Matthew McConaughey in ‘Dazed and Confused’: How the Role Kickstarted His Career

by Leanne Stahulak
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When you think about Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey, it’s impossible not to think about his iconic “Dazed and Confused” line: “Alright, alright, alright.”

Little did McConaughey know that that one line and one film would kickstart his career as an actor. The Texas native didn’t even know if he wanted to act after he graduated from the University of Texas in Austin. Matthew McConaughey got a degree in media in 1993, and that same year, he starred in “Dazed and Confused.”

Let’s take a look back at how he got that role in the first place.

One Meeting at a Bar Led to Matthew McConaughey Starring in ‘Dazed and Confused’

One night, back in 1993, McConaughey’s friend from film school called him. This friend worked at a bar in Austin and told him to come down for a visit. There, the friend revealed that casting director Don Phillips was sitting at the end of the bar.

McConaughey went up and introduced himself, and the two quickly hit it off. Per Slash Film, Phillips once said how “midway through the evening [McConaughey] says to his girlfriend, ‘Look, I’m gonna stay here and talk to Don. Here’s some money for a taxi.'”

Three hours later, in the taxi ride home, Phillips asked McConaughey if he’d acted before. The star said he’d briefly featured in a commercial but hadn’t done anything else. Phillips invited Matthew McConaughey to come pick up a script for “Dazed and Confused” the next morning.

“There’s three lines. I go back to Longview, Texas, and work on these three lines for three weeks,” McConaughey told Howard Stern back in 2017.

Practicing for the Role, Creating His Most Famous Phrase

Those three lines soon turned into a much bigger role once McConaughey signed on for the film. His character, Wooderson, is a 20-something guy who hangs out with the local high school kids. During filming, director Richard Linklater came up to McConaughey right before his first scene to see if they could add in a few things to beef up Wooderson as a character.

“I started to get a little nervous. Remember, it’s my first scene ever, and I started asking myself, ‘Who’s my man? ‘Who is Wooderson?'” McConaughey said in an American Masters interview. “And I go, ‘Okay I’m about my car, I’m about getting high, I’m about rock’n’roll, and I’m about chicks.’

“Alright, I’m in my 70s Chevelle. There’s one. Slater’s over there, so we know we got a doobie rolled up and getting high. Ted Nugent’s coming out of the speakers, we got roll rock’n’roll,” McConaughey continued. “And I hear action. And I look up and I go, ‘And there’s the chick.’ So I got three out of four. Alright, alright, alright.”

McConaughey took a character typecast as a creep and turned him into someone who could almost be cool. He added a layer to the character that no one expected and that only made the movie richer for it. And, it showed other casting directors how nuanced McConaughey could be, in addition to being good-looking.

Kickstarting the Career

After “Dazed and Confused,” Matthew McConaughey starred in a few hit films here or there. But only in minor roles. It wasn’t until “A Time to Kill” in 1996 that the actor struck gold again.

He starred as Jake Brigance, a young lawyer who defends a Black man (Samuel L. Jackson) for killing two white men after they raped his 10-year-old daughter. This movie, also starring Sandra Bullock and Kevin Spacey, represented a complete tone shift from the kinds of movies we’d seen McConaughey in before. Not only was he the leading role, but he was tackling a serious story adapted from a wildly popular author (John Grisham).

Without “Dazed and Confused,” McConaughey never would’ve made it to that point. He hadn’t even known if he wanted to act until he starred in that film, and he told ET as much back in 2018.

“That was the role that, at that time I didn’t know if it was going to be a hobby or something I was doing for the summer, and it turned out to be a career,” he said. “That’s where it all started and I always look back to that one.”

Between “Dazed and Confused” and “A Time to Kill,” McConaughey solidified himself as a serious contender in both dramatic and comedic productions. He became the rom-com heartthrob of the early 2000s with “The Wedding Planner,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Failure to Launch,” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

And he also became a key player in dramatic films. “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” both showed off his talents well. But McConaughey’s biggest films undoubtedly were “Interstellar” and “Dallas Buyers Club” in 2014 and 2013. He even won an Oscar for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Check out McConaughey’s IMDb page to see what other hit films and TV shows the actor’s starred in. And remember where it all started, “Alright, alright, alright?”

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