Some people see their glasses as half empty, while others see them as half full. Matthew McConaughey falls into the latter category—though, at the moment, his glass is completely full…of watered down white wine.
“It’s going to be a long night!” the Academy Award winner laughs in explanation. Though you’d (wrongly) assume that beer is his thing, the 45-year-old actor is a self-proclaimed oenophile—albeit one who knows his limits, especially when he’s about to host a two-day charity extravaganza in Austin, Texas with a seemingly nonstop string of events and personal commitments.
McConaughey is mere hours away from co-hosting his third consecutive year of Mack, Jack & McConaughey (MJ&M), his joint fundraising effort with recording artist Jack Ingram, Texas coaching legend Mack Brown, and wife Camila Alves that benefits select nonprofit, kid-empowering organizations. He’ll be present and accounted for at a gala, a golf tournament, a concert, and a pop-up clothing shop. Then again, this is a guy who will do just about anything for a cause if he believes in it.
“I’ve got a lot—I’ve been given a lot with the help of the people around me—and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of what I’ve been given,” McConaughey muses from a private room atop ACL Live at the Moody Theater, where the first leg of his charity weekend will take place.
He continues, “When I [became] successful and found what I wanted to do and was happy with that, I noticed that I had a whole lot more than a lot of people do. I was looking for a way to give back on a level like I do now, and saw there were millions of charities and millions of needs. I knew that I wanted to find something that was incentive-based; that I could prevent what I wanted to cure. I thought, ‘Kindergarten? No—I need something a bit older.’ Then I thought, ‘High school kids—those are your last years of childhood.’ You don’t get demerits after that. If you screw up at 18, you might go straight to jail. I thought, ‘Let’s get them at the crossroads.’ Then, ‘Which high school kids? Higher-end schools? Nah.’ We decided on lower-end schools in inner cities, where we thought young men and women needed it the most.”
He and Alves (who refers to her husband as a man with “the most beautiful heart” and “one of the best men I’ve ever met”) founded the just keep livin Foundation in 2008, though the idea was officially born while he was filming Richard Linklater’s iconic ‘70s era high school film Dazed & Confused in 1993. While struggling with the passing of his father, James, he began to approach life with a philosophy he called “just keep livin”—a saying and mantra that would become the basis for his charity work, born of the idea that part of living is giving back, and that by creating things that you love with the people that you care about the most, beautiful things will blossom.
Case in point: Mack, Jack & McConaughey—a weekend filled with a few of the actor’s favorite things: friends, fun and philanthropy. “We have great music, we have golf, and the wife heads up a fashion show,” he says of the event. “It makes sense. It’s a lot of good people in a good city.”
For the first year ever, the symbiotic event hits even closer to home by including the Lincoln Motor Company, a brand with which McConaughey has a close and ongoing partnership. In fact, during the MJ&M weekend, Lincoln announced that it had chosen just keep livin as the first national charity to benefit from its Driven to Give program; $20 for each test drive taken from a participating dealer in the new 2016 Lincoln MKX midsize crossover will go to the actor’s foundation.
“A key reason why I chose to collaborate with Lincoln is because it is a brand that works hard to make a difference,” he says. In turn, McConaughey has returned the favor by making a difference for the company. Ads featuring the actor driving through the rain, gazing off pensively into the distance and uttering prolific gems like, “Sometimes you’ve got to go back to actually move forward. I mean going back to see where you came from, where you’ve been, how you got here, see where you’re going” have helped the brand hit roughly ten percent above market share in the fourth quarter of 2014: nearly double its average.
When something you’ve done has been good-naturedly spoofed by everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to Jimmy Kimmel to Matt Damon, you know it’s a hit. McConaughey does, at least, and he’s proud of his work with Lincoln. “It feels good,” he admits of helping in part to modernize the brand. “It was part of the goal. I wanted the commercials to succeed. There was never that pressure [by Lincoln]. It was, ‘Let’s do something authentic, creative, and use me in a way that I’m very comfortable with.’ It was creative, fun and funny, with all the variations that have come after it. It’s translated to more than awareness and sales.”
Spend five minutes with McConaughey and you’ll discover how authentic he really is. His gaze his intense and when he speaks to you, he’s present; no one else exists. This quality is a big part of why the actor is such a star—why he won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Actor in the drama Dallas Buyers Club; why he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and why he was nominated for both an Emmy and Golden Globe for the HBO series True Detective (which, incidentally, he swears he wasn’t channeling in those Lincoln ads): McConaughey is the real deal.
He picks projects he believes in, like AIDS patient Ron Woodroof in Dallas, Civil War rebellion leader Newton Knight in Free State of Jones, the film he’s currently shooting in New Orleans (the reason why he currently sports a wild, face-covering beard that his mother absolutely hates), or Billionaire’s Vinegar, his upcoming project based on Benjamin Wallace’s book of the same name about one of the world’s most infamous wine frauds.
Given his penchant for wine and his thirst for life, so to speak, Vinegar is a role that he can’t wait to tackle. “I want to do movies that interest me, that speak to me,” he says, adding, “I’m a wine guy. I like beer, but I don’t touch champagne; it doesn’t agree with me. [Wine] is one of my interests; that movie will be such fun research.”
Despite being one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, McConaughey has a rare, refreshing candor. This salt-of-the-earth quality is what led past co-stars like Kate Hudson, Reese Witherspoon and Sandra Bullock to share their love for him at his recent American Cinematheque Awards ceremony; it is why he was comfortable bringing up his 1999 arrest for marijuana possession onstage during the MJ&M gala (he can joke about the fact that he was found dancing around in the buff and playing bongos at the time). He has a certain joie de vivre that cannot be faked or replicated. This zest for life translates into gratitude for every minute he has, no matter how good or how bad. He is wholly alive.
“I wake up knowing the fact that this morning was not guaranteed to me,” he says. “I’ve had times in my life when I did take that for granted. Many people do; it’s a very basic thing. Now I get to wake up next to someone who I know loves me the way she does—my wife—who gave birth to our three beautiful, healthy children. I get to live in a nice place, and I have things to look forward to every day—work, play, and sometimes nothing at all. I look forward to Mondays. It’s very rare to have a career where I don’t need days off. I love going to work.”
Why wouldn’t he, especially as he’s at the peak of what the world is calling “The McConaissance”—a bold and beautiful period in his life in terms of career choices and personal strength? The actor wholeheartedly approves of the term, which was coined during the Telluride Film Festival in 2014. “It’s this new choice, this McConaissance,” he says slowly. “It’s got the right ring to it, the right meter. I dig it.”
Not everyone does, of course. “I’m not a believer in the McConaissance,” Christopher Nolan, his director in the 2014 sci-fi film Interstellar, has said. “I think Matthew’s success of late is the rest of us catching up with what he was [always] doing.”
Others want a piece of that success, too, which is why McConaughey is preparing to share the life lessons he’s learned with nearly 5,000 University of Houston graduates as the commencement speaker at a May 15th ceremony at TDECU Stadium. Though he’s keeping his speech a secret, he offers a sneak preview in the wisdom he recently shared with his children Levi, Vida, and Livingston.
“When I won my Oscar, my son and my daughter were like, ‘Explain to me what that was for,’ and I said, ‘Well, remember a year ago when we were living in this so-and-so house and Popeye [how his children affectionately refer to him] was working, and he was skinny and he’d go to work every day and you’d get up and he was gone, but I’d come read to you and say goodnight?’ I reminded them of the work that I did at that time [and said] ‘The Academy—the group that is the gold standard in the career I have—deemed that to be excellent work.’ They said ‘Good job,’ and we continued to talk about what they learned.”
He taught his kids a lesson, one that it’s taken him a lifetime to learn—that work ethic is invaluable. “What they learned is not that if you go to work you get a trophy, but if you do something really good today you can be rewarded for it later,” he says. “Kids aren’t thinking about the future. They want it now, now, now. The great thing is that they’re learning if you do for yourself today, you’ll have fewer proverbial hangovers later—no regrets later—that you don’t have to go into the world looking over your shoulder because you stole, lied or cheated. Tee yourself up for a less stressful future; tee yourself up for possible rewards and benefits.
“We call it mailbox money—residuals,” he adds. “Those checks that we get in the mail for films that we’ve done. In life, there are decisions that you can make [that’ll get you] residuals—not just from work, but from life choices.”
One might say McConaughey’s choices are—in the words of his infamous Dazed & Confused character David Wooderson—“alright, alright, alright.” They are choices that have brought him from Hollywood to home, back to his roots, where he can fully embrace the success he’s become in the way he knows best—with creature comforts, friends and family. The author Thomas Wolfe swears you can’t go home again, but that isn’t true for McConaughey. “I know there are those who say you can’t go back,” he says in his prolific Lincoln commercial. “Yes you can. You just have to look in the right place.”