A Conversation with Matthew McConaughey, Actor, Producer & Author

A Conversation with Matthew McConaughey, Actor, Producer & Author

Matthew McConaughey is an Academy Award®-winning actor and producer who has played starring roles in some of the most seminal, and commercially successful films in recent history including A Time to Kill (1996), U-571 (2000), the Wedding Planner (2001), Failure to Launch (2006), Magic Mike (2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), Interstellar (2014), The Dark Tower (2017) and The Gentlemen (2019).

In 2009, Matthew and his wife, Camila, founded the just keep livin Foundation, which helps at-risk high school students make healthier mind, body, and spirit choices. In 2019, McConaughey became a professor of practice at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as Minister of Culture/M.O.C. for the University of Texas and the City of Austin. McConaughey is also brand ambassador for Lincoln Motor Company, an owner of the Major League Soccer club Austin FC, and co-creator of his favourite bourbon on the planet, Wild Turkey Longbranch.

McConaughey has led a charmed and full life. His recent memoir Greenlights takes the reader along with him as he tries to work out this riddle called life but unlike most, he fills it with practical advice and lessons from his life to ours. As Matthew wrote his memoir, the process revealed a theme- an approach- to living that gave him satisfaction at the time, and still today. He calls this process, ‘catching greenlights’ and in this exclusive interview, I spoke to Matthew McConaughey about how we can apply the lessons from his life, to our own. As he says himself, “…hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears. 

Q: Why are we here? 

[Matthew McConaughey]: I started keeping journals when I was 14 and reading back through them, I found I was asking the same questions about life at 14, as I am today at 51. My answers have evolved, but I’m still interested in those big questions; the why’s, the where’s, the when’s and the how’s… who are we in this world? What matters? What doesn’t matter? What’s our relationship with the world, the future, the past? How can we be more present? What’s our relationship with other people? With our careers? With ourselves?

To me, it’s so exciting to think about these questions. It’s fun! Sometimes you have a breakthrough… an understanding… a perspective that you feel makes you turn a page and evolve as a person. I sometimes think it’s a little selfish, because asking the right questions means you get more of what you want out of life. You worry less about the things that worried you and start to see what really matters. You start to eliminate things that don’t feed you… you stop losing things over those tabs that you’ve opened in your life that don’t matter… you start to see things in your life that are non-negotiable.

We see our world in shades of grey and full of compromise, but it’s important to know what we believe and do not believe… what is black and white for us… what works and what doesn’t work for us… it gives clarity, power, identity, discernment and judgement. The greatest adventure that any of us can take is answering these questions for ourselves.

This isn’t deep, dark, conversation, it’s normal conversation. The wisest, coolest prophets out there… people like the Dalai Lama… they’re full of joy.

Sometimes life is an action movie, sometimes it’s a rom com, sometimes it’s a horror… but it’s the one life we’re living and we all need to spend a little more time investigating ourselves and who we are in this world so that we can determine what the world means to us. What better adventure to go on than understanding ourselves?

Q:  How do you know the right paths to follow in your life, the green lights? 

[Matthew McConaughey]: It’s only when you look back that you can connect the dots to where we are right now. All of us go through things that make us think, ‘this makes no sense, why is this happening to me!…’ but when you look back you realise that had it not been for ‘that,’ you wouldn’t have had that opportunity… that meeting… that chance… that love. 

Looking back, I learned that it was those red and yellow lights that revealed those solar-powered green lights. Not everything in life is a solar-powered green light- there are battery powered ones that could fade-off. They are a fad… don’t invest in them… don’t drink the Kool-Aid. They may give you some immediate gratification but you’re gonna’ wake up with hangover.

You find those things… the reds and yellows… through introspective questions, analysis and deconstruction and when you give out that sense of wanting to find the greenlights, you approach life a different way and life reverberates back at you. It’s like, ‘oh, now I’m communicating… now I’m the dance… now I’m on frequency… now I’m in tune with the world… now my head and my heart have an autobahn between them and not a rocky dirt road… now I’m in the flow…’ that’s an awesome place to reach, it’s fleeting, but once you feel it- even for a moment- you start to wonder who you were when you looked at the world and understood it like that, and when you hit another rut or when you’re off frequency and feeling lost and lonely, you can access that place.

It feels so good to have it, when you don’t have it you want to fight and work to get back to it.  There’s the journey, right there.

Q: How do you find purpose in pain and sorrow?

[Matthew McConaughey]: When faced with the inevitable, get relative.

Maybe it’s because my mother and father pushed resilience on us from an early age, but my threshold for crises has always been quite high… I find myself being able to get into that, ‘OK, here we go…’ mindset sooner than most people. I’ll look at a situation and all of a sudden go, ‘right, we don’t’ really have a choice here, we’re in a pickle, let’s have a giggle and find out what we’re going to do…’ instead of going, ‘oh no! oh no!’ and receding. I’ve always embraced it.

Having the long view of life allows you to assess crises, situations and hardships more quickly. That view means you realise that whatever you’re going through will yield something valuable even if you can’t see it in the moment. Whatever you do, you have to do it with pleasure, right? I have people in my industry who say, ‘I hate doing talk shows, I can’t do them!’ and I always say, ‘do you really?’ and if they say ‘yes!’ I go ‘well leave! Don’t do them’ – here’s the thing… in most cases, they have to do them… and so if it’s inevitable, why hate it? find a way to enjoy it – guess what, if you adopt that mindset, you’ll be more constructive getting through the problem and will have a better time doing it.

Q: What does it mean to live with satisfaction?

[Matthew McConaughey]: What’s beautiful is when you’re filling your bank account and your soul account. There are two accounts! Look, I like money, I like fame… I happen to be rich and famous… I don’t apologise for those things, nor do I boohoo them or approach my appreciation for them with false modesty. At the same time, it will keep me up at night if I do something deliberately that goes against my character, that I know I will regret or that I know isn’t teeing me up for more greenlights in the future.

We’re such a ‘more is better’ culture and we have to redefine what we value, what creates satisfaction, and the ‘currency’ of our lives. In America, what are we told are the two most important things we need in life? Money and fame, baby! That’s fine, but you can’t chase those goals at the expense of your own character, that makes you a paper tiger, a fool.

People sometimes reach their goals by playing a part that’s so outside themselves that it becomes exhausting having to come back to real life when they’re in private and have to live with themselves, it becomes exhausting. That constant re-entry back into who we are if we’re acting like someone, we’re not is laborious and exhausting to do over and over. 

Q:  Has the craft of acting allowed you to see life differently? 

[Matthew McConaughey]: I’m a big fan of speaking in the third person, it’s a form of awareness. In todays’ world of social media, we’re living in that third person more than ever. We have a world where you are the star on this giant screen with the camera on you. It’s fine for me to look at that jumbotron and ask, ‘What’s good for Matthew McConaughey?’ – because it allows me to pop out of myself and look back down as the external viewer on my life rather than being the actor of it.

In the present situation, I am in the process of being me and so I’m worried about how I want to deal with things… how things look… how things feel… how things are going to be received… In the present situation I can go down the rabbit hole instead of going just do it, be it, trust it. You need to let the results show up… let the results tap you on the shoulder and go hey! You won! Before you even know the race is over. Let the results hand you the trophy!

I’m all for getting to the objective and third person, it gives perspective and awareness. It helps us close the gap between what we intend to do and what we’re actually doing. However…. We need to watch ourselves and make sure we don’t overdo the objective at the expense of the subjective… it’s about finding the right balance.

Q:  What do you hope your legacy will be?

[Matthew McConaughey]: I’m all for writing a headline and then trying to live the story toward the headline, but I’m equally for making and executing a plan to lead my life towards the headline. When I look back in life though, some of my greatest rewards have been when I jumped off the cliff and figured out how to fly on the way down.

I have ideas objectively about how I want to be introduced when I’m gone, what my eulogy will be, who my kids are as the direct lineage of my own immortality. What is set in stone for me is what I want for my children. I want them to go into the world as autonomous, conscientious and confident people who get to find what they have an innate ability to do, that they love doing and can work for. If they can do that, it would make me beyond happy. Right now, I’m a parent- I can’t be their ‘friend’ but I see a future where my children will be my three best friends. Today, it would be irresponsible. I am their friend in some ways, but primarily I’m a parent. Later on, when they’re out of the house and on their way as adults- that’s when things can change.

I also don’t know how to half-ass something. When I’m gone, I can see someone saying that about me, ‘well… he didn’t half-ass things!’ I have to watch what I get involved with in life because there’s only 24 hours in a day. I have some things in my life that are non-negotiable with my time such as being with family. I have to watch it… It’s so easy to tiptoe into something where I have to tell the person I’m getting engaged with, ‘look, if I go down the next steps with this… I’m going to be all in… and that means I’m going to give you hours of my day, and my day is already pretty full…’ I have to be pretty discerning of the choices I make with my time and need to look at what those legacy choices are- what are the things I can do that will outlive me. That’s what Camila and I talk about, that’s why we set up our foundation, so we can give the kids something that they don’t just keep alive, but can thrive with and maybe hand down to their kids.

I’m interested in who I am, who I’m going to be, and what my character is in this big movie called life where action was called once when we were born and cut will be called one time when we die. We only have one take, there’s no audition, and it’s live baby!

The movie of life is now, you don’t have to go to the theatre for it, the hands of time are recording it and God is the director.  So, let’s go.

When I’m gone, I want to be remembered as someone who didn’t half-ass it, someone who revered fatherhood, and someone who felt at home in the world.

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.