What Matthew McConaughey says about America
Matthew McConaughey is an American original.
What does that mean anyway?
It means that he is a living, breathing embodiment of America and everything that is connected with it. He resembles us and reflects us. It also means that Americans of all kinds like him and can relate to him. There are fewer and fewer people in this category.
I've been writing about some pretty tough stuff lately - it's been a tough year - but as we headed for Thanksgiving I thought I'd take a break from COVID-19 and electoral madness and get in touch with Matthew McConaughey who is out and about (virtually) promoting his new book, Greenlights, which if you like McConaughey you are sure to love, and if you've never heard of him (who are you?) you probably will also.
"Greenlights" is actually a big deal (which speaks to my American original point). It's # 2 on Amazon's bestseller list (after Barack Obama's "A Promised Land") and # 2 on the New York Times' non-fiction list (nested between # 1 "Humans" and # 3 "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black." Man, ”written by Emmanuel Acho, who, like McConaughey, is a Longhorn from the University of Texas - look forward to an upcoming interview with Emmanuel!)
I wanted to talk to McConaughey about his business ventures and some bigger things. So here's a little Warren Buffett, Peter Thiel, and Marc Benioff, but hey, this is Mathew McConaughey, not Jay Powell, right?
However, when we got into our conversation, and after I noodle and noodle again what he said, I realized that we had gone somewhere else. It's like watching McConaughey do his thing on screen and smiling at the adorable but annoying goofball stuff. After 20 minutes you notice that it goes much deeper.
Isn't that America?
The conversation was partly fun to start with, partly because, as you can see, I'm a fan - back to "Dazed and Confused" (and its improvised signature "alright alright") and the rom-coms for sure. But more of his later stuff like "Sea of Trees" and especially the first season of "True Detective", one of the best TV shows ever made. Also, McConaughey likes Wild Turkey, and so do I. He's a Ford guy and so am I. He's a fan of the Washington soccer team, and so am I - until I gave up to maintain my self-respect. (It's also that I'm a dweeb and he's Matthew McConaughey.)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 17: Actor Matthew McConaughey attends the "The Wolf Of Wall Street" premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater on December 17, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman / WireImage)
Let me walk you through my conversation with Matthew McConaughey (I keep the quotes running longer than usual because he's kind of a journey) and, as with some of his later films (in the McConaissance), the longer our conversation went, the better it got.
So I started with the book. It's very he, sometimes linear, but also a stream of consciousness and elliptical in a way that he talks about Keith Richards and then a little bell goes off and you're like "thing!" Ah, that makes sense. (Kind of.) Some parts are fucking crazy too and some parts are hilarious as hell. (Really.)
"I'm writing my book," said McConaughey. “I went in and it was very clear to my publishers and editors that this is exactly what I want. I think this will be the book. This is not an anthology. This is not a book where I tell stories from school that are not my stories.
“I learned something while writing. When I was sticking to the first person with "I" I would just go in person and tell the subjective how I saw it, it actually became more relatable. The more personal I got, the more accessible it became to more people. People see themselves or circumstances in their life that are similar to mine. I see where they may have reacted and had a similar or different perspective. I see myself approaching certain situations that I have found that you might need in your life. And I think people will just find it funny. "
McConaughey is involved in the business world, but not so much and on his own terms. I noticed something on page 258 of his book. He writes of his time, not accepting rom-com roles and not working, waiting to get more substantial roles: "I bought, as Warren Buffett says, straw hats in the winter."
Whoa. Does McConaughey know Buffett or does he own Berkshire?
"I think I read that quote years ago," he says. “I don't follow him much. I have a money man who follows him. I follow cultural trends. I've always been someone who did some kind of docket - my own consumer reports - about products and how much would you like a product? Do you need a product? How much does a product cost that each of us brings out, whether it is ourselves or what we create, invent or discover, how much are they in demand? "
What does McConaughey notice?
"Well, what we're doing is going to stay up to a point," he says. “There are millions of people who will say, no, thank you [back in the office]. I practice doing business remotely and interacting that way. I prefer it. How does this experience become more exclusive, more intimate and more individual? I look at my productivity, which I know a lot of companies have looked at, which shows how adaptable their people can be. What is the future of the theater? What is the future of all of these communal events? There's a version that I see morph into the world. Go live wherever you want on the planet as long as you have 5G. We'll see how much that is the new normal, how much is the future now. "
When it comes to the business and its movies, McConaughey is best known here for a legendary cameo as the twisted Wall Street executive on "Wolf of Wall Street." It was just one scene, insane cocaine-fueled lunchtime monologues for protagonist Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, but man, it was unforgettable.
Actor Matthew McConaughey talks to Andy Serwer, Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance, about an episode of "Influencers with Andy Serwer".
"That character was fantastic," says McConaughey. “I'm trying to find a line called Launchpad with each character, which means you read that line and say, 'Oh, if this character means that, there's an encyclopedia I could write and I'll be one whole rap doing this character. "With 'Wolf of Wall Street' I read this line in which he tells the Belfort character that Leonardo played." The secret of this business is cocaine and hookers. «And I went, who is that? I leave when that person really thinks there was rap. So I just started writing and interviewing various brokers about what it was like back then. How do you create an illusion and keep it going? And I wrote a lot of this rap and put it to [director, Martin] Scorsese. He was all for it and we just put it down in that scene. It was a wonderful classic scene. It was so much fun. "
NB: McConaughey, now 50, is only four years older than DiCaprio, but was able to act as an older manager, partly because of the makeup, of course, but also because McConaughey was pretty thin for his role as AIDs. infected electrician became activist in the "Dallas Buyers Club".
Not "just a face"
Celebrities like McConaughey are inundated with inquiries. Usually these relationships are transparently transactional, sometimes even worse. McConaughey has obviously chosen with care, not only focusing on products and services that he likes and uses, but also participated in the design and production of the campaigns.
"I participate in these products," he says. "All of these businesses, my investments, are things I want to keep busy with on my proverbial Monday morning at my desk."
McConaughey has been promoting Lincoln, its best-known commercial affiliation, since 2014. Undoubtedly, the ads parodied by the likes of Ellen Degeneres, South Park and Jim Carrey made this clumsy brand cooler (low bar I know) and sold vehicles too.
Here's McConaughey: "So, myself, Lincoln Ford and the advertising company, we're all very focused on what we wanted to do. We came out with the first ads and I came from True Detective. And so I went on a couple of these things one and these were parodied. Some of the parodies were actually very good. Some were better than others. I don't mind being embodied, just be really good at it. And some of them did a good job. Well , this species got attention and eyeballs on it. "
“We said early on that there were so many loud commercials. All the ads are like, who can turn up the volume the most? What if we do such a deliberate and deliberate commercial that is so quiet that it actually cuts through the noise? And I saw it. I was in sports bars on Sunday afternoons with noisy men and women yelling at the game. And then the commercial would light up and they would leave and their head would turn to the television to see the commercial. So it worked. We've kept a very consistent tone, and we've got where you're going, I believe, where I've become synonymous with Lincoln and Lincoln has become synonymous with me. I especially like the navigator that I had, a really, really, really good product. "
Actor Matthew McConaughey (left) and Ford CEO Mark Fields unveil the Lincoln Navigator concept at the New York International Auto Show on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan)
Similar story with Wild Turkey. Go to WildTurkey.com - you'll need to put in your date, etc (dear US Government, does that really matter?) - and McConaughey is wearing a red and black plaid cardigan walking through the Kentucky woods in a 6:14 movie vertorial about his favorite brand bourbon.
“I go to the Russells [Wild Turkey's father / son master distiller - the brand is owned by the Italian spirits company Campari],” he tells me. “I want to be in business with people who I believe in what they do, that we are both authentic, what we do and why we do it. I didn't want to be just a face. I talked to them and told stories. So I became creative director with them and helped them with the advertising campaign. Who is our audience? Who do we want to keep? Who is the new generation we need to introduce Wild Turkey to? "
Note that McConaughey initially wanted to be on the production side of the movie business at the University of Texas.
"I also created my own bourbon, Longbranch, with Eddie Russell. It has always been a dream of mine to have my own favorite bourbon on the planet that we have in this bottle."
It's not that bad being Matthew McConaughey.
"A for-profit life with a charitable idea"
And there is sport. First and foremost, McConaughey is a fan of Texas Longhorn (and now a professor there too): “When you join UT, you are expected to compete for national championships in the sport, especially soccer. Um, we're not doing that right now. I think we're on our way, ”he says.
McConaughey is also helping bring football to his hometown Austin after becoming a minority stake in MLS team Austin FC, due to play next spring.
"The grass was used on the field last week and it felt a lot more real," he tells me. "And yes, as of now we're still on the right track to kick off next season."
He has some great thoughts about "the beautiful game".
“I bet on international football. I think this is a real climber as a game in our future. We have the World Cup in a couple of years. So we're going to be the porch for the international soccer game here in North America. Austin, the perfect city for international soccer, a city that has never had a pro team. Austin used to be a university town, government town, and music town. It's now a banking city, a technology city, and an international travel destination. It's a very diverse community for the most diverse game in the world. "
In terms of sports, McConaughey has also invested in The Athletic, a subscription sports website with in-depth and original coverage that now covers dozens of cities across the United States. Peter Thiel's founder fund is also an investor, and McConaughey says he and Thiel discussed the investment McConaughey made through Plus Capital, "a venture fund sponsored by top entertainment, television, film, music influencers and sport is supported ", says Axios.
“I like a good story to be told and they have really great writers there and I'm a storyteller,” he says. “It's about the story and all the different mechanics that go into the sport, from the business side to the personal side to the players and the love of the game. They cover all of these. And so I am participating in this product again. "
Actor Matthew McConaughey celebrates on the sideline of the Texas Longhorns in the second half against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 29, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner / Getty Images)
Lastly, there is Forward, a high-tech healthcare company founded by former Google manager Adrian Aoun and whose investors include Ashton Kutcher, Bono and The Edge. Some thought McConaughey was taking a page out of the Dallas Buyers Club because Forward uses a monthly membership model.
"No, there is no real connection," says McConaughey. He was drawn to the fact that Forward enables people to “maintain their own health and communicate remotely with their doctor. That sounded evolutionary. Sounds like it could be real, this could be more than a convenience. That could be a necessity. That could be more than just a luxury. That could be something that could be good for many people who were not as privileged as others to have that ability and instant response with their doctor via a remote device. That just sounded like a really good idea for the future to me. "
Is it all about the Benjamin, even though Matthew?
"I'm all about making money," he says. “I have good money. I am all for fame. I'm happy to be famous, but I'm inspired when I see people like John Mackey with Whole Foods or Marc Benioff at Salesforce who say, “Hey, I have an idea that is really good, even if it was like that non-profit, but let's benefit from it. '
“So what are these things that we can ask ourselves? I want to sell this. I want to make money with it. I want to get rich from it. How could it be, oh, and it's good for most people. These two don't have to be a contradiction. And I hope more of us invest in things like that. Because you can make a really good living, a for-profit living with a charitable idea. "
Like most Americans, McConaughey sees the good and bad of social media.
“I think I just got on Instagram a year ago, he says. "Hmm. It is a platform for me to share parts of myself as a direct line of communication and not through someone else's filter. It was good for my business. People are now checking how many followers for advertisers and the like. "
“The scary part is that, for the first time, we, especially kids and millennials, are getting all of our self-esteem based on something. They put a picture, a sentence, something that they both send into the world, and they wait eagerly to see what everyone will say about it. And when the thumbs come up again, I'll have a great day. Look at me i'm popular If the thumbs come down again, I'll fall into a depression. That is not healthy. "
“And where is the responsibility? Make sure you don't get your entire sense of wealth, identity, and meaning based on the mere approval or disapproval of the rest of the world. Because you understand that there are many people who put their thumbs down or write something negative and they haven't even read or looked at what you wrote. Well. So where to where again? Where do we allow a value and where do we allocate what our children do? "
And then McConaughey whispers on in a singing whisper, "Kiddos, Millennials, all of us on the thing you put in there, this comment about what you say will outlive you." It will outlive us all. “So think about it before you hit submit. And before you write it. It is short money, short money to think that it lifts me to knock you down. "
Matthew McConaughey, from left, receives Best Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, Cate Blanchett Best Actress in Blue Jasmine and Lupita Nyong'o Best Supporting Actress for "12" Years a Slave, and Jared Leto holds his award for Best Supporting Actor at the "Dallas Buyers Club" in the press room during the Oscars at the Dolby Theater on Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP)
McConaughey has been trying eagerly to evade politics lately. However, towing the center is increasingly like a tip through a minefield. Almost impossible to do forever. (As for those who believe that one day he will run for governor of Texas, all I can say is that I hope not. That's a waste of that man's time.)
And finally, I asked him, Matthew McConaughey, if America could come together again.
"I know we can, but we won't be Kumbaya," he says. “There will be no perfect justice in society. We will not have a utopia. And I think it's irrational to believe that we are. It is actually arrogant to think that of this species. We could go into who voted what, where we're developing, but we'll never do our best. We won't get there. And I think that's the point.
“If we could do just a little better, have a little ascent in the quality of our life and who we are and how we treat ourselves and others in it, then there is a little ascent in our lives, in society and in America. America is a pursuit that is constantly being pursued, but we must realize that we will never achieve it. Trying to get a little better is as good as it gets. So join in - and try to get a little better. "
And so the son of a beating, hard-drinking pipe seller from Texas and a noisy mother with whom he argued for years, became a shaman film star who is married to the Brazilian model and designer Camila Alves. But McConaughey, his wife and three children (and the reconciled 88-year-old mother) don't live in Hollywood. You live in Austin, a fast-growing blue city that was partially put on the map by McConaughey himself in a reddish-purple state - like America itself, a swirling mix of progressive and reactionary, cerebral and visceral, poetic and raw.
McConaughey above spoke of an ascent, a little climb, getting up and how America needs it.
But he also spoke of the fact that we will never really be perfect ("... we will never make it."). We always have differences, we have to accept that.
And it actually reminded me of the book of Matthew (7: 1-2): “Do not judge that you are not judged. For by the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and by the measure you use it will be measured to you. "
America could use some of this too.
This article was featured in a Saturday Morning Brief on November 21, 2020. Have the morning letter sent straight to your inbox every Monday through Friday at 6:30 a.m.CET. Subscribe to
Andy Serwer is the editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.
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