Spotlight By: Andrea Tuccillo
Matthew McConaughey loves to stay active, whether it’s biking with pal Lance Armstrong or tackling the lead role in a new film. In his latest movie, however, McConaughey is content just watching from the sidelines. He plays football coach Jack Lengyel in We Are Marshall, an uplifting tale about overcoming grief and loss and ultimately finding hope.
The movie is the true account of what happened when a devastating plane crash claimed the lives of the entire Marshall University football team in 197 . McConaughey plays the new coach from out of town who is hired to rebuild the team of a grieving community. For McConaughey, the task of staying true to what really happened was of utmost importance.
“From my experience, in a true story there’s obviously a blueprint,” he says. “So you have a certain responsibility. Not necessarily to go out and imitate what happened but to emulate what happened and to recognize that you’re bringing it down to two hours of celluloid.”
McConaughey cites that although they had a responsibility to the story, there was also a freeing sense of privilege that came along with portraying it.
“The story itself is amazing,” he says. “If we stick to that and tell it as truthfully as possible then we don’t need any smoke and mirrors.”
In order to further the movie’s authenticity, it was filmed in the same West Virginia town in which the actual events occurred. Townspeople were a little more than skeptical at first. Although the tragedy took place 35 years ago, for many it was still vivid. McConaughey recalls some mixed reactions where townspeople feared they might be portrayed inaccurately. But those feelings were quickly put at ease.
“After a couple of weeks the townspeople would come to the set,” recalls McConaughey. “They’d come and we’d show them script pages. They’d see how we were working the scenes and they began to trust
Much like Lengyel was an outsider, McConaughey considers the making of this film to be a kind of outsider’s perspective, shedding new light on the tragedy and presenting the tale to those who may not know about it.
“It’s a very essential reason why the real life Jack was able to navigate his way through the job like he did and be part of that healing process,” explains McConaughey. “Sometimes it takes an outsider to come into your forum, into your dining room and sort of remind you and sort of show you things you haven’t thought about or just start with the simple things. All he was doing was coaching. As he said, ‘I don’t have the answers; I’m not coming in here to heal a town.’ That was never his agenda.”
The movie had the power to be cathartic for many people who experienced the loss first hand. McConaughey adds, “I think it’s a lot easier sometimes to get through or to look something in the face when you have someone from the outside who wasn’t there.”
In order to play Lengyel, the outsider, McConaughey sought to embody the character through speech and mannerisms. He plays Lengyel with a slightly hunched over posture and chose to talk out of the side of his mouth. But the challenge was taking Lengyel’s account 35 years removed and portraying it as if it were the present day.
“A lot of it for me with Jack was the rhythm of his speech,” says McConaughey. “That’s where it started for me as far as from the outside inâ€¦Also, people in general sort of have three walks. You’ve got the pelvis walk, the heart walk, or the head walk. And
Another challenging aspect to the role was having to take a backseat to the action. McConaughey, a natural born athlete, had to become the teacher instead. But for McConaughey it was a welcome change of pace.
“I’m pretty decent at football!” he says. “And this was a fun role for me because I’m usually the guy who gets to play with someone on the field. I’m 37 now but I sill like to be athletic and active but this was a time where I was the coach. This was the time where I have three kids and I’m married and I’m the coach on the sideline.”
Whether on the field or off, McConaughey knows when a film is meaningful. “This is the most gratifying working experience I’ve ever had,” he says.