Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, photo by Lauren Rothman/DefyAuthority.NET
“Welcome to the Dallas Buyers Club!”
There was a time in the mid-2000′s where it seemed Matthew McConaughey’s face was superimposed on every single romantic comedy poster. Who knew that in 2014 Matthew McConaughey would be deftly executing the same domination maneuver by delivering some of the year’s most exquisite dramatic film and television performances? The joke’s on us; Matthew McConaughey’s versatility resulted in a fruitful 2013 Awards Season, which included winning an Academy Award for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” as electrician-turned-activist Ron Woodroof.
Losing 30 pounds to play a man living with HIV, McConaughey compensates for his gaunt cheekbones with a big-balled gait and a gift for manipulation as he navigates the bureaucracy of the medical system with his partner, Rayon, a Marc Bolan-obsessed, transgender entrepreneur played by Jared Leto.
“Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill fuckin’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days.”
McConaughey is garnering a symphony of accolades for his portrayal of Rustin Cohle on HBO’s “True Detective” – the show’s finale crashed HBOGo, HBO’s online subscriber service, rendering every form of social media some department or another of 1-800-FUCK-HBO until service resumed for absolutely everybody.
“Hi, I’m Rayon…”
There was also a time in the mid-2000′s where it seemed like Jared Leto
was solely concentrating on his music career with his band, Thirty Seconds To Mars
. When the group achieved global mainstream success, Leto’s name and face disappeared from every single film poster in existence. Four studio albums later, Leto kept creative by designing cover art, directing music videos, and most recently making his feature film debut as a director with “Artifact”, a documentary about the modern music business depicting the toothsome, protracted legal battle between Thirty Seconds To Mars and their record label EMI during the process of recording the album “This Is War”.
Taking the role of Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club” meant living as Rayon for the duration of production in Leto’s mind, never even breaking character to go to lunch, “I didn’t eat anyway,” claims Leto. As Rayon, he’s so thin and angular he’s a Picasso roadmap of lesions draped in glam-rock-spiked fashions and retro femme-chic glamour straight out of the Holy Church of Patricia Field, his nails a melange of lengths and colors, and the wigs would make Hedwig (with the film’s paltry $250 hair & makeup budget that won an Academy Award for Best Hair & Makeup) weep.
Leto’s dedication to Rayon resulted in a slew of fascinating award acceptance speeches, culminating in an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. “He was Rayon for the entire shoot,” deadpans co-star, Jennifer Garner. “I didn’t meet Jared Leto until after we’d wrapped.”
“Aloe vera! It’s a plant! What do you give a shit if people eat plants?”
Ron Woodroof told writer Craig Borten his personal story over three days in the early 90′s. After testing positive for HIV in 1986, Woodroof strived to understand the fear, hate, and ignorance of living with HIV. Woodroof’s fervent research into alternative treatments led him to word of what New York’s buyers clubs were up to and Woodroof soon began treating himself and others. Exclaims McConaughey, “The doctors weren’t the bad guys. Nobody knew what they ought to do, at that time those were brand new frontiers. So you’ve got Ron Woodroof with a 7th grade education who goes and becomes a damn scientist and an expert on this disease, because everyone else was in the same boat! I was a senior in ’88 and each time I asked, I got a different answer about HIV.”
Borten later wrote the screenplay about his time with Woodroof, a script that was rejected 137 times during a 10 year tangle with development hell before production actually began. Stars kept coming and going, financial issues plagued the picture. “I don’t know, but I would bet that 100 out of those 137…or more than a 100 rejections – didn’t even read the script, they got the one liner,” sneers McConaughey.
“Period piece. AIDS drama. Unsympathetic protagonist. Three things that say, ‘that’s not putting any change in my pocket.’ That’s just practicality in business. ‘How am I going to sell that? That sounds like a fucking downer!’ I’m sure it got passed on many times because of that alone. Well, you know, they made a mistake, and the movie’s actually become a box office success too,” McConaughey crows with pride.
The anarchy and originality of the material that appealed to McConaughey in the first place seemed to be a condition of the production’s 25 days of filming without a lighting crew or grip department. The bad breaks that kept the film in development hell seemed to continually haunt the production when finances dropped out five weeks before filming was slated to begin, sending everyone associated with the film’s financial aspects scrambling. Woodroof himself probably would have said, “shit or get off the pot”; capital restored, the cast and crew convened in Louisiana to film.
After wrapping principal photography, McConaughey was once again in prime physical condition, filming “True Detective” in New Orleans when “Dallas Buyers Club” director Jean-Marc Vallée suggested they film some flashback shots of McConaughey as a heavier Woodroof riding bulls and indulging in the lifestyle of debauchery that Woodroof excelled at pre-HIV. “It was just kinda funny”, McConaughey laughs so hard over this recollection that he stumbles over his words, “people are coming out of this motel and it’s me, and I’m in the air. I’m out there, doing these moves [because it's a sex scene] and all these people who actually paid for motel rooms have gotta be wondering what’s going on. It was a nice effect. We didn’t really have anything to show you [with him] as the size and way he was before he got sick, so we had a glass of wine and shot it in that New Orleans parking lot in 3 hours.”
“Watch out what you eat and who you eat!”
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a testament to the power of persistence. For being turned down 137 times, this period piece centering around the emergence of HIV in 1986 starring an unlikeable protagonist and his eyeliner-dripping cohort bested enormous performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern, and Chiwetel Ejiofor at the Academy Awards. Nostalgia is a dangerous place to dwell but sometimes we visit the past and palpate it, measuring our progress and allowing for conversations concerning identity, HIV, sexuality, and healthcare without giving off the aura of an after-school special, which this film isn’t.
“It wasn’t a message movie. We kept all the heart and drama in this story. We did it with humor. The script was funny without losing the humanity and sincerity; a lot of credit for that goes to our director, Jean-Marc Vallée. It could have been all violin strings and hardcore drama and he didn’t do that,” McConaughey says with conviction. “My hope was, keep Woodroof a sonofabitch – the humanity’s gonna come out. My hope was, keep him the self-serving businessman – the crusader’s gonna reveal himself.”