Five Signs That the McConaissance Is On

How can we tell that we are in the middle of a McConaissance? Here are five ways to know.

Welcome to the McConaissance

It may have started as a whisper, but soon it took on the force of history. In 2012, Matthew McConaughey revealed to Huffington Post, “Some writer somewhere told me, ‘It's a McConaissance’," the star remembered. “I was like, that's fun. I don't know if that's a real word, but it is now.” Recently GQ, who’d named Matthew McConaughey “Leading Man of the Year,” was trying to grasp where in this historical phenomena we currently were in 2013. The McConaissance? Or “The Pax-McConaughey?” GQ ended with, “We're going with the McConaugh-reign. Long may it last!” And if anyone doubted its veracity, the carefully fact-checked The New Yorker announced in January, “There’s no denying the McConaissance now.” But those of us who were watching could see the McConaissance on the horizon for awhile, and here we chart the five sure-fire signs that told us of the coming of the McConaissance.

5. Bernie

The first sign occurred in 2012. In Richard Linklater’s so-strange-it-must-be-true comedy Bernie, Matthew McConaughey played Danny Buck Davidson, the district attorney tasked with prosecuting the town’s favorite son Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) for the murder of Marjorie "Marge" Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). While much attention was rightly lavished on the title character, The New Yorker’s David Denby wrote that the “leaner, tougher” McConaughey is “the acting surprise of the movie.” And he was not alone in his acclaim for McConaughey’s performance, and his growing awareness that something was up with the Texan’s career.

4. Magic Mike

In the summer of 2012, Matthew McConaughey created a heat wave -- another foretold sign of the McConaissance -- by playing the oiled and toned emcee of a Tampa male strip club. When the Texan star, wearing only a slinky vest over his bronzed chest, steps on stage to tell a riot of women, “The law says you cannot touch, but I think see a lot of lawbreakers up in this house,” the theater nearly bursts into flames. And while his character may be a supporting role for the film’s overall drama, he holds the characters, the club, and the story’s emotional center together. For Roger Ebert, it was, up to that point, “one of McConaughey's best performances.” For Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, “Matthew McConaughey gives a scene-stealing, award-worthy performance as the unctuous, perm-wearing club owner and dance coach.”

3. Mud

In 2013, the McConaissance gathered steam when McConaughey showed up in Jeff Nichols’ Mud. In this powerful American drama, McConaughey plays the title character, a mysterious fugitive from the law who convinces two teenage boys to help him hide out on an island in the Mississippi river. New York Times’ A.O. Scott points out that Mud highlights McConaughey’s remarkable exploration of southern masculinity: “Mr. McConaughey commands attention with a variation on a certain kind of Southern character: handsome but battered, charming but also sinister, his self-confidence masking a history of bad luck and trouble.” The Los Angeles Times’ Betsy Sharkey adds, "McConaughey beautifully articulates with his honeyed drawl the very essence of a grizzled, determined romantic.” For her, it was “the best work of the actor's career” up until then.

2. True Detective

In 2014, the McConaissance proved so powerful that it spread beyond the world of film into the realm of television. HBO’s True Detective –– directed by JANE EYRE’s Cary Fukunaga –– showcases McConaughey’s talent as Detective Rustin “Rust” Cohle, who, along with partner Detective Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson), recount their tortured 17-year-old collaboration and their most famous case. In The Daily Beast, Andrew Romano wrote, “McConaughey's remarkable performance: a coiled, intelligent, perfect thing that should once and for all erase his hard-earned image as a shirtless stoner drawling his way through a perpetual string of interchangeable romantic comedies. It is some of the finest screen acting I've seen in a long time.”


The final proof that we are truly in the midst of the McConaissance is DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. As the star of this inspired-by-a-true-story film, McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a cowboy who finds a way to live his life to the fullest after he is diagnosed with HIV. To play Woodroof, a man stricken by illness before becoming emboldened with a purpose, McConaughey lost over 45 pounds. But for critics, it was not just the physical change that made McConaughey’s performance so transformative. For The New Yorker’s David Denby, “it’s McConaughey’s spiritual transformation that is most remarkable….His Ron Woodroof could make a believer out of anyone.” Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers agrees, exclaiming, “what McConaughey does here is transformative. Damn, he's good. Ron lived for nearly seven years after his death sentence. McConaughey makes sure we feel his tenacity and triumphs in the treatment of AIDS. His explosive, unerring portrayal defines what makes an actor great, blazing commitment to a character and the range to make every nuance felt.” Indeed it’s a portrayal that has been acclaimed by critics, audiences and awards groups. It has already earned Mr. McConaughey a Golden Globe, a SAG, a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, as well as scores of Best Actor honors from critics associations. And that’s just the start. He’s also nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor.