Q&A with actor Matthew McConaughey

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With film star Matthew McConaughey, it may be a case of the “horse before the cart.” Was the actor associated with shirtless exhibitions and surfing before “Surfer, Dude” or after?

Actually, the Texas native never had an interest in long boards and waves before being approached to star in the surfing flick, “Surfer, Dude.” In it, he portrays a Malibu soul-searching surfer. That was almost two years ago, and McConaughey has been shirtless and long-boarding ever since.

But the 40-year-old, ruggedly handsome actor began his career in 1991 when he appeared in student films and TV commercials while attending the University of Texas in Austin. Small parts came and went until 1993 when he was cast in the now cult classic “Dazed and Confused.”

His big break came opposite Sandra Bullock in the movie based on the John Grisham novel, “A Time To Kill,” where his leading man status was solidified with his gritty performance as Jake Brigance. McConaughey dated his co-star, Bullock, as well as fellow screen star, Penelope Cruz, when both starred in “Sahara.” He also escorted Ashley Judd for several years and was linked with Kate Hudson.

Along the way, McConaughey picked up People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” title in 2005. In his most recent hit, he played opposite Jennifer Garner in “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” earlier this year.

But it was his meeting and subsequent dating of model, Camila Alves, that changed his life forever. Alves gave birth to the couple’s son, Levi, in July 2008, an event that has put their personal life under more public scrutiny.

McConaughey has never been one to fall into the Hollywood machine. He founded the j.k. livin foundation that helps young people live their own lives to the fullest. He also literally gave his voice to a Peace Corps ad campaign in 2006, the same year he founded his film company, j.k. livin productions, which produced his indie film “Surfer, Dude.” Personal and professional success seems to have coincided this year for McConaughey with a lucrative development deal with Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount Pictures and Imagine Entertainment.

Bankrate: You have experienced Hollywood on many levels. Can you remember a time when you shunned big money for a certain project, or have you experienced financial problems on any level?

Matthew McConaughey: I would say “Surfer, Dude” would be the closest to experiencing financial difficulty. There have been some things, though, that came across my plate and as an actor, that I didn’t want to do. But then, they were all for more money than I had ever seen before in my life. There were a few things that I was like, “No, I don’t think I’ll do that no matter what the number is.” Sometimes things got big sponsorship or financing, and that money made me say, “Let me re-read this.” So I guess everyone does have his or her price (laughs).

Bankrate: What kind of financing problems did you have with “Surfer, Dude?” I would think that you’re so well established that you wouldn’t face these problems.

Matthew McConaughey: Well, it’s not your typical McConaughey movie. We made this, and it’s really the first film for the just keep livin production company. We made it in 28 days for just over $6 million, which is very low by today’s filming standards. In Hollywood budget terms, for this size movie, it was a very tight budget. It’s more of an independent type film, obviously.

It’s cultish, and a cult-like storyline that not everybody is running around going, “Oh, I want to lay $100 million in your lap.” That’s why we told it, and it helps to get us where we are today. The only way we got people like Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson (to appear in the film) was that I have personal relationships with them.

Bankrate: What was your role as producer on this film?

Matthew McConaughey: A little bit of everything. Main role as a producer is to balance a couple of things. You’ve got to help the director tell the story and you’ve got to be aware of the finances. You are responsible for knowing that it’s not free to play in that sandbox you’re playing in. You have a budget and time constraints. With that comes a lot of decision making. I had a lot of decisions to make daily. It was either about this shot or that shot, because we’ve got 15 minutes to get one, and can’t get both. I’ve got to make a money decision because the clock is ticking. Production was 28 days and postproduction about eight or nine months of more financial decision making. A lot of times, it’s “noes” and “yes’es.”

Bankrate: You are known as much lately for your acting abilities as for your tanned physique.

Matthew McConaughey: Yeah (laughs). Actually, the stuff about me being shirtless lately came from working on this movie. I mean, even my friend Matt Damon made fun of me, and I think it’s on YouTube. But the movie’s character was a surfer and I started surfing to get ready for this film. I’ve been surfing a little less than two years. I wasn’t a big surfer before. So the film and the script came first. Then as soon as we got into production, we found financing and then I started to surf. But I found that I really like being out there, so I’ll continue with it.

Bankrate: Now that you’re a dad, are you looking forward to having that bonding time with your son in that type of carefree world?

Matthew McConaughey: Absolutely, and that’s why he travels with us already so much. We want to get him out into the world and make sure he’s not held back in any way. We are privileged enough to be able to live someplace where we have a lot of nature around us. He’s outdoors as much as he’s indoors. That’s how I was raised, because we were raised in the country. But not every place has that. I like the city. I enjoy it. But I also want some space. He’s going to be out in the middle of it, too. He’ll be getting salty soon.

Bankrate: I’m sure fatherhood has changed you in some ways.

Matthew McConaughey: Well, sure. It’s made me realize how much Camila means to me. Everything is right and all is good between us, and the three of us. I’ve got to tell ya, I always wanted to be a father and thought it would be great, but it just took the right woman and the right time to make it happen. This is a great time for me. We’re a happy family now. I see the future, and it’s clearer to me now. I have a lot more responsibilities now, but it’s a great thing. And we have (to have) a little bit more prep time put into going places and doing things, getting him ready. But it’s amazing, and we’re having a wonderful time.