Film stars are an interesting breed. We get to know them in our homes through the characters they bring to life, and the glittery-ness of their lifestyles frame the aspirations of many a punter. Although, more often than not, you discover that behind all the red-carpet glamour is simply someone with wild stories to tell and personal depth that doesn’t always translate on magazine covers.
Matthew McConaughey has had an extensive movie career, with 70 acting credits to his name including romantic comedy classics How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and The Wedding Planner, to more dramatic outings such as Interstellar and his Oscar-winning role as Ron Woodroff in Dallas Buyers Club.
This year, Matthew added the title of ‘author’ to his resume – reaching his 50th birthday and releasing his first book, Greenlights, a memoir of his life thus far, complied from journals he’s kept for the last 30-plus years with memories of growing up in Texas and his rise to fame in Hollywood.
If you hadn’t already guessed it from his stirring motivational speeches, the Matthew you discover in his book reveals him to be an incredibly deep thinker, a no holds barred adventurer and a man driven by a very specific set of values.
One of those values is to take time to pray and “just [be] a child of God” – not a famous actor, not a husband or father, but simply a man under his Creator.
“Prayer is my time to do inventory on myself, loved ones in my life and what’s going on in the world and, ‘who am I in it?” Matthew said told Hope 103.2.
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“In the very fast-paced life that I live, and that a lot of people live in, it’s very hard to get demarcations between events… things start to cover and overlap.
“What prayer does is, it stops time, I become number two, I’m able to look at my past and when I have a better understanding of where it is I’ve been and where I want to go, I’m much more able to be present.”
One thing Matthew has done for years since he first became famous, is to pack a bag and go on 22-day solo trips to locations where his name isn’t known, and get more of that focused time to recentre his identity.
“After I got famous over one weekend when a film A Time to Kill came out, I started seeking places on the earth where nobody did know my name,” Matthew said.
“I needed to measure how much [of the attention I received] was ‘cause of the fame, and how much of it was ‘cause of the man I am.
“So when I go away to those places, when I leave, the hugs and the tears that fall between me and the people I’ve met are all based off of the man they met 22 days earlier and that’s all it was on.”
Those spaces also give him time to think about the things we all collect that tell the stories of our lives: engraved rings from relatives, tattoos, cars, our job title and the like – and who we would be if all it were stripped away.
Without “those earthy things that we gathered in our mortal time here,” Matthew asks ‘who am I now?’
“Who am I as just a child of God? Not a ‘McConaughey’, not ‘an American’, not ‘a man’ – none of those things, just a child of God. [That’s] the most vulnerable place to be, but there’s value in stripping down to get to that place and then feeling the empowerment in that humility.”
Along with physically separating himself from the trappings of Hollywood, which he readily admits he’s indulged in at various times of his life, Matthew’s choice to marry his now wife Camilla Alves puts him among a rare group of celebrities who prize commitment over an undefined partnership.
He said it took him a few years to get there, after wrestling with what being married would mean for his sense of adventure and independence.
“I’ve always understood, and been around some very good examples of married couples who were stronger together. Whose adventures in life continued – and even expanded – [when they got married],” Matthew said.
“But the idea [of marriage] for me was that the adventure was over; that it becomes sort of a proper noun: an ending, a landing spot, a ‘ta-dah’ moment [of] ‘now we’ve arrived’. That idea scares the heck out of me – with anything, not just marriage.
“But when I came to understand in the one-times-one of two people coming together actually equals three, you and the other in a covenant with God, I came to see that coming together in a union with someone does not mean that [I only] have 50 per cent of the experience of a situation, it can be 200 per cent.”
Making the transition from ‘shirtless rom-com guy’ to ‘credible Oscar winner’ was also a pivotal moment for Matthew who, as he shares in his book, turned down US$14 million to really tell Hollywood he wasn’t into the light and fluffy stuff anymore.
“I needed to say ‘no’ to that for my own soul,” he said.
“‘No’ to this work that I’d been doing, that in a way was keeping me from the work I wanted to do in the more dramatic roles.
“I had nothing against the rom-coms I was doing. I had just done ‘em and they had done so well that that was the only thing I was getting offered, and that work was not challenging me – and I wanted my work to challenge me.”
It took nearly two years after turning down that pay-check for Matthew to get offered a dramatic role, having been forgotten by Hollywood and then somehow becoming a “new good idea”.
That time has become one of many Matthew said taught him the value of sacrifice and the importance or re-assessing priorities in life.
“It’s valuable to measure our responsibilities, and what we want to be responsible for in order to have the kind of freedom that we want,” he said.
“And freedom does not mean all green lights. If the world was all green lights in front of us that’s not true freedom – we would just go in circles and go nowhere.
“You’ve got to have the red and yellow lights, and you’ve got to sometimes put them upon yourself and make sacrifices – put the right kind of resistance in front of us [to] overcome and endure, and get out the other side and go, ‘OK, I evolved a little bit. I had to go without’. The devil’s in the yeses.”
Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights is out now and recommended for mature audiences. Listen to the full Power Lunch conversation with Laura in the player above.