“Heartthrob,” “hunk” and “handsome” are words usually used to describe Matthew McConaughey. Early in his career he was playing those types of characters. But his role in the film Mud, a coming-of-age drama set along the Mississippi River, adds a new H-word to his character collection: heartbreak.
“It [the story] really harpooned me back to junior high and that first time I got my heart broken. It’s reality and it punches you in the face,” McConaughey said at a recent interview in Austin for the film’s South by Southwest screening.
The film Mud, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, unravels a story about two young Southern boys seeking adventure who encounter a fugitive and form a friendship to help reunite him with his true love.
Nichols’ previous films, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, are thrilling dramas, but Mud brings a softened touch that still possesses the same harsh realism of his previous work. McConaughey had recently worked on Magic Mike, where his character had minimal clothing (and substance), but in Mud his acting talent illuminated through his embodiment of the his character.
“The character had language that I had never really read before, but I loved the language. It was highly mysterious to me,” said McConaughey
Both Nichols and McConaughey spoke about the film for its SXSW premiere. Mud was their first collaboration together and yet, at the interview, they joked, laughed and interrupted each other the way old friends do.
“Well I started thinking about this back in college,” said Nichols about the story, as McConaughey interjected by saying, “Oh I’m sorry. I’m looking at my phone going, ‘Why am I recording?’”
It hadn’t even been five minutes into the interview and they had everyone laughing with their down-to-earth attitude.
“We’re off to a good start,” said Nichols.
Nichols’ linear structure and logical script attracted McConaughey to star in the film, and yet he described playing his character Mud as someone who lives off the grid and not really living civilly.
“As a character, it was fun for me to go, ‘You know this is not about shoulder up,'” McConaughey said. “He’s [Mud] been able to be that Labrador you can kick off the porch 1,000 times and he’ll keep coming back saying pet me one more time.”
The most dynamic and compelling structure of the film Mud is the harsh realities of love. McConaughey’s character is struggling with balancing his life as a fugitive and trying to reconnect with his one true love. As cliché as it sounds, Mud’s love knows no bounds because although Juniper, his love interest played by Reese Witherspoon, has caused him pain, he’s still willing to fight for their love. The authenticity of Nichols’ characters adds extra flair. He incorporates themes that most people can connect with.
“The only way I know how to connect these things emotionally to people is if they’re extremely personal for me,” said Nichols. “In Mud, it was that very fierce need that I had.”
McConaughey touched upon Nichols’ incorporating a powerful character with the difficulties and rawness of love.
“I loved that it was about this longing and pursuit for it—an unconditional and almost innocent love, yet very fierce love for this woman,” he said. “Nothing is convenient in this story. That’s not how life works.”
“You have to give credit to these kids for pulling off these words. You meet them and you’re like you look like them [Ellis and Neckbone]. You sound like them. You behave like them. And you just kind of know it when you meet them. There’s something in their personality,” Nichols said.
Nichols’ mentioned how impressed he was with the young actors grasping the voice of his characters and being able to ingest all of the material he had thrown their way.
“You know, I spent more time on the adult actors than I did on the kids,” he said.
Mud is Nichols’ third film. He started writing it back in 2006 with McConaughey in mind for the role. He explains that for him it didn’t feel right to finish it immediately.
“I’m proud of this film. I’m proud of what we’ve done. This one feels different in terms of my relationship to it because I’ve carried it so long,” he said.
For McConaughey, his portrayal in the film was an experience. He mentioned camping outside to get the feel of what his character was experiencing.
“We get to play make believe, and it’s not just on Halloween for one night. It’s for two months. I loved it,” he said.
Watch the official Mud trailer below. Read our review of the film here.