Matthew McConaughey is one of Hollywood’s most famous and recognizable stars. He has appeared in many successful films, including his Academy Award-winning performance in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club. A year later, he earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for his role in the first season of HBO’s anthology series True Detective

McConaughey recently played the role of fictional cannabis baron Mickey Pearson in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen. He followed up that starring appearance with the release of his memoir, Greenlight. Matthew has spent three decades as an actor, and you might wonder how the Texas native got his start.

This piece will detail how Matthew McConaughey became famous.

Matthew learnt of his father’s death five days after landing his breakout role in the film Dazed and Confused

Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused

Matthew McConaughey was born on 4th November 1969 in Uvalde, Texas, to Mary Kathleen and James McConaughey. Matthew idolized his father so much that he considered his father while making crucial life decisions. After graduating from high school, Matthew planned to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas to study law. James, on the other hand, wanted Matthew to join the University of Texas because it had significantly lower tuition fees.

Southern Methodist University presented better opportunities for Matthew, but he opted for the University of Texas to make his dad happy. “Out of respect for my dad, I attended the University of Texas at Austin but never told him why,” Matthew writes in his memoir. “I knew changing my mind would make Dad happy.”

Matthew’s career trajectory changed when he met casting director Don Phillips at a bar in Austin. Don and Matthew became fast friends, prompting Don to ask Matthew to audition for a small part in the upcoming film Dazed and Confused. Matthew agreed, but when he arrived to audition for the role of Wooderson, director Richard Linklater thought that he was too handsome for the role. However, during the audition, Matthew effortlessly transformed himself into the character. Richard told Rolling Stone:

“So he [Matthew] took a step back, shrugged his shoulders like an athlete would, his eyes kind of narrowed – a little stoned, like – a certain swagger came over him, he lost about an inch, and he’s a new guy, right in front me, a 30-second dissolve into a new person. I’ll never forget it.”

McConaughey based his character on an image he had of his older brother leaning against a wall, smoking a cigarette. Matthew learned of his father’s death five days after filming for Dazed and Confused started. He writes in his book that James went out how he always wanted: He had a heart attack while making love to Matthew’s mother. Matthew used his father’s death as motivation to do the best he could. In the film, Matthew coined a phrase that would be associated with him forever: “Alright, Alright, Alright.” He writes in his book:

“And I love it. It’s an honor. Because those three words are the very first words I said on the very first night of a job that I thought might be nothing but a hobby, but turned into a career.

Matthew almost failed to audition for A Time to Kill because he thought that the casting directors wouldn’t offer a lead role to an unknown actor like him

Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock in A Time to Kill

Matthew’s breakout role in Dazed and Confused caught the attention of casting directors in Hollywood, but he knew that it would be a while before he landed leading roles in huge films. In 1996, Matthew saw an opportunity to star in his first leading role in A Time to Kill. However, he was still relatively unknown, so he figured that he wouldn’t get the role. However, when equally unknown but rapidly rising Sandra Bullock landed a role in the film, Matthew thought about auditioning.

Filmmaker Joel Schumacher knew that Matthew could portray lawyer Jake Brigance perfectly, but he didn’t want to ruin Matthew’s career by recommending Matthew only for the actor to get rejected. Therefore, Matthew and Joel sent a secret audition tape to John Grisham, the final decision maker when it came to who would play which role. Joel told Variety:

“Anyway, I didn’t want to ruin his career. With some friends, we went way downtown in L.A. and did this little audition, because if John didn’t like it, no one would know. I sent it down to John. And the next day he called me and said, ‘Who is this guy? I love him.’ We got to call Matthew and tell him he got the lead.”

McConaughey became a mainstay in Hollywood after that starring performance in A Time to Kill. His career hit a road bump after the turn of the century due to directors type-casting him for rom-com roles. As the decade wound down, McConaughey took a hiatus from acting as he sought to dissociate himself from being a rom-com actor. He told Deadline that the break worked:

“But I knew I could say no to the things I’d been doing. In saying no to those things, I knew work was going to dry up for a while… Year and a half, still nothing. At two years, all of a sudden, in my opinion, I became a good idea for some good directors.”

Matthew is the all-round star we know today because he shook off the idea that he could only star in romantic comedies. His break from acting, though painful, helped him earn his Oscar-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club.