Five must-hear exchanges from Matthew McConaughey’s New York Times interview

by | Oct 8, 2021 | News


Matthew McConaughey is a lot of things to a lot of people — especially himself. A self-proclaimed “statesman-philosopher, folk-singing poet,” the actor-turned-phantom-gubernatorial-candidate has, for months, dangled a potential political run in front of Texans. For some, his hazy half-thoughts about leading his home state have served as a tantalizing possibility. Case in point: September polls have shown him a staggering nine points ahead of Gov. Greg Abbott. For others, though, the Austinite’s open-ended statements, unrelenting commitment to his uniquely opaque (but finely manicured) personal brand, and refusal to take a side on… any issue has worn out its welcome. 

On Thursday, McConaughey kept up the act during an appearance on The New York Times’ “Sway” podcast with Kara Swisher. As she’s known to do, Swisher didn’t hold back in her attempts to push the actor to clarify his political aspirations. And as he’s known to do, McConaughey responded in kind with a flurry of empty, if charming, ruminations about his future. Here are some of their most notable exchanges.

#1: McConaughey said he’s still “measuring” whether to run for governor.

Kara Swisher

Texas Governor— you said, I’m measuring it. I’m sorry, what’s “measuring” mean? What are you measuring?

Matthew Mcconaughey

Measuring— “measuring” is a great word, isn’t it?

KS

Yes, but it doesn’t mean anything.

MM

Well, you got to measure— I like to mea—

KS

What does that mean?

MM

I like to— I like to measure things before I partake. And you’ve got to partake before you’ve partook.

KS

O.K. [LAUGHS] That’s a bumper sticker.

Matthew MM

I’m looking—

Kara Swisher

That’s your motto.

MM

[LAUGHS]

KS

Like, what are you measuring? What precisely are you measuring?

MM

Measuring!

KS

Length, width, what?

MM

Who am I going to be? No, who— who am I going to be? Where can I be most useful? Is politics an embassy for me to be of the most use to myself, to my family, to the most amount of people in my life moving forward?

KS

Right. So how do you measure that?

MM

Well, I’m studying— I’m not studying. I’m learning about politics. I’m also noting where I’m going, eh, don’t know about politics. Ooh, is that a place to make real change, or is it a place where, hey, right now, it’s a fixed game. You go in there— [DISMISSIVE LAUGH] you just put on a bunch of Band-Aids in four years, and walk out, and they rip ‘em off when you’re gone. I’m not interested in that. Does politics itself need such repurposing right now that it’s like, don’t get into that game? They’re lost.

#2: McConaughey says politics are broken, that he’s “aggressively centrist.”

MM

Yeah, it’s a broken business. And it’s getting dangerous now, you know, when both parties on their own would claim themselves to be democracy itself. And your party’s identity is more based on invalidation than any vision or validation of what they’re about. And— you know, and right now, they’ve run to such extremes. I love that colloquial little metaphor someone said— I said, it’s such a great time, and a necessary time, I think, to be aggressively centrist. And this— this friend of mine, who’s a very smart Southern boy goes, yeah, you know, about that middle of the road stuff, ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but yellow lines and armadillos. And I was like, hey, bud, I’m over here in the middle of the road right now. I’m walking these yellow lines, and the armadillos are running free. You know why? Because the left and right traffic is so far to the edge, their tires are not even on the pavement. [CHUCKLES] You know? And so—

KS

So you should be in the center. They’re not even there. They’re not riding the road, is what you’re saying?

MM

No, no, not riding the road of democracy, I don’t believe.

KS

So why would you— see, a lot of people do— they throw up their hands, and they say, this is just a mess, which of course, keeps sort of the bad business going, presumably. So what’s the measurement? What, are you doing polls? Or are you doing— like, just going, this sucks?

MM

No, no, no, I— [LAUGHS] No, I’m not doing polls. I don’t— I’m not—

KS

Forming committees?

MM

No, no. Yeah, I’m trying to form a committee with me. I mean, I have people and mentors that I’ve talked with and—

KS

Who is that?

MM

—seek counsel from. I’ll keep those to myself.

KS

All right, O.K.

MM

So I’m— you know, and people that know me well, that helped me get a true reflection of myself in the damn mirror— as I said earlier, in which way can I be most useful? I could arguably have more influence as an informal leader than a formal leader.

#3: Swisher asked McConaughey whether or not he thinks he could fix the system. He referred to it as “a bag of rats.”

KS

So— but when you’re thinking about it, it’s because you think you might be able to fix it, or just, well, someone’s got to get in here—

MM

No—

KS

— or…

MM

—this is— it’s a good question. No, it’s a good question. I mean, because one side is all— everything I just said. One side of the argument is, McConaughey, exactly. That’s why you need to go get in there. The other side is, pfft, that’s a bag of rats, man. Don’t touch that with a 10 foot pole. There’s another— you have another lane. You have another category to have influence, and get done things you’d like to get done, and help how you think you can help, and even heal divides. Maybe it’s much better outside of politics.

KS

So do not grab the bag of rats, for example?

MM

Well, again, I’m just— I don’t— it’s part— that’s part of my measure. Is it the right time, as well? I’m not a man who comes at politics from a political background. You know, I’m— I’m more of a statesman, philosopher, folk-singing poet—

KS

Yeah, you’ve called yourself this.

MM

I don’t really talk politics. I talk people. One could say, ha! That’s why you should be in politics. That’s what it’s about. The other side is, eh, do you— is it a fixed game enough, where, like I said, you just go in and put on a bunch of Band-Aids, and four years later, they rip them off and go, [WHISTLE], all right, see you later. Glad you’re out the door.

KS

Well, I just interviewed Andrew Yang. And he was talking about the need for a third party. Do you think we need a third party, or— I don’t even know what party you’re in. Do you?

MM

I think people want a third party. And— [SIGH] We’ve got one. It doesn’t have a name right now. [CHUCKLES] And it is the majority. It is 60% of the population in America.

KS

The Armadillo Party— let’s call it that.

MM

Yeah, the— there we go! Hey, there’s already songs. Jerry Jeff Walker, I think he’s got songs already written about that.

#4: McConaughey explained his opaque policy stances by getting strangely philosophical.

KS

Why are you not doing that, letting anybody know who you’re for, who you’re against?

MM

Run for, issues, where I’m standing on this, and bills, and laws, and policies, et cetera?

KS

Yeah.

MM

(SING-SONG VOICE) On purpose. [CHUCKLES]

KS

I figured it’s on purpose.

MM

On purpose right now. Taking sides on a political issue right now, to me, precedes the discussion of something larger and much more important, like the questions we were asking a minute ago. The definition is, what the hell is politics? But you got to re— before we start saying, hey, this is where I stand, and this is where I stand, which creates, already, a divide where some of you— 50% of the people are going to come at you, let’s answer these other questions about purpose of democracy, right? What is progress? Or how about this question— do we really want to be a United States of America? And I don’t say that with arrogance or condescension. It’s a question we got to answer. What is leadership? Why is our nation’s trust level so low with our leaders, with ourselves, with each other? That’s more interesting to me, before I start hopping in the middle of politics going, well, this is where I stand here, and this is where I stand here. Everybody needs to be in the conversation to answer the questions that I was just bringing up.

#5: Swisher pressed McConaughey about Texas Republicans’ recent attacks on abortion and voting rights. Even then, he didn’t take a definitive stance.

KS:

There’s a lot of questions you’re raising here that are very important. And people want to have answers, but there’s also day to day life. You’re having Texas abortion issues there, voter—

MM

Yep.

KS

—voter suppression, or election integrity, or whatever side you’re on, you can walk down the center of the highway and not be in trouble in any way.

MM

I don’t know if you can walk down the center and not be in trouble. It can be very hard down the center. I’d say it’s the right kind of hard work. I mean, it’s— my centrist position is not necessarily— is a policy platform. It’s a common sense, relational position with respect to the left and right.

KS

Right. So whatever you say, like, if you had an opinion on the abortion bill, the battle over voting rights, SB 8, Senate Bill 1, masks in schools, vaccine mandates, immigration—

MM

Well, I can tell you about— look, this one, I will step on, because it was in the past, and I already said it.

KS

Mm-hmm.

MM

The masks. Look, Texas all over— I get it. No one likes being told what to do. We are all more afraid of the word “mandate” than we were the damn mask. And I think our pride trumped and stamped down our honor there. I think we chose privilege over principle. And this small inconvenience of the mask— small investment we’re asking everyone to have for long-term freedom, we should have taken. I would have said, mandate masks, and I said it way back when, in the very beginning— put out P.S.A.s about it. I was like, come on, we’re taking one. This is not a big deal with the masks. That one seemed easy to me, early. Yeah, now, the abortion— this new SB 8, six week abortion ban— I’m not going to come out and tell you right now on this show, here’s where I stand on abortion. We’ve been trying to figure out that, and how to play God with that situation, since the beginning. But this latest move by Texas? It’s a little bit of— feels like a back to front sort of Roe v. Wade loophole that they’re trying to get into. It’s a— feels a little juvenile in its implementation to me. Like, hey, we’ll pay for bounties if you call in and see somebody going in there. And also, you know, how it deals— and doesn’t really— isn’t responsible for rape and incest, that’s— I got a problem with that. And also, six weeks. Six weeks? If you’re saying that your discussion of abortion is even on the table to consider, six weeks does not really make that a honest consideration. So—

KS

You’re not liking this bill? The way it’s being implemented, you don’t like?

MM

Yeah. I don’t think it’s going to— not really.

KS

O.K. All right, and voting rights— how do you stand on that?

MM

Voting rights— how do I stand on that, what? What do you mean? I think—

KS

SB 1.

MM

Well, and what part of that do you mean, how do I stand on that?

KS

Meaning the Republicans’ legislation to restrict voting.

MM

Oh, to restrict the voting.

KS

Yeah.

MM

You know, I don’t know enough about that to be able to discuss the details on how I feel about that. I think it should be easier to vote. I think everyone should, if you’re an American citizen, and you’re of age, and you don’t have your criminal record, that you should be able to vote. I think that it should be, as I said, accessible to go vote. You know, but their argument— what’s the G.O.P., Republicans’ argument right now, basically against that, what I just said?

KS

People are cheating. There’s no data suggesting widespread voter fraud, just to be clear.

MM

Cheating— well, O.K., let me say this. And I know we’ve been chasing this down, and a lot of folks on the far right have been chasing these things down for a while. This little move we made, where Texas hopped out on a national level and said, you know— that was a bit of a trespass in my opinion, as well. You know, Texas is about independence. And when we did that, we stepped out on a national scale and tried to say, our brand is Republican. No, no, that’s the party that’s in office right now. Our brand is independence. And we kind of, in doing that, I think, belittled ourselves, our own identity of independence. You know, and Texas is it’s best— I like to say this— we’re here to lead, not secede.

To listen to McConaughey and Swisher’s full conversation, check out the “Sway” podcast. 

Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Contributing Writer/Podcaster | + posts
Based in his hometown of Austin, David is a political reporter and feature writer whose work has appeared in the likes of The Washington Post, the Texas Observer, and Public Health Watch. He’s also a graduate of the University of Texas, where he studied government and wrote for the school’s newspaper, The Daily Texan. In addition to providing a blend of reported pieces and opinion columns for the Texas Signal, David is a frequent guest on the outlet’s signature podcasts. You can find him playing basketball or hanging out poolside in his free time.

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