When Matthew McConaughey sat down to write his memoir “Greenlights,” he thought it would be an exercise in transcribing his spoken words onto the page. He leaned quickly that approach wasn’t going to work.
“You’ve got to find the right sentence, the right word, the right timing, the right ellipses,” he said. “In the written word, you don’t have my intonation telling it in front of you or my raised eyebrow, and you can see the humanity through the way I tell it. But boy, do you see it through the page? I hope so.”
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After retooling his approach, the final product became very much a reflection of the McConaughey “voice” that so many fans know and love. It’s one honed from years of storytelling – a tradition passed down through his family, McConaughey told Texas Standard. He says the best stories are the most honest, the most raw.
“We tell these stories around the table and tell when we get together for Christmas and Thanksgiving. And, you know, the funniest ones are the warts and all. We’re pretty quick, and I’m pretty quick, to have a sense of humor about stepping in a pile of you know what,” he said.
Over the past two months, McConaughey has been on a virtual book tour to promote “Greenlights.” He says doing it virtually has created opportunities to connect with fans in new and sometimes deeper way.
“I’m having my most fun seeing how the book is translating to each, other individuals,” McConaughey said.
It’s also afforded him more time with his family. He lives with his wife Camila Alves and three children in Austin.
Family is central to the book, and to McConaughey’s identity. The book opens with a graphic story about his parents’ passionate and sometimes violent relationship. They divorced twice and married three times. McConaughey says that relationship likely shaped how he approached his own marriage to Alves. The two have been named for almost eight years, but together for over 15.
“We both just said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to our love to be that hard, like our mom and dads,'” he said. “Look, her mom and dad did the opposite: they were married twice, divorced three times. So we come into this going like, ‘What the hell, man!’ But we don’t have any plans of getting divorced so we can honeymoon again.”
But beyond family, he says the book is also about paying attention to the rhythms and the art of life. Green lights, like the title suggests, are a signal to go, to keep moving. But green lights aren’t always a good thing. Sometimes you need yellow and red lights to slow you down, to give you time to learn, to reflect.
“We don’t really like yellow and red lights because they slow us down or stop us in our life. And we don’t really like doing that. They get in our way; they’re an interruption, an intervention, a crisis, a hardship,” he said. “We usually need them; they’re going to have a lesson in them … now, tomorrow, next week, next year, on our deathbed.”
In his own career, McConaughey took a self-imposed “extended yellow light” period for almost two years when he stopped taking work that wasn’t “filling his soul’s bank account.” After that hiatus, his career changed direction.
“Twenty months later someone goes, ‘Hey, that work you want to do? Actually, we’re going to now offer you and give you the chance to do that work,’ because I had unbranded for two years,” he said. “I had stepped away out of the green light into a yellow light and pressed pause on my entire Hollywood career.“
The pandemic has been another opportunity for McConaughey to pause because of how deeply it has affected the moviemaking, and watching, industries. It’s also let him settle into the role of being an author – work that may become his primary profession; he’s already thinking about his next book. He’d need a compelling reason to get back into to the Hollywood grind, he says.
“It would take a heck of a character and a role to pull me away from being the character that I’m enjoying playing in my life right now,” he said.