Keen watchers of what New Yorker magazine first dubbed ‘The McConaissance’ – Matthew McConaughey’s remarkable rise from rent-a-stomach rom-com journeyman to the year’s most critically lauded actor – will have noticed the same three words crop up time and time again.
The Texan’s catchphrase – “Alright, alright, alright” – slipped into both his BAFTA and Oscars acceptance speech, which may have confused anyone unfamiliar with his earlier work (or just wrong-footed by unusual choice of hero).
McConaughey’s character was the charismatic if creepy David Wooderson, a man in his early 20s unable (or unwilling) to move on from his student years (“that’s what I love about these High School girls: I get older and they just stay that same age…” goes one of his more memorable quotes).
McConaughey managed to inject just enough decency into the archetypal sleaze ball to make him a minor cult hero, and given the spate of dreadful films he was to make afterwards, it still stands as the clearest early sign of the talent he’s now being fêted for. It’s also where the catch phrase – his own unscripted addition to the dialogue – first appeared.
McConaughey has adopted it as his own ever since, never more so, curiously, than this year. Perhaps the most remarkable nod to “Alright, alright, alright” in 2014 came in True Detective, the hard-boiled crime thriller packed with terse dialogue that looks sure to cap The McConaissance with an Emmy nomination later this year. (Don’t worry, no plot spoilers to follow).
In one of the most emotionally charged scenes of the whole series, McConaughey audaciously slips in an echo of his catchphrase, with the line: “I said Darkness: 'yeah, yeah'”. The cadence feels half a beat off, more Wooderson than Detective Rust Cohle – a little ray of good time Texan sunshine peeking through the cracks of this serial killer-chasing nihilist as he reflects on death.
So why does McConaughey, in the midst of his rehabilitation as one of the great actor of his generation, keep reviving this nonsensical sentence?
On one hand, it’s evidence of the actor’s commercial savvy. Since the Oscars speech, McConaughey has launched a line of t-shirts bearing the words “Alright, alright, alright” that will be sold, partly to raise cash for school fitness programs.
It’s also, of course, an expression of the same natural, breezy Southern sense of humour that paved the way for The Wedding Planner, How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days and various other vehicles for the McMonaughey charm in the early '00s.
There is another reason, though. While most actors basking in their newfound status as a ‘serious actor’ would rather do anything than draw attention to their origins in a stoner comedy, McMonaughey seems a man with a well developed appreciation of fate, and the ‘journey of self-actualisation’ that famous people – Hollywood actors in particular – seem to hold so dear.
During a recent interview on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, McConaughey explains how, riding in a car on the way to film his first scene in Dazed and Confused and feeling nervous, he came up with the ‘Alright, alright, alright’ catchphrase for Wooderson.
It’s great piece of uniquely McConaughasian logic, and leaves you in no doubt that the idea of the very first words he ever spoke on film returning as the final words of his first Oscars acceptance speech 20 years later would have made that all-conquering grin wider than ever.
A grateful nod to his past and a wry acknowledgement of how far he’s come, or as Wooderson would put it: “livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N.”