Matthew McConaughey famously made his movie debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), but it wasn’t until 1996, with Lone Star and A Time to Kill that Hollywood was hailing him “the next big thing.” In a fascinating Vanity Fair interview from 1996, McConaughey’s family and directors who had worked with him talked about the tobacco-chewing Texan who was on the cusp of super stardom.
John Grisham legal thriller novels were all the rage in the 1990s, with the likes of Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman and Matt Damon starring in movie adaptations. Directors such as Sydney Pollack, Alan J. Pakula, and even Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman were falling all over themselves to get their hands on the rights to Grisham novels.
Joel Schumacher alternated John Grisham movies with Batman movies for four years in the mid-90s – making The Client (1994), Batman Forever (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), and Batman & Robin (1997) all in a row. McConaughey was initially cast as the redneck brother of one of the white men who rape a Black girl in A Time to Kill, but he talked himself into the main role.
Samuel L. Jackson plays the father who is on trial for murdering the two white men who raped and attempted to lynch his daughter in the racially divided Mississippi. McConaughey plays the young lawyer who defends him in front of an all-white jury. At the time people were comparing McConaughey to Paul Newman, but director Joel Schumacher said; “I think he’s much more like Brando. But I do think he’s a total original. I don’t know anyone like him.”
Schumacher continued; “There’s an innate integrity and, yes, elegance about Matthew, yet there’s a kind of shit-kicking, dangerous side to him, too. . . . Unfortunately, one of the things that developed through the grunge era was that there was this concept that attitude is acting. As long as you look dirty and smoke a lot, then you’re a good actor. It’s so exciting finally to see someone who is not relying on attitude.”
Schumacher concluded; “I’ve worked with some actors and actresses who are on the brink of stardom and I’ve worried about them because I didn’t think they had the emotional strength yet to deal with the consequences of success as well as its perks. I don’t really worry about Matthew.” McConaughey was arrested in 1999 for playing bongos naked in his own home while smoking weed – which is now considered one of the coolest “celebrity scandal” stories two decades later.