By Louis J. Wasser.
Decidedly the memoir of a confident and determined man – one who, after minimal dilly-dallying at a yellow light, finds his way to the next significant greenlight in his life and acting career.”
When noted actor Matthew McConaughey alerts us, “this is not a traditional memoir,” we need to fasten our seatbelt. For Greenlights is no simple autobiography – one that simply saunters along comfortably and predictably in chronological format. As McConaughey starkly informs us, “This is the first fifty years of my life, my résumé so far on the way to my eulogy” (11).
If you dive into Greenlights expecting a familiar Hollywood story, you’ll be disappointed. For McConaughey, Hollywood is a mere place where he’ll begrudgingly show his face once in a while to “take” an occasional meeting with producers to keep his career alive. Now that he’s a recognizable star, McConaughey gets to choose his roles and stay home more often with his wife, Camila Alves, three kids and friends.
Make no mistake. Home for the leading man of The Lincoln Lawyer, Time to Kill, Mud, and The Dallas Buyer’s Club (for which he won an Oscar) is Texas, not Hollywood. He’s Texan straight to the bone. To read Greenlights is to be immersed in Texas lore and locale. In fact, it comes as no surprise, as I write this review. that Matthew McConaughey is seriously entertaining a run for governor of The Lone Star State.
As he puts it, the youngest of three boys “learned to deal” (44) in the small Texas town of Uvalde where he was born. When Matthew was 10 the McConaughey family moved to Longview, Texas, a rapidly growing oil-boom city, where the actor learned to dream big dreams. His parents were tough but loving. Under the circumstances, it’s entirely understandable the conspicuous voice of Greenlights is that of a devoted and grateful son.
The title of McConaughey’s memoir – Greenlights – symbolizes opportunities throughout his life. As you might expect, McConaughey uses the words “red lights” to symbolize those events that stopped him dead in his tracks, and the words “yellow lights” to suggest those times when he needed to be careful.
His talent notwithstanding, the actor’s instincts have served him well. Here is McConaughey writing about his breakthrough role as the character Wooderson in Dazed and Confused: “Well, that’s what I’ve been missing, I said to myself. Enough of this academic, right-minded, learn-ed studying shit I’ve been doing, it’s time to return to my root” (136).
And about preparation for his film role in Scorpion Spring, McConaughey writes:
I know my man, I’ve created my backstory of an upper-midlevel drug runner who works for the cartel on the American side in Texas. I need the cocaine and the money and I’m carrying a loaded pistol, willing to kill to get out alive with both. I even look the part: unshaven, greasy hair, black boots, leather jacket. Who needs a script? I know who I am. Press record. I got this. (136)
McConaughey shines through Greenlights with a strong sense of self and purpose. It’s clear he derives much of this from his father who, after learning his youngest son intended to be an actor, asked him. “Is that what you wanna do?” and then implored him not to “half-ass it” (96). It’s one of the deep regrets of McConaughey’s life that his father died before he got to watch his son on the big screen.
Greenlights is decidedly the memoir of a confident and determined man – one who, after minimal dilly-dallying at a yellow light, finds his way to the next significant greenlight in his life and acting career.
In unconscious preparation for Greenlights, McConaughey has been keeping a diary – or more correctly, musings and observations about life – at least since he’s been 12. It’s fascinating to read about his development in this memoir. Here he is at 12 innocently posing a question to a parent, a friend, or perhaps a reader he hasn’t yet met: “If all that I would want to do would be to sit and talk to you…would you listen?” (15). And here’s the now-famous movie star at 46 looking back: “Sometimes you gotta go back to go forward. And I don’t mean goin’ back to reminisce or share ghosts. I mean go back to see where you came from, where you been, how you got HERE” (8).
Greenlights is deftly edited. And while it’s entirely possible McConaughey’s insightful memoir involves the support of a skilled ghost writer, his personal voice and nimble intellect are present throughout this engaging work.
Louis J. Wasser, an alumnus of The Writers’ Institute at The Graduate Center at CUNY, has written arts reviews for The Washington Post and Washington Jewish Week.