By the time Matthew McConaughey stepped on stage at the Hogg Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday night, the crowd had been waiting for hours.
He might be a University of Texas professor, the school’s minister of culture and the Texas Longhorn football team’s lucky charm, but to the hundreds of students who packed into the auditorium, he’s still Austin’s favorite celebrity.
"Alright, alright, alright," McConaughey said to uproarious applause. "How’s this for the first day of classes?"
McConaughey — who co-teaches the Script to Screen class in Moody College of Communication’s Department of Radio-Television-Film — took the stage before a special, early showing of his new movie, "The Gentlemen," to a crowd of about 1,100 students and faculty at UT. In the film, directed by Guy Ritchie ("Snatch," "Sherlock Holmes," "Aladdin"), McConaughey leads a cast of heavyweight British actors as an expatriate drug dealer trying to sell his business.
For McConaughey, the role fulfilled his desire to play "the heavy" lead of a gangster movie. For UT students, it was a chance to see Professor McConaughey up close and personal.
"Everyone at UT loves Matthew McConaughey," said Jessica Pham, a 19-year-old psychology major. "You can’t be a UT student and not love Matthew McConaughey."
Following the film, McConaughey sat down with fellow professor Scott Rice and graduate student Cristin Stephens to talk about what it took to get the movie from the script to the screen and how he aims to pass those lessons along to his students.
Here are some highlights from the evening:
On playing the lead in a gangster movie
"I had never played the heavy before. I always wanted to be in a fun gangster film, the lion, you know," McConaughey said. "I loved the idea of this American ex-pat who goes to England and basically sells England to the English, who infiltrates the lords and the aristocracy. So I thought that was fun."
On making it in the film industry
"There is no magic bullet for how to get into this business, and there's no ‘help wanted’ sign," McConaughey told students. "If you can get in and around any type of production, anyhow, anything ... once you get in, you’ve got to be able to do good work."
On preparing for a role
For "The Gentlemen," McConaughey took three months to prepare for his role as Mickey Pearson before a three-month London shoot.
"I read the script first thing in the morning, read the script the last thing at night. Read the script after you've had a few drinks, read it right after you get out of church," he said. "Laminate the pages, take it in the shower. Read it upside down, try to read it from every different angle. I read it when I'm happy, after my endorphins are going and I've been for a run. Because each scene will take on a different rhythm."
"That gives me information: different ways to look at that scene, so I'm not getting locked into a certain choice," he added.
On teaching where he was taught
"I graduated from here in 1993 — a lot of you weren't even born then, were you?" McConaughey said of his first UT stint, garnering big laughs from the students. "I still go to class and truly believe, until I do the math, that I was just here a couple years ago. The math doesn't add up."
"I still feel like I was there, in your classrooms as a student. But I realized about eight years ago that I had, at that point, had 20 years of experience. When I say something and move on, I have a lot of students go, 'Hey, that, that means something,' and I say 'Oh, you didn't know that?' and they say 'No.'"
On keeping Austin "Austin"
"I think we got a real good chance to work on the relationship between the University of Texas and the city of Austin," McConaughey told reporters. "As Mayor (Steve) Adler said, the ideal world for us is where Austin is the University of Texas’ extended backyard, and the University of Texas’ extended backyard is the city of Austin. We’ve got talent here, let’s look right at our feet."