The death of Joel Schumacher at age 80 led to an outpouring of tributes from those who worked with the director of multiple Batman movies, as well as 1980s favorites like The Lost Boys, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Flatliners. Several actors expressed gratitude for Schumacher providing them with lessons and opportunities, but Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey believes that his career probably would have fizzled out if not for the A Time To Kill director taking a risk on a relative unknown like himself.
McConaughey revealed in a statement to Variety that his small roles prior to the 1996 legal thriller did not make him a contender for the leading role in a high-profile John Grisham adaptation. Not only did Schumacher provide support when McConaughey didn’t believe he could pull off Jake Brigance, the director actually went to bat, big time:
“Joel not only took a chance on me, he fought for me. Knowing the studio might never approve a relatively unknown like myself for the lead in ‘A Time to Kill,’ he set up a secret screen test for me on a Sunday morning in a small unknown studio because as he stated, ‘Even if you do great, you may not get the part, so I don’t want the industry to ever think you screen tested and DID NOT get the job.”
Not only did McConaughey tell this story to Variety, but George Clooney (who appeared in Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, bat-nipples and all) offered up confirmation: “His career was absolutely started by Joel fighting for him in A Time To Kill.” That, right there, is solidarity between friends. Sure, everyone likes quoting the Dazed and Confused incarnation of McConaughey, but Schumacher recognized that the young actor had range, and he was absolutely correct. McConaughey can dance from romcoms to awards fare, seemingly effortlessly, but none of this may have happened if not for Schumacher recognizing talent over existing stardom.