On top of being an acclaimed actor (McConaughey won an Oscar in 2014 for his role as AIDS activist Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club) and producer (he starred in and produced the series True Detective), he empowers at-risk high school students with his just keep livin Foundation.
He also teaches a film class at the University of Texas (where he serves as the school’s grandly titled “Minister of Culture”) and is co-creator of his favourite bourbon, Wild Turkey Longbranch.
Despite his many accomplishments, McConaughey readily admits his greatest adventure to date is fatherhood.
“The only thing I ever knew I wanted to be was a father,” McConaughey – who grew up in Uvalde, Texas – told Who’s sister publication PEOPLE.
“And it’s remained the pinnacle for me. Being a dad was always my only dream.”
That dream came true in July 2008 when he and his Brazilian wife, Camila Alves, 38, welcomed son Levi, 12, followed by daughter Vida, 10, and son Livingston, 7.
McConaughey and Alves, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, met at a bar 14 years ago (the couple tied the knot at their home in 2012). It was love at first sight for the actor.
“Since that evening I have not wanted to spend time with any other woman, definitely have not wanted to sleep with anyone else. I’ve not wanted to have children with anyone else other than her … we have a love that we never question.”
Here, the star opens up about marriage, fame and his life-changing year Down Under…
What was it like reading your journals and revisiting those moments?
Very intimidating at first; it’s probably why I didn’t go and write something 15 years ago. I’ve had this treasure chest of diaries that I’ve been keeping wrapped up in these ziplocked bags and I travel with them.
I always have them next to my proverbial office. I kept saying, “I’m going to look in there one day,” and I never did do it and years went by. Then finally a couple of years ago, I got the courage to open them up and my wife said, “Get out of here! Take the diaries and don’t come back until you’ve got something.”
So I went away and I sat down with them. I ended up having some of the best times I’ve ever had in my life with them.
You don’t shy away from anything in the book. Were you nervous about anyone reading it?
I ran it by my mum and she said, “While everything you said about me and your father was true, I kind of wish you’d added more stories in there about when our relationship was really loving and affectionate.” I’ve always wondered throughout my life, when someone asks about the love in my family, why I love telling these stories of discipline and they often have violence in them.
I think the reason I love telling those stories is that no matter how violent the situation was or how ugly the situation seemed, or how severe the discipline, it never even got close to puncturing this bubble of love around the family that we just knew inherently was there and was true. My parents got divorced twice and got married three times to each other. The love in our family was always going to win.
You refer to the book as a playbook of all your adventures. What’s been your greatest one so far?
[Fatherhood] and it’s the only thing I ever knew I wanted to be. It’s a new adventure every single day because the kids are seeing everything for the very first time. It’s a constant balance of how much to teach them and how much you let them go experience it, to learn it and understand it.
While they’re all our children, they’re very different and unique. They handle the same situation in different ways because that’s who they are. I’m trying to make sure I put in front of them more things they love to do and remove things that might harm them, but not everything. I want to make sure they still get their bumps and bruises.
How have your parents influenced your parenting style?
We’re pretty clear on the values that we have in our family and I got that from my mum and dad. And also what it is that you value. For instance, a kid goes to one of my sons, “I bet you live in a big house because your dad is famous.” Well, we do live in a nice house but we made sure my son understands I’m famous – and that fame has helped buy this house – because I’ve worked hard to be good at what I do.
Here’s a great example, I won the Academy Award for Best Actor for 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club and my kids ask, “What did you get that trophy for?” And I go, “Remember a year and a half ago when I was working every day and you’d wake up and I’d already be at work? You said I looked like a giraffe [McConaughey lost over 20kg for the role]. Well, after going to work early and working hard every day, a year and a half later my peers deemed that excellent work and gave me a trophy for it.”
That helped them learn about delayed gratification. You can do something today that can reward yourself tomorrow – in relationships, in your work and in what you value with yourself.
What do you think is the secret to a successful marriage?
Respect, a sense of humour and communication. We’re raising three children right now and you can become consumed with that because they need you. Your husband or wife doesn’t really need you, he/she will be OK and all of a sudden it’s 10 pm after the third day in a row and they ask, “How are you doing?” And you’re like, “Whoa, where did the day go? We haven’t checked in.”
She’s very good at reminding me to remember we’re first. We made them; they wouldn’t be here without us. That’s one of the challenges of raising kids: to remember the best example you can really give your children for how to be is to love their mother and for their mother to love their father, and for them to see that.
You spent a year in Australia in 1988 as an exchange student (he lived in Warnervale, NSW). What did you learn during that time?
That year was the most important year of my life; it was the year I found my identity. I was forced to look inward. I was in a strange land, in a strange time.
I had just turned 18 or 19 years old and I didn’t have everything I could rely on back in America. I didn’t have my parents, my car, my girlfriend, my money, my job, my buddies – none of those things. I was forced to work it out myself and if I hadn’t been forced to do that, I don’t think I’d be sitting here talking to you with the life I have now.
I learned to have a really thick skin and get a great sense of humour, which is a typical Australian thing – thick skin and have a good sense of humour; be able to laugh at others but also laugh at yourself.
You say in your book that stepping in s--t is inevitable and you either see it as good luck or figure out how to do it less …
I’ve dealt with my own guilt through life and overall I’ve been thankful for that because it means I give a damn. If you have some guilt, it means you have some measurement over who it is you want to be and who it is you don’t want to be, what you want to do again and what you don’t want to do again and there’s value in that.
I also talk about stress and you’ve got to have some stress – it means you give a damn! It’s life – it’s a rodeo! Can we learn to forgive ourselves better sometimes? Yes. But I don’t want to forgive myself for everything.
What’s the best advice you want to pass onto your children?
What we think is important, but how we think is even more important. And to ask ourselves, “What’s truly valuable?” Don’t listen to what society tells us is valuable all the time. Money and fame are great but finding something you love that you’re really good at, that’s the daily value. Fame is a fleeting thing; it’s not going to make someone happy.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey (Hachette, $32.99) is available from your favourite bookshop, in-store or online. It’s also available as an ebook and an audiobook.