Christopher Nolan praises Matthew McConaughey’s quest for truth

BEVERLY HILLS – It was time for a victory lap for last year's Best Actor Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as the “Interstellar” star was honored by the American Cinematheque at the Beverly Hilton's famed International Ballroom Tuesday night. A roll call of the star's leading ladies was on hand to take part in the tribute, which closed with “Interstellar” director Christopher Nolan doing the honors of presenting the hardware.

Kate Hudson (“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Fool's Gold”), Anne Hathaway (“Interstellar”), Jennifer Garner (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “Dallas Buyers Club”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Mud”) all took the stage at various moments throughout the evening to tell anecdotes and present clip packages from McConaughey's early years, his romantic comedy stretch, actioners, legal dramas and, of course, the “McConaissance” of late, as it's been dubbed.

When Nolan had his turn, however, he bristled a bit at that moniker.

“I'm not a believer in the McConaissance,” the director said. “I think Matthew's success of late is the rest of us catching up to what he's been doing…Jennifer Garner talked about two different films she'd done with him and explained that he'd given the same gravity and intensity to both different genres, and I can tell you as a director, there's no question that this is a performer who can't say, 'Pass the salt,' without it being truthful, without meaning something…I've never worked with an actor so relentless in his pursuit of truth in everything he does.”

Additionally, “Reign of Fire” producer Lili Zanuck introduced a package concerning the actor's work with high school youth through his Just Keep Livin' Foundation, while “Interstellar” co-star Jessica Chastain presented a previously unseen clip from Nolan's film featuring McConaughey and actor John Lithgow. The Texas Tenors performed, and it should be noted that a number of those paying tribute mentioned McConaughey's inspiring family life and his loving relationship with wife Camila Alves.

One of the last times McConaughey was on a stage like this it was at the Oscars, talking about his late father looking down on him while dancing with a pot of gumbo bubbling on heaven's stove. And dad made an appearance in this speech, too. McConaughey talked about the moment it clicked for him that he was less interested in pursuing a law degree at the University of Texas than he was attending the film school. He called his father to break the news and “there was a long pause on the line,” McConaughey recalled. “Dad goes, 'Is that what you want to do?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' And he said, 'Well don't half-ass it.'”

The trip down memory lane jogged a few recollections loose. He recalled how spilling a Coca-Cola on a table in Brian Grazer's office might very well have led to working with the producer and director Ron Howard on 1999's “Edtv.” He remembered running around town shooting “Dallas Buyers Club” guerrilla style, something he still seems fiercely proud of. He also talked about taking a meeting with Joel Schumacher for a small role as a Ku Klux Klan member in “A Time to Kill” and brazenly telling the director that he was the right guy to play the film's lead, lawyer Jake Brigance. “He laughed and laughed, but then a month later I did get a call to come out and test and that all worked out for me,” McConaughey said.

Indeed, that John Grisham adaptation launched the actor's career in 1996, but McConaughey was quick to pass some of the credit on to one of his co-stars. “I've got other theories about how it worked out,” he said. “Sandra Bullock was in 'While You Were Sleeping' and after she was cast, that came out and all of a sudden she could, overnight, green light a movie. I'm sure that helped Warner Bros. say, 'Maybe we can entertain an unknown at this time.'”

Bullock was one of a handful of people, including Woody Harrelson and director Richard Linklater, who sent in previously recorded videos of congratulations.

McConaughey wound his speech down by recounting a few of the lessons he's learned in his 22-year career in the film industry. “One, the same script with a $10 million offer is much funnier, much more well-written than the same script with a $1 million offer,” he joked. “That is a fact…and I have made some funny, funny films.” Another wink to his sprawling romantic comedy career and the “mailbox money” it's yielded over the years.

“I also have learned that you have to prepare,” he continued. “You have to study and do the work. It's that structure and discipline that allows the freedom, that allows the context to rip it and go play.” He then recounted an embarrassing situation where he thought he could waltz into a scene with natural charisma and just riff, without realizing that he actually had a two-page monologue to get through…in Spanish. (That film would appear to be Brian Cox's “Scorpion Spring,” based on McConaughey's clues.)

It was just one more night of trophies and plate dinners for an actor who certainly saw his share of them last season. Now he's primed for his career hit a new level as “Interstellar” barrels toward nationwide release on Nov. 7, and it was a real coup for Paramount to secure an honor like this for their star with such a mammoth vehicle on deck for the season.

Of course, for McConaughey, these things sort of just seem to be lining up as of late. When it rains, it pours.

Here's a parting shot of the man of the hour watching one of the clip reels with Camila by his side: