Due to his recent Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for his performance as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club, we’re republishing our interview with Matthew McConaughey so that our readers can understand exactly what he put into the role.
Matthew McConaughey is almost unrecognizable as the rough-and-tumble cowboy/electrician with AIDS known as Ron Woodroof.
Based on a true story, McConauaghey leads us through Ron’s freewheeling lifestyle. From bull riding to anonymous sex with multiple partners, the real-life Ron Woodroof lived life on the hard edge, and since McConaughey bleeds so effortlessly into the character, we can feel the real Ron Woodroof fall hard when he is diagnosed with AIDS and told that he should have died days earlier.
Hypable got the chance to talk to McConaughey about the character that he built from diaries and tapes, as well as what it felt like to inhabit the skin of a man who was dying of AIDS in an era and area where to even have AIDS signified that you were somehow less than human.
“The guy had such an identity,” said McConaughey. “He was fightin’ for – I mean, what’s the highest common denominator you can fight for? Your life. So you have a bull-riding electrician with a seventh grade education who becomes a scientist, basically.”
Indeed, the real Woodroof tore through any literature about AIDS and possible treatments that he could get his hands on. “He becomes an expert on his own disease, and how to maintain and continue his own life, which turns out to continue it for others,” said McConaughey.
The name of the movie refers to the business that the real Woodroof began to help people with AIDS find an alternative treatment to what they were getting in hospitals. “At the inception of the time when this disease came on, nobody knew what to do, the doctors didn’t know what to do,” said McConaughey.
In fact, a large part of the movie deals with the fact that the first few test runs of AZT, the most popular AIDS fighting prescription at the time, were actually served in toxic amounts that were killing patients daily. Ron responded by taking to international territory to experiment with potential treatments that had not yet been approved by the FDA.
As McConaughey’s character says in the film, “They aren’t illegal, merely unapproved.”
Woodroof’s dealings with the FDA eventually become a looming factor over the course of the film, but mostly due to his unlicensed pharmaceutical operation. McConaughey, equipped with the writings of Woodroof’s mind, knows the motivation that fueled Woodroof to do take up arms against such a powerful force.
“He was all the things I think that we portrayed him to be,” said McConaughey. “He was that bastard, he was selfish. He wanted to make money. He wasn’t running around trying to crusade for the cause, he wanted to be Scarface, man.”
Although Woodroof’s intense desire for money may have fueled his passion, he never lost sight of the fact that helping people was a necessary and important byproduct of his success. “He didn’t really have a purpose before he got HIV, which was the sad truth,” admitted McConaughey. “And he found something to fight for.”
This is a point that is never forgotten through Dallas Buyers Club: the fact that Woodroof is maintaining a business that derives from his own sense of self preservation, but that others who want their treatments must pay his fee to get it.
It may seem cruel at times, but the film rarely detracts from the fact that Woodroof at his heart was a very persuasive and charismatic salesman and not necessarily a saint.
“Jean Marc and I talked about it a lot through the movie,” said McConaughey. “Jean would go ‘are we going too far?’ and I’d say ‘No, we have to trust it.’ There comes a point where you just say ‘that’s just who [he is], man.'”
McConoughey allowed his instincts to lead his performance, but he had plenty of confidence due to the fact that his family were very open to telling him about the real Ron Woodroof.
“His family gave me his diary,” said McConaughey. “That was incredibly informative because that let me know who the guy was before he got HIV and it let me know who the guy was when he was sitting with himself and not selling something. Lonely Saturday nights when he was doodling, getting high, trying to figure out life.”
Like Dallas Buyers Club itself, Woodroof’s family didn’t gloss over the rougher aspects of the type of person that Ron was. “They were very honest,” said McConaughey. “They were never trying to sugar coat who this guy was. It never came out of their mouth ‘oh, he was such a nice guy,’ they were like ‘No, he was a son of a bitch.'”