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By Neil Daniels
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2014 Neil Daniels
All rights reserved.
GROWING UP IN TEXAS
'I am from Texas and love Texas.'
Matthew McConaughey, Daily Express, 2014
Matthew McConaughey and Texas are inextricably intertwined. Wherever McConaughey goes Texas is always in his heart. He's your typical Southern American charmer – he has the Texan drawl, the humble attitude, the pious zeal and the archaic sense of humour.
Texas is the largest of the Lower 48 contiguous states (only Alaska is bigger). As someone once said, 'The sun has riz, the sun has set, and here we is in Texas yet.' Texas is nearly three times the size of the United Kingdom, but with only 25 million inhabitants has well under half the population, which explains why most Texans prefer to celebrate the sprawling open spaces and the freedom they bring, particularly in film and music.
Texans have a reputation for being larger than life too, a notion Matthew McConaughey has done nothing to dispel throughout his illustrious career through all sorts of film roles and a healthy attitude towards travel and culture in his personal life. It is wrong to generalise, of course, but, down the years, Texas does seem to have produced more than its fair share of genuine characters, from Hondo Crouch, Mayor of Luckenbach (Population 3!), through to great storytellers such as novelist Larry McMurtry, comedian Bill Hicks, rock band ZZ Top, to say nothing of a raft of fellow thespians, including Larry 'JR' Hagman and Tommy Lee Jones, or even disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who is one of McConaughey's pals. Depending on which side of the political fence you sit, you can claim four presidents as Texan, or only two if you aren't a fan of former US presidents George Bush Senior and his equally controversial son George Bush Junior, neither of whom were actually born in the state. This is just the tip of the Texan iceberg, of course.
While the majority of Texans speak English as their first language, Spanish is spoken by about a third – after all, it borders Mexico and was once ruled by her – and the language is taught in schools. Remember the Alamo? Texans do! Matthew McConaughey has, of course, celebrated the Texan influences and culture in his films, from Dazed and Confused right up to Killer Joe and Dallas Buyers Club. Let's not mention Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, though.
In fact, six countries have had control of Texas at one time or another (Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, the Confederate States and the United States). Texas is the only US State with the right to secede from the union, and a minority of Texans want to do just that (though whether Washington would allow it, if push came to shove, is a moot point). It does, however, show an independent, free spirit. Matthew McConaughey is certainly a free spirit; often getting into one of his Airstreams or a car and driving off anywhere that takes his fancy, or even hopping on a plane and flying to somewhere faraway. Gun control laws are amongst the most relaxed in the country, and concealed handguns can be carried legally in many circumstances.
In addition to the Spanish influence, Texas was settled by, amongst others, many Czechs and Germans, who brought with them their own traditions including music, literature and film. Perhaps this explains McConaughey's love of travel, the arts and culture.
In fact, Texas has an astonishing musical heritage, where different cultural groups have melded their music into something unique. It has spawned many notable musicians, including, but certainly not limited to: T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Collins and Big Mama Thornton. More recent Texan blues players include Stevie Ray Vaughan and older brother Jimmie, Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, Edgar and Johnny Winter, ZZ Top, and many more. All these musicians are Texan born and bred. McConaughey loves music so much that he founded his own independent record label. Before it sounds like things are getting a little bit Texas-centric around here, it should be pointed out that Matthew McConaughey has been generous in his praise of Texan blues players and local musicians – Willie Nelson being a personal friend and one-time acting colleague in the movie Surfer, Dude.
Not to forget Texas had spawned some of McConaughey's acting peers, including Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Renée Zellweger and Jamie Foxx, and not forgetting such popular actors as Owen Wilson, Hilary Duff and the late Patrick Swayze.
To sum it up, Texas is a huge melting pot of creativity and achievements in the arts and entertainment from country to folk by the way of blues, rock and even metal and punk, and masterful westerns in literature and film as well as irreverent comedians and actors. There has been such a variety of talent to come out of Texas. However, if you want a modern day actor who personifies the true Texan spirit, look no further than Matthew McConaughey. In fact, McConaughey was ranked as the most popular male actor to come from Texas on IMDB (International Movie Data Base) recently.
How Texas has influenced him is perhaps a matter for debate, but that it has isn't up for grabs. Even when he moved to LA in the mid-1990s he took pieces of home with him.
Y'all have gotta understand that Matthew McConaughey is a Texan through and through.
* * *
Matthew McConaughey was the surprise baby, the one that was not planned. His parents were unable to conceive a second child and adopted a son, Pat, as a tenth birthday present for their eldest boy, Rooster (real name Michael). Matthew came along six years later as a total surprise. He was born Matthew David McConaughey on 4 November 1969 in Uvalde, Texas to Mary Kathleen (née McCabe) and James 'Big Jim' Donald McConaughey. Michael McConaughey is seventeen years older than Matthew, and Pat is seven years his senior.
Trenton, New Jersey-born Mary Kathleen, nicknamed 'K-Mac' but regularly called Kay for short, was a kindergarten teacher and later published author while her husband James, whom everyone called Pop or 'Big Jim', ran a Texaco station in Uvalde. In 1980, however, he upped sticks and moved the family to Longview, a couple hours east of Dallas, where he worked in the oil pipe business. Theirs was a tough love, but their love for their boys was immeasurable.
'She also taught me to look at life as if it were a rose in a vase, something beautiful. If I woke in a grumpy mood she'd come up and hit me on the side of the head,' McConaughey said of Kay to Garth Pearce of the Daily Express in 2014. 'She would say, "You can go back down that hallway and start over." I would have to go back to my room and begin the day again. My dad also had simple rules. He would say, "Don't lie and don't say 'I can't.'" We had tough love in our family.'
Pop was forty-one years old when Matthew was born. He loved sports and beer like any other lower middle class Texan male. 'He was a salesman and really pretty carny, man, in on a diamond mine in Ecuador and stuff that turned out to be bullshit. He'd take me on Saturdays to meet somebody, Chicago John, behind the strip mall who's got a dishwasher and stuff in the back of his truck,' Matthew told Texas Monthly's John Spong in 2008. '"But wait," he whispered. "There's a platinum watch wrapped up in a paper towel." Pop says to me, "Put it in the glove box, buddy." Five minutes down the road and he goes, "Check and make sure it's still there." And it's just him and me in the car. He loved that. He'd go, "Open up that paper. Goddam, that's a good-looking watch."'
Matthew and his mum often talk in interviews about Pop's hands. Pop knew how to rub Kay's temples to help her sleep if her headache tablets did not work. Pop also rubbed Matthew's head if his childhood ear infections kept him awake at night. Pop would also give foot rubs to beautiful women. He'd even rub the feet of his oldest boys' girlfriends if ever they came to the house for a date. There was nothing weird about it; Pop was just a nice fella.
Kay and Pop divorced twice and married three times, though, unbelievably, the boys didn't find out until 1992 when their father died of a heart attack. They had a wild and passionate relationship throughout their thirty-nine years together. Whenever Mrs McConaughey left the house her husband would tell the boys that she was on vacation. His older brothers understood what was happening, though. It wasn't confusing for the three lads. They didn't wonder where their mother was because in the summer they had their dad to look after them and keep them entertained when their mum was away. There were not questions about which parent loved the children more or which child loved which parent the most; the love was equal. Pop and Kay would remarry and Kay would return to the house as though nothing happened.
'[There was] a lot of love in our family,' Matthew told The Scotsman. 'That was the one thing. You'd get in trouble in our family and you'd hear, "I don't like you right now but I love you." It didn't matter, even if you were in trouble, you knew you were loved. And that was a big thing.'
Pop, who was originally from Louisiana, once played NFL football for the Green Bay Packers after playing college ball at the University of Houston and (for one year) at Kentucky for Bear Bryant. He was a strong man and often walked around the house with his shirt off, showing off his muscles and commenting that his strong manly arms put food on the table.
Matthew and his brothers had a Methodist upbringing and his ancestry includes English, Irish, Scottish, Swedish and German, and he is a relative of Brigadier General Dandridge McRae. 'My last name is originally Irish,' McConaughey said to Metro in 2006. 'I am not exactly sure whereabouts it's from but I've got family branches that were traced back there.'
Kay purposefully chose a Biblical first name. 'When I was in kindergarten a boy came up and said: "Hey Matt let's go play." My mom overheard him and told me never to answer to Matt again in my life. And I never have,' Matthew said in an interview with Cinema.com, 'because Mom wouldn't like it.'
It was a loving family but hardly conventional. Mrs McConaughey had a family rule – if it's daylight, go outside. It was a no-nonsense, time-wasting sort of family. 'It was a do it, do it lifestyle,' Matthew told The Daily Telegraph's Tom Shone. 'A great family of bullshitters. Oh yeah, great stories that still get rehashed every Christmas when we get together and someone puts a new tweak on 'em, just to make 'em interesting and goad the others. It's entertainment. That's how we entertained ourselves and how we still entertain ourselves.'
There was a lot of respect in the McConaughey household; respect for each other and for elders. Matthew and his siblings also grew up with a can-do attitude. Their parents taught them that there was no such word as 'can't'. On the contrary, they were taught that they could do anything in life, which would be important for Matthew down the road. They were taught about basic pleasantries such as 'please' and 'thank you', and 'pardon' and 'excuse me'. The boys were taught to address their elders as either Sir or Miss and were also taught how to be polite to people in general. 'You could maybe get away with saying a cuss word,' Matthew told IndieLondon, 'but the day I came home after hearing the word "hate" at school, and told my brother: "I hate you!" Well, time stopped. My Mom said: "You said WHAT!?" That was a good butt-whupping [for me].'
They had dinner together every night and told stories. Entertainment wasn't the usual trashy TV and hip chart music; it just wasn't something that was embedded in their lower middle class family roots. 'We weren't allowed to watch much TV,' Matthew said to Texas Monthly's Jason Cohen in 1996. 'The rule was, if there was daylight, you were outside, building tree houses, frog gigging, riding bike trails, stuff like that. At night, okay, an hour of TV, then let's play a board game.'
Kay often reminded the McConaugheys of the stark realities of life and that they should be thankful for what they have. There are always kids worse off than they are. 'When we were raised, [when] we got out of bed in the morning, we'd come out for breakfast in the morning and be in a crappy mood,' McConaughey recalled to Josh Elliott of ABC News. 'She'd just grab us and run us back to the bed and throw us back in and say, "Don't you come back to my breakfast table where I cooked you breakfast and see the dust on the table instead of the rose in the vase, buddy."'
The McConaugheys moved to Longview from Uvalde where Matthew attended Longview High School. Something of a high school stud, he was voted most handsome in the Longview Lobo Yearbook. However, the accolade cost him a small fortune. Well, more like $35,000 as he told popular late night US talk show host Jimmy Fallon. 'Winning this award cost my family some money, though,' Matthew said. 'Cut back three years before I got this award for "Most Handsome", I'm a teenager, I'm fifteen years old. Oily skin, you got a few pimples and stuff. Well, my mom is peddling this stuff, the oil of mink.'
He got full blown acne by putting mink oil on his face. It was a dumb move because using oil on a teenager's oily face is counterproductive to pulling out impurities such as spots, zits and acne. He saw a dermatologist who informed him that it was a daft idea to use an oil-based product. 'I mean you are emotionally pounded,' Matthew explained to Terry Gross of the NPR show Fresh Air, 'and psychologically this really had to hurt, and everyone started feeling all of these, you know, ideas. But, yeah, I was emotionally done. Yeah, my confidence was lower. Well, there's a lawsuit filed.'
As a consequence, Pop decided to file a $35,000 lawsuit for the pain and emotional distress his youngest son suffered while using mink oil at the recommendation of Kay's boss. As lawsuits take so long to file, by the time it reached the courts Matthew had already won the 'Most Handsome' accolade and the company Pop had sued showed the photo to the judge and it was thrown out of court.
Matthew, speaking to Terry Gross, said, 'I get called in for a deposition by the defence. And he sits me down and he goes through all this, you know, emotionally this must've been so tough for you. And look at these pictures of the acne you had. Oh my God. I mean your face is almost bleeding. You look like a monster. This is so bad. Man, it must've really been tough on you. And I'm like, yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. And he goes through this for about forty-five minutes. And I'm thinking this is great. Man, this is the defence talking to me and he's saying all the problems that I had. And then he stops and he reaches down under the table and he pulls up this yearbook and he opens up this page, turns around to me and slides over and he goes, what's this picture here, this award you won? I looked down at it and it says "Most Handsome".'
Matthew knew as soon as the accolade was highlighted that they'd lost the lawsuit. Still, his folks and his brothers saw the funny side because for years they joked with him that he lost them a $35,000 lawsuit because he was a handsome teenager. They could have been richer if he was ugly!
His first kiss was at a school dance, in similar circumstances to the dance sequence in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. He was on a high for weeks afterwards because he pulled it off without embarrassment. The kiss happened just before 'Careless Whisper' by eighties pop heartthrobs Wham! was played.
Matthew couldn't afford to buy a lot of cologne and he made sure the two bottles he bought lasted for two years each. 'My friends would ask if they could have some and they were allowed to have one mist,' he recalled to People magazine. 'I would spray it once on them directly or spray it and they could run into it.'
Matthew was a kid who liked to have fun just like any other teenager in the neighbourhood. 'I have seventy-eight stitches on my head where my nephew ran over me with a jet ski and cut me open pretty well when I was fourteen,' he admitted to Phase9 TV as an adult. 'I have another scar on top of my foot from a dog fight when I was a kid.'
His first job was raking seventy-seven sand traps on a golf course before eight in the morning. He enjoyed playing golf and would continue to play a good round well into adulthood. When he was a young kid, though, he wanted to play for the Washington Redskins. He loved American football.
Matthew was very good at getting away with stuff but he got caught a couple of times. His parents were not fond of lies so the last thing their boys could get away with was telling fibs. If they got caught lying, they would get in more trouble for lying than the deed they were lying about. It was the only time the McConaughey boys got in serious trouble. 'When [Pop] walked down the hallway you would hear his bones cracking,' Matthew told Phase9 TV. 'He said if we wanted to play football – he had been a line backer – we could, but that we should remember that we could hear his legs and back. His big things were respect for elders and for women. It is something that has been ingrained in me. He said if you don't lie, you don't leave crumbs.'
Excerpted from Matthew McConaughey by Neil Daniels. Copyright © 2014 Neil Daniels. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE – GROWING UP IN TEXAS,
CHAPTER TWO – BECOMING AN ACTOR,
CHAPTER THREE – BIG BREAK IN A TIME TO KILL,
CHAPTER FOUR – FAME AND FORTUNE,
CHAPTER FIVE – HOLLYWOOD'S LEADING MAN,
CHAPTER SIX – JUST KEEP LIVIN',
CHAPTER SEVEN – NO MORE ROM-COMS,
CHAPTER EIGHT – FAMILY AND PHILANTHROPY,
CHAPTER NINE – OSCAR WINNER,
CHAPTER TEN – THE MCCONAISSANCE,
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,