy completely emasculated going ‘Take me back!’ and we lived happily ever after and had eight kids. Who wants that guy?” He upturns his palms to the heavens.
Nobody, I murmur, spellbound. But this guy? The one in front of me? The 188lb of glorious, 46-year-old Texan, buff and tanned, who throws his whole body into stories, springing around the room, loosing long, cascading riffs peppered with sun-kissed mysticism (“keep on livin’”), self-development bumper stickers (“find your frequency”), and other assorted personal hustle-and-jive? This guy? This guy is on fire. People have been noticing, too. In the past few years McConaughey has been on an acting tear, cutting loose from the money roles for a series of down-and-dirty acting roles — as a scuzzball lawyer in The Lincoln Lawyer, a mangy drifter in Mud, a strip-club owner in Magic Mike, a psychopathic killer-for-hire in Killer Joe and now a trash-talking Aids activist in Dallas Buyers Club — that have reminded everyone why they made such a big deal of him in the first place. After his win at the Golden Globes, McConaughey is now the front runner to win the Oscar. “Le come-back de l’année” France’s TF1 News said, or as GQ recently termed it —the “McConnaissance.”
“The Mer-CON-nay-SONCE,” McConaughey says with a grin when I trip over the pronunciation, before slipping into the third person he sometimes uses to dramatise important points in his self development. “I’m surprising people. ‘Jeez, You’re really emerging McConaughey. I’m seeing you differently. Things you’re doing are sticking. You’re like wet shit,’ as Ali Farka Ture would say. The African blues man? I asked him once. ‘Why don’t you play in the US and Europe more?’ ‘Because there I would be dried shit. Neither me nor my scent would stick with me,’ he told me. ‘But here I am wet shit. Both me and my scent stick with me.’ Evidently I’ve got some wet shit going on.” The physicality is entirely fitting. McConaughey is a physical actor, a physical talker and comebacks are a physical business, as Mickey Rourke found out in The Wrestler — “this broken down piece of meat”, offering up the one thing an actor has left after everything has been stripped from him. The star having fallen, his body must be offered up in fresh sacrifice. Playing a strip club impresario in Magic Mike, McConaughey, dressed in leather chaps, savouring out the waves of female lust buffeting the stage like a violin virtuoso, stunningly deconstructed his reputation as a Shirtless Lust Object Number One — cinema’s one truly objectified male.