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Matthew McConaughey Explains Why Some Southerners Fear New York City

Matthew McConaughey
Austin Hargrave for the Hollywood Reporter

The "Mud" star tells THR, "There’s a lot of people from the South or rural areas that are very scared to come to New York and walk down a back alley."

Set on the most remote banks of the Mississippi River, Mud basks in its Southernness, from its fisheries and tiny industries to the exaggerated drawls of its characters. Its headliners are distinctly Southern, too, from Arkansas-born director Jeff Nichols to stars Matthew McConaughey (Texas) and Reese Witherspoon (Tennessee).

And yet, there they were in New York City on Sunday night, at the Museum of Modern Art, no less, to promote the Cannes and Sundance-approved film. The contrast between the subject matter and the location was stark, and those involved with the film discussed the differences between New York -- and the North generally -- and the South.

"Well, you know how it is. There’s a lot of people from the South or rural areas that are very scared to come to New York and walk down a back alley," McConaughey, who in the film plays a mysterious and charming fugitive camped out on a remote island, explained. "There are a lot of people in New York, you put them down there on 10,000 acres on the Mississippi River where nothing is around, no cars, no cell reception, and that scares the hell out of them."

Film Review: 'Mud'

Personally, he feels quite comfortable on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line, and able to navigate both urban and rural environments, but as his trademark Texan twang suggests, home is where his heart is.

"It’s very easy in the South. Time moves a little slower, and we like it that way," he said. "We like that there’s room to take things in; you spend a lot of solitary time. There’s not a lot of extra frequencies bombasting you. And you actually get a lot of your knowledge in your life from nature. So that’s the main thing. I think it’s whether your internal clock or how you see how the world works, you’re learning via Mother Nature, because you’re right in the middle of it. Where, in New York City, a little more concrete, a little more cement. You’ve got to go to Central Park and get a good breather, if you wanna catch that time."

Producer Sarah Green, who as a Boston native was more at home on West 53rd Street than on the distant and inaccessible set, offered up a few lessons she soaked in during the shoot, which saw a slim 60 person crew -- from the top stars down to the PAs -- staying in a Travelodge.

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"I think I learned about a different pace of living on the river," she said. "You have to live, when you live on the Mississippi River; everything you do is affected by that day, that moment, what the river’s doing. Your boat is easy to walk to, two steps down from shore, or 30 steps down from shore. Your fish that you eat, you may be running that day or not running that day. So it’s a very organic way of life."

As for the director himself, who grew up in Arkansas but now lives in Austin, Texas, he was less interested in contrasting the two regions than he was in trying to authentically portray a place he feels is misunderstood.

"I think as a nation we kind of have a love affair with the idea of the South, and that’s sometimes the problem," he posited. "I think a lot of times movies about the South are affectations and it’s kind of hard to know what the South really is. In fact, it’s something I'm always trying to figure out and redefine and make sure I get right.

"So what I try to do in these stories," Nichols continued, "is look around and look at the people next to me and say, 'What are they dressed like? What do they do talk like? What are they talking about? Do they have cell phones? OK, let’s incorporate that.' And so my job is to try and make realistic films that suffer from as little affectation as possible."

Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin