Matthew McConaughey Talks Getting Into Character for 'White Boy Rick'

Matthew McConaughey - Austin Film Society's premiere screening of White Boy Rick - Getty-H 2018
Gary Miller/Getty Images

"It was human, it was tragic, it was funny, but it was authentic," explained the actor, describing the based-on-a-true-story film as something that needed to be told, "even if it were fiction."

A special premiere screening of White Boy Rick was held at the Austin Film Society Cinema in Austin, Texas, with star and Austin resident Matthew McConaughey in attendance to introduce the film.

White Boy Rick tells the true story of Rick Wershe, Jr., who did everything from dealing drugs to selling weapons, and informing to the FBI — all before his 16th birthday. McConaughey plays Rick's father, Rick Wershe, Sr.

“I’ve never had a role like this before,” the actor told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the screening. “This is my sad country song. ‘Mama got hit by a train the day I went to jail’ kinda stuff.”

McConaughey’s portrayal of Rick Sr. is of a sleazy, two-bit gun dealer seeking out a living on the east side of Detroit who acts more like his son’s best friend than an authority figure. He believes everything he’s doing is for the good of his family, even as they are dealt constant, often devastating setbacks.

The fact that his character was based on a real person, who passed away in 2014, helped McConaughey find a way to make him feel empathetic, despite his shortcomings.

“It was human, it was tragic, it was funny, but it was authentic,” explained the actor, describing White Boy Rick as a story that needed to be told, “even if it were fiction.”

While McConaughey has been known to work in certain aspects of his personality into his various roles over the years, Rick Sr. is the kind of character that allows the actor to lose himself a bit. His usual laid-back, cocky demeanor and distinctly Texas drawl are hidden behind a slicked-back mullet and a weasel-voiced desperation.

“I’m usually drawn to characters that sort of ‘do unto,’ that follow through, by hook or by crook,” McConaughey said. “Somehow, this guy has no follow-through. Very much a Fredo. I’ve never played someone who loses so unanimously. He’s the runt. The doer in the family is the boy, White Boy Rick.”

Despite his character’s lack of moral clarity, McConaughey was able to find some commonality with the fictionalized version of Rick Sr. The actor, a father of three himself, has only played a dad once prior, in 2014’s Interstellar. Now, in his next two roles after White Boy Rick, which include Serenity and Beach Bum, he’ll be playing a father as well.

“This is one of those where I go, ‘I know who that dad is,’” McConaughey explained. “He’s not me, so the only thing I brought was that I understand undying love for your children, and doing whatever you can do to keep the family together. After that, I hope there’s not many similarities.”

White Boy Rick is currently playing in theaters everywhere.