Matthew McConaughey on Finding Himself During His 'Un-Branding Phase'

Matthew McConaughey - HistoryTalks - AE - H 2020

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"That anonymity, that being away, that not being the shirtless guy on the beach in a rom-com ... all of a sudden things came to me that I had been wanting to do," the actor shared during the HISTORYtalks event.

As Matthew McConaughey tells it, after the release of A Time To Kill in 1996, he had Hollywood at his fingertips. The Friday before the film’s release, the actor was simply looking for a role. The Monday after, he could pick almost any project he wanted.

McConaughey on Saturday discussed his career, legacy and current role as a professor at the University of Texas with The Hollywood Reporter editorial director Matthew Belloni during a HISTORYtalks "Leadership and Legacy" event hosted by the History channel at Carnegie Hall in New York.

McConaughey said he decided to focus on what he calls "philanthropic" stories, "stories that I was honored to be a part of," citing the films Amistad and Contact.

"Then I started doing these romantic comedies, which did very well," he said, adding that while he enjoyed doing them, the birth of his son changed the equation.

"I took off, and had an un-branding phase. Not a rebranding phrase, an un-branding phase," McConaughey said. "I said, 'I’m out.'"

"And at that time I got an offer for a romantic comedy, and it was for a very sizable number, and I read it and they came back and bumped that number up quite a bit, and I passed, and they came back and bumped it again, I passed. They bumped it up and basically doubled the opening offer, and I said, 'Let me read this script again,'" said the actor. "It was the same words, but I promise you that script was superior to the first one. I said no, and I had 18 months of being gone."

"That anonymity, that being away, that not being the shirtless guy on the beach in a rom-com, by un-branding, then all of a sudden things came to me that I had been wanting to do," he added. "Dramatic roles that I had been pursuing were coming my way."

McConaughey would subsequently move to television with HBO’s True Detective, a move that at the time, in 2014, was seen as a big jump for a movie star to make.

"All that matters is to chase the great stories, chase the great characters, it doesn't matter what screen it’s on," he said when asked about the jump to TV, adding that he was "just chasing stories, chasing characters that made me sweat in my boots. Without knowing, I was chasing down my legacy."

McConaughey began teaching at the University of Texas-Austin as a visiting instructor in 2015, becoming a professor of practice last year. He said that he values being a mentor to the students and helping them find their voice in storytelling, be it as filmmakers, or journalists, or writers.

"There's no 'help wanted' signs in our business," he said, referring to the guidance he gives his students. "You have got to have some juice, if you want to go to Hollywood or New York and make it in storytelling in some form … you have to enjoy the process of it. Enjoy the process of creating, enjoy the process of failing and not being able to make what you wanted to make."