With a rangy handsomeness that makes him look as if he would be equally comfortable branding cattle, Matthew McConaughey found fame shortly after making his screen debut in Richard Linklater's 1993 Dazed and Confused. After being cast in two high-profile 1996 films, Lone Star and A Time to Kill, the actor was soon being hailed as one of the industry's hottest young leading men, inspiring comparisons to such charismatic purveyors of cinematic testosterone as Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.
A product of Texas, McConaughey was born in Uvalde on November 4, 1969 and raised in Longview. The son of a substitute teacher and a former member of the Green Bay Packers, he excelled in sports as a high school student and was voted "Most Handsome" by his senior class. After graduating, McConaughey spent some time working in Australia and then returned to the States to attend the University of Texas at Austin. It was there that he met producer and casting director Don Phillips, who introduced him to director Linklater, and, after directing from UT in 1993 with a degree in film production, McConaughey was cast in Dazed and Confused. Although his role as Wooderson, a slacker old enough to know better, was relatively small, McConaughey succeeded in winning a degree of immortality with lines like, "That's what I like about high school girls: I keep getting older, they stay the same age." After Dazed, McConaughey took on a number of supporting roles in films of varying quality, appearing in everything from 1994's Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to 1995's Boys on the Side, in which he was cast as Drew Barrymore's straight-arrow cop boyfriend. The latter film won him some notice, heightened a year later when he was cast in John Sayles' acclaimed Lone Star. McConaughey made a distinct impression in his small but pivotal role as the town's beloved late sheriff, Buddy Deeds, and was duly given his first leading role in Joel Schumacher's 1996 adaptation of John Grisham's A Time to Kill. Although the film met with lackluster reviews, McConaughey managed to attract favorable attention, holding his own against Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, and Sandra Bullock.
Finding himself elected to the throne of Hollywood Golden Boy, a status cemented by his appearance on the cover of the August 1996 Vanity Fair, McConaughey paradoxically followed his initial success with a string of small, largely unseen films before landing a starring role as a property lawyer in Amistad, Steven Spielberg's 1997 slave epic. The same year, he also starred in Contact, playing a New Age theologian in Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of Carl Sagan's best-selling novel. After again collaborating with Linklater in 1998 on The Newton Boys, in which he starred alongside Ethan Hawke, Skeet Ulrich, and Vincent D'Onofrio as the remarkably photogenic family of titular robbers, McConaughey banded together with off-screen pal Bullock on her directorial debut, the short Making Sandwiches, the same year. For all the hype surrounding the beginning of his career, by the time he was cast in the lead role of Ron Howard's EdTV, McConaughey had receded somewhat from the public eye, with many critics noting that despite his talent and physical attributes, the actor seemed to have trouble finding roles that would do him justice. But McConaughey's turn as the laid-back everyman who becomes an overnight celebrity when he allows his life to be broadcast on TV proved a relative success, with the actor winning praise for his endearingly dopey performance. The film itself garnered a number of positive reviews and gave a decent box office performance, and by the end of that year, McConaughey had his name attached to a number of projects, including those of his own production company, J.K. Livin'. In October 1999, McConaughey achieved notoriety of a different sort, when he was arrested for resisting transport after the Austin, Texas police responded to noise complaints about his late-night naked bongo-playing; drug charges against him were dropped for lack of a proper warrant.
After submerging in a tense struggle to find a German Enigma machine in order to defeat the Nazis in the taut World War II thriller U-571 (2000), McConaughey sweetened things up a bit by co-starring alongside Jennifer Lopez in the romantic comedy The Wedding Planner (2002). A lightweight comedy that did little to further his appeal as an actor of dramatic or comic range, the film nevertheless kept McConaughey in the public eye and once again warmed him to a public unsure how to approach him after numerous rumors of bizarre behavior. McConaughey's performance as a cocky lawyer forced to re-evaluate his quest for happiness after a life-altering experience in 2001's 13 Conversations About One Thing forced critics and audiences to re-evaluate their approach to the eccentric actor, and he would next re-team with U-571 co-star Bill Paxton for the nail-biter sleeper Frailty (2001). In late 2001 and early 2002 the eccentric actor at last received favorable press after coming to the aid of both woman who fainted at the Toronto International Film Festival and a sound man who suffered a seizure during McConaughey's Access Hollywood interview for Reign of Fire (2002), and though the aforementioned film fared only moderately well at the box office, its kindly star seemed to be back in the public's good graces. McConaughey next opted to lighten things up a bit by co-starring alongside Kate Hudson in the romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
In 2005, McConaughey and Al Pacino co-headlined D.J. Caruso's gritty gambling thriller Two for the Money. McConaughey stars as Brandon Lang, a onetime collegiate football hero with a knack for picking winners, who unofficially signs on as the protege - and later the nemesis - of Pacino's seedy high-roller. The film brought in only moderate returns and received mixed reviews from the press, but McConaughey fared substantially better with 2006's romantic comedy Failure to Launch. In the latter, he stars alongside Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker as Tripp, a thirtysomething mama's boy whose parents coax him out of the house by setting him up with dreamgirl Paula (Parker). The film shot up to become the primo box office draw on its opening weekend and did incredible business thereafter.
McConaughey would spend the 2000's enjoying leading man status, with memorable roels in We Are Marshall, Fool's Gold, Tropic Thunder, and Magic Mike.