Matthew McConaughey speaks on stage during HISTORYTalks Leadership & Legacy presented by HISTORY at Carnegie Hall on February 29, 2020 in New York City.
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Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey said that taking a break from Hollywood, what he called what he called an “unbranding” phase, actually helped revitalize his career.
McConaughey spoke on Tuesday at the 2021 CogX Conference on Lessons for Life, a focus of his memoir “Greenlights,” published last year.
By the 2000s, McConaughey had become known for his role in romantic comedies, but after the birth of his child, the actor suggested that his work no longer challenged him enough.
It was at this point that McConaughey decided to take what he called the “unbranding phase” for a two-year hiatus, explaining that his absence from Hollywood actually sparked calls for alternative dramatic roles. McConaughey won an Oscar for Best Actor in 2014 for his performance at the Dallas Buyers Club.
Taking this time out is “a big risk,” said McConaughey.
“Trust me, I had the last six months before I got that call to work in drama again – I didn’t know if I would ever work in Hollywood again,” he said.
Traffic light events
McConaughey also talked about how the death of his father, James Donald McConaughey, just days after his first acting role in “Dazed and Confused” had shaped his approach to his work.
He said that dealing with the loss of his father at the same time as his career was “challenging, but it was so incredibly grounding and that’s what I mean when I say you’re sober after losing a loved one.”
“I think it helped me do a better job because I was more sober,” he added.
McConaughey used a traffic light analogy in his book to show what he had learned from those troubled times – green light events were supposed to represent periods of success, while yellow and red light events were supposed to reflect more difficult times.
McConaughey said he noticed that “we love the green lights, they say ‘go on, please more, atta-boy, keep it up’ – they are approval, affirmation.”
Yellow and red lights, on the other hand, can be “an interruption, they can interfere, they slow us down or stop our flow”.
McConaughey said he believes these more difficult phases “have a lesson in them to learn, and if we learn the lessons from them it will give the green light.”