Considering his propensity for being shirtless, it’s fitting that Matthew McConaughey plays Dallas, owner and father figure of an all-male strip club, in Stephen Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, which is in theaters June 29. Also starring in July’s NC-17 thriller Killer Joe and currently appearing in the dark indie comedy Bernie, which reunites the 42-year-old actor with Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater, McConaughey reveals the effort behind his exhibitionism.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: What was your inspiration for Dallas in Magic Mike?
Matthew McConaughey: When Soderbergh first called and pitched me the part, I just laughed and said yes. On the phone, I asked, “Do you have any initial direction for me to go on?” He took a deep breath and said, “Well, you really can’t go wrong.” So I just took off and flew with this guy. I was going for Jim Morrison meets A Clockwork Orange, because he’s like a deity in his own mind.
Although he mainly acts as the club’s emcee, Dallas also has a big striptease that leaves little to the imagination.
Oh, it leaves something to the imagination. It wasn’t in the script, but Soderbergh said in the beginning that if it felt right, I could strip at the end of the movie. I said, “I gotta dance, man.” I would regret it for the rest of my life if I was in a male stripper movie and didn’t get up there and strip myself.
Aside from Channing Tatum, whose real-life stripper past inspired the film, I’d imagine that you were the most comfortable with stripping.
At first it was scary as hell, but then it became like a drug, and I couldn’t wait to do it again. Look, I love to dance, but I’ve never been a stripper. Channing’s one of the best hip-hop street dancers I’ve ever seen, and I didn’t want to challenge his style, so I worked on my own strengths. I also knew that my dance had to be the dirtiest. It had to be wonderfully filthy.
Did your striptease require a lot of rehearsal?
I found the song I wanted, we got it cleared very early, and I started working on the choreography from the very beginning. I was working two, three nights a week to get that down. It was a ball.
Nice thong, by the way.
It’s a great thong. We took a lot of time designing it because the thong’s your armor, man. It’s your sword. Well, I guess it’s really the sheath for the sword.
Did you consider using a stripper stand-in?
No way. That’s all me up there. I don’t need a stunt ass.
Who’s the hottest Magic Mike stripper?
Dallas, of course. [Laughs] Everybody was pretty damn ripped already, but boy, if you really want to get men in great shape, just tell them they’re going to play male strippers in a movie and have their shit onscreen for the rest of time. Vanity, baby.
Because of how comfortable you are with your body, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that you were once a stripper. When times got tough at the beginning of your career, did you ever consider stripping to make extra dough?
[Laughs] No, I never thought about it. I was down in Florida with my mother and a couple buddies when I was 15, and when my mom went to the Chippendales show, it never crossed my mind that maybe that was my route.
Your physique has played a major part in your career. Do you look forward to aging gracefully into traditional “dad” roles that let you gain weight and keep your cardigans buttoned?
That ain’t nowhere near. If and when that day gets here, great, but right now I feel as young as I’ve ever felt in body, mind, and spirit.
Are you aware of how enthusiastic the gay community is about Magic Mike?
Well, I would hope and reckon so. They should be pumped, and they should come out in droves, because they won’t be let down. I think they’ll come out more excited then they came in. I look forward to hearing the chatter of the gay community after they see it, including their answer to your question of who’s the hottest.
At what point did you become aware of your gay audience?
I know exactly when. It was about 1995, I go into a coffee shop on Santa Monica Boulevard, and the guy behind the counter has a picture of me from Boys on the Side taped to the tip jar. Is that not classic? I gave that guy a big tip.
What does that support mean to you?
It’s much appreciated. You know, I have some good friends of my own who happen to be gay, and when it comes to gay, straight, or whatever, I’m for anything life-affirmative. I’m for gay power, straight power, male power, female power; everybody should feel empowered without oppressing anyone who’s different. You know those World Cup banners about tolerance? I always thought that was one short. No, don’t just tolerate me. Understand and accept me.
Your fiancé, Camila Alves, said in an interview that you went to an Austin lesbian bar and even the lesbians were fawning over you.
Yeah. We had a ball that night. We’ve done that a couple times, actually, and raised the roof with those ladies.
What was your first exposure to gay people?
In high school I was a jock, popular, good-looking, in student council, had a girlfriend — I was that guy. But I also had a friend who was a gay gothic chick, so she was outcast because she was gay and because she was goth with the tattoos and the piercings. But she was also really fuckin’ cool and smart. I would always invite her out with my group, but it was hard for her to come on her own, so mostly we would hang out separately. So I crossed the tracks back and forth with her. There was also a guy that was gay, and he was a loner, and I remember taking up for him when some guys were picking on him.
That’s refreshing, because it sounds like you were a stereotype of someone that outcasts have to watch out for in high school.
Right? I’m not even sure where I got the instinct from, but I’ve always taken up for the underdog. I suppose I learned that from my brothers, because my brothers always had that instinct too, and we’re all very hetero. I also had an experience in college [University of Texas at Austin] when I befriended a kid who was from India. He was a bit of an outcast, but we were in a film class together. One night, after he’d had a few drinks, he made a half-pass at me. I went like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” and he freaked out. I think he thought I was going to be violent or something. I stopped him and said, “Hang on, I’m not gay, but I like you as a friend. I’m sorry if you misread my friendship, but I still want to be your friend.” He was crying, and I remember giving him a hug and saying, “Dude, it’s fine. Whatever raises your skirt, man.” He asked me not to tell anybody, and I said, “You got it.” I didn’t tell anybody, and we remained friends.
How have your views on gay people evolved since school?
Growing up, I really believed that homosexuality was environmental and cultural. Getting older and being in the film business, where there are probably more gays per capita, but also in meeting openly gay men and women in smaller towns across the south, I much more believe how much DNA has to do with it. I’ve had some great conversations with a lot of gay people about being gay, when they knew, how they came out, and how they live. I’ve also talked to some gay people who aren’t yet comfortable coming out, and boy, that’s got to be more than a daily fuckin’ headache. What a weight to carry on your shoulders. It’s all very interesting to me on a human level, because we’re all in this together.
You established the j.k. livin foundation, which promotes the physical and mental wellness of young people. As a role model who works closely with teens, what’s your response to the epidemic of antigay bullying?
Well, let me tell you the experience I had the other day that inspired something I’m about to launch in my after-school program. I went to one of our programs where the kids were playing flag football. About 70% of the kids were big physical specimens, like athletes. The other 30% were either little or heavyset or goth or whatever, but they were all playing on the same team. I thought, OK, we may be onto something here. The outcasts playing with the in-kids — how’s that working? There was a short black kid with a big afro who’d been bullied at his school for months. One day that bully came by the after-school program and starting fucking with the kid on the sidelines while he was playing football, but the linebacker got the bully in a headlock and said, “If you ever mess with him again, we’ll beat your ass.” That bully’s gone now, and the kid has carte blanche. So I want to go to high school athletic departments to offer this after-school athletics program, but the deal is that each athlete has to recruit somebody who’s not on the team — the nerd, the gay kid, the fat girl, the kid with the harelip — to join the curriculum. I’m really excited about this idea, because it could be a positive way to deal with bullying and promote diversity.
You’re the father of two young children. How would you react if one of them grew up and came out to you as gay?
That’s got to be really hard for a child, even if they think the parents’ reaction is going to be great. I’d sit down, talk to them, and ask them to walk me through how they knew, because I’d want to be open about it. There’s nothing in me that can understand disowning your child because they’re gay. You deal with it, you support them, and you also help prepare them for how some people in the world will treat and think of them. I don’t think you can sugarcoat it, because they will run into some adversity and roadblocks.
You can currently be seen as district attorney Danny Buck Davidson in Bernie, which is based on the true story of Bernie Tiede, a Texas funeral director who murdered an elderly widow. Although Bernie’s sexuality is never confirmed, the film touches on speculation that Bernie seemed “light in the loafers.”
Yeah, and he “wore the belt line of his shorts just above the navel” — I added that line in. I never got to meet or talk to the real Bernie, so I don’t know whether or not he really is gay, but I think he is, and my character definitely thought so. My character was trying to stir that up with insinuation, because as with small towns anywhere, people will be spooked by anyone who’s different than the norm.
Your character also suspiciously notes that Bernie “had a subscription to Men’s Fitness magazine.” That line is especially funny considering you’ve graced the cover of Men’s Fitness.
[Laughs] Yes, but as the rest of the line goes, “Now if you’ve ever seen Bernie, you know darn well it wasn’t for the workout tips.”
Speaking of gay speculation, you’ve laughed off rumors regarding you and close friend Lance Armstrong.
Well, I’m really secure in my skin. I’m heterosexual, and I’m just fine with that. Those rumors have to make the rounds, and I know that I was fun target for them.
You’ve never played a gay role. Is it on your bucket list?
It’s not on the “no way” list, but it’s not on the bucket list either. Just tune in to all my films that are coming out in the next year or so, and you might get a little surprise. That’s all I’ll say.
The Advocate, June/July 2012; extended online version.