Matthew McConaughey Takes Stock of His Life in New Memoir ‘Greenlights’

Last year, Matthew McConaughey packed his bags and headed to Fort Davis, Texas, where his story first begins (“That’s where I was conceived,” he explains). His life’s journals and notes in tow, he spent 12 days in solitude working on his memoir. From there, he intermittently took more solo trips, an estimated 52 days total, to fill up the pages until finally, he had written the book he wanted.

Throughout the nearly 300 pages of Greenlights, his debut memoir, released on October 20, there are confessions and life lessons; old photos of him and his family; and saved napkin notes and diary entries, including one written 14 days after filming on Dazed and Confused wrapped. It’s a list of 10 goals in life 21-year-old McConaughey set for himself. From becoming a father to winning an Oscar, somehow, he’s done it all. This deeply personal book is a record of that. He calls it his “love letter to life.”

The Alcalde talked to McConaughey, BS ’93, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, about his childhood, how to make the most of a bad situation, and what’s in store for the next 50 years.

What made you decide to write a book?
I’ve been putting pen to paper since I could write. I’ve been keeping a diary since I was like 14. I’ve got all these diaries in a big, huge treasure chest that I always make sure is in the main room where I go to work. I’ve always been daring myself to go open them up. I was very scared of the idea of going back down memory lane—I’m really not very comfortable looking back. I figured I’d just die with them and let someone else read my journals. If they were something worthy of putting out, they’ll put it out. But with the help of my wife, I worked up the courage to do it on my own and see what I got.

Did you recognize yourself in your old writings?
I was less surprised than I thought I was going to be—less embarrassed, less guilty. I wasn’t always comfortable with everything, but I had a better time than I thought I would. I laughed—and cried—more than I thought I would. And I’ve noticed that I remembered more than I thought I forgot.

Why did you name the book Greenlights?
Stories that felt horrific at the time turned out to be things that shaped exactly who I am today. My dad dying [in August 1992]. Anyone losing a loved one is a major red light in life. But I believe those red and yellow lights turn green. Eventually, my dad’s passing gave me more confidence, more courage. It gave me more self-determination. It gave me more sense of responsibility, of taking risks, trying to really be competent at my job. I believe problems and crises will reveal themselves as green lights in the future.

Like the year 2020.
We’re literally going through it now with COVID-19 and the cultural revolution. This is a red-light year, but we may look back at it as a banner year. This is when the work, the work that needed to be done, got started. We may look back at 2020 and go: You know, I lost loved ones but me and my family got closer, I got to know myself better. I got more spiritual. I became a better person because I was forced to look. There’s going to be a green light for us.

From doing mask PSAs to your appearance on “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” you’ve been proactive during this time.
In all of the chaos, I’m just trying to find out what are reliable facts and the best way that I can use my platform. A lot of the work I’m doing is the Minister of Culture work. I saw Emmanuel Acho’s, BS ’11, first episode and I was like: Yes, I want to have that conversation. I didn’t go on there to talk to him as Academy Award-winner Matthew McConaughey. If anything, I wanted to talk to him as Matthew McConaughey, father of three. I’m trying to just share a message that is practical and constructive and at the same time, give some aspirations and hope for people to keep their energy.

You write about wanting to make your life your favorite movie. What’s your plan for the next few decades?
It’s happening. I’m doing it right now. What I mean by that is, you know, I got rid of filters. In a movie, I’m enacting someone else’s script that they wrote, being directed by somebody, being edited by someone else, and being framed by somebody else. This book—I wrote it, directed it. That’s not the live exhibition, though. Now the challenge is being the character in my life that I want to be. Where do my heart and mind go naturally? Right now, it’s through the Minister of Culture role. I want to align the values of The University of Texas with the values of the city of Austin. I want UT to be the extended backyard of Austin. How do we make sure we’re a city that 10 years from now, we don’t look up and go, what the hell happened? I’m pretty sure I’ll act again. But boy—it’s not as vital, scary, and fun as this is.

I’m thinking about that final note of 10 goals you wrote in 1992. How does it feel to look back at that now?
If you had said to me back then that I’d be sitting where I am right now, having done and doing the things that I’m doing, I would have never been able to understand that. I forgot what those 10 goals were, probably the next day. But I didn’t forget them, did I? Somehow, subconsciously they were true to me and I kind of headed off in life forgetting that I had that destiny, those goals, written down. I had to look up 28 years later and go, “holy s–t.” It was a spiritual moment for me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photo credit: Levi, Vida, and Livingston McConaughey


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