With a career spanning more than 20 years, fans may feel like they know Matthew McConaughey. But in his new book Greenlights, the Academy Award–winning actor shares the defining and sometimes outrageous stories that shaped him as a person. Some might call it a memoir. McConaughey, 51, refers to it as more of a playbook.
“It is more of an approach book,” he tells Yahoo Life. “I found consistent approaches that I've had to live that have given me more green lights in life.”
A native of Uvalde, Tex., McConaughey grew up with two older brothers and parents that were divorced twice and married three times. Greenlights details his adventurous childhood, teenage antics, and how his parents’ tumultuous relationship impacted his home life. Remembering his formative years in such detail was made possible by re-reading diaries that he’s kept since the age of 18.
“I was embarrassed about reading about times when I was sure I was going to be an arrogant little P-R-I-C-K, a mister know it all. And I went back and read it and I saw all those things,” McConaughey jokes. “But most of the times that I looked at, that I thought I would be embarrassed about, I actually laughed at.”
“Without that arrogance, I don't know if I would have had the confidence to put myself in some of those positions where I learned a better lesson,” McConaughey adds.
Seeking knowledge is a theme throughout the book, and McConaughey went to great lengths to chase down answers. Two of the most riveting stories in the book detail McConaughey’s solo spiritual journeys to Brazil and Mali. He embarked on both after experiencing the same wet dream.
“I think it's the psychic gift that came my way,” said McConaughey. “Hey, wet dreams versus a nightmare, I think we all know which one we'll take.”
When he was awake, many of McConaughey’s professional dreams started to come true, too. After his breakout role in Dazed and Confused, the leading man earned roles in romantic comedies like The Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
“I was the go-to rom-com guy, I liked doing them, they paid me handsomely. I was the shirtless guy on the beach, and those rom-coms paid for the house on the beaches that I went shirtless on... guilty,” McConaughey admits.
Then he started to crave more dramatic roles, but found that those offers were harder to find. McConaughey figured the only way to get the scripts he wanted was to turn down the flurry of romantic comedies he was being offered — but that was easier said than done.
“I had a rom-com come in and it started off with a $5 million offer that worked its way up to an $8 million dollar offer, I said no; $10 million offer I said no; $12 million dollar offer I said no,” McConaughey says.
That offer reached $14.5 million, to which McConaughey ultimately declined. After two years away from Hollywood, casting McConaughey in a dramatic role became a novel idea for studios. What followed were roles in projects like The Lincoln Lawyer, The Paperboy, Magic Mike, True Detective.
“So I unbranded, said no, to end up fortunately, where I was able to rebrand and do the work that I wanted to do,” says McConaughey .
This “McConaissance” (a term that McConaughey reveals that he invented) earned him a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club — fulfilling a goal on the bucket list he had written nearly 22 years earlier.
“I wrote that down in 1992. I found that when I was writing this book, in my diaries, I'd forgotten I had written any of that down, but evidently I didn't forget when I look at it, cause I've achieved or am in the middle of achieving most of those goals,” he says.
Another item on that bucket list was to become a father, a role that McConaughey says he felt destined to play. He and wife Camila Alves are raising Levi, Vida and Livingston to embrace their own individuality. But there are a few lessons he wants to ensure they learn.
“We don’t allow the word can’t,” says McConaughey. “Believe you can, love don’t hate, tell the truth, don’t lie.”
Video produced by Stacy Jackman
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