Matthew McConaughey explains how time off actually helped relaunch his career


Matthew McConaughey speaks onstage during HISTORYTalks Leadership & Legacy presented by HISTORY at Carnegie Hall on February 29, 2020 in New York City.

Noam Galai | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey has said that taking time off from Hollywood, in what he called an “unbranding phase,” actually helped revitalize his career. 

McConaughey was speaking on Tuesday at the 2021 CogX conference about life lessons, a major focus of his memoir “Greenlights,” which was published last year. 

In the 2000s, McConaughey had become known for starring in romantic comedies but after the birth of his child, the actor suggested his work was no longer challenging him enough. 

It was then that McConaughey decided to take a two-year break, which he called an “unbranding phase,” explaining that his absence in Hollywood actually attracted calls for alternative dramatic roles. McConaughey went on to win an Oscar for Best Actor in 2014 for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” 

Taking that time out was a “big risk,” McConaughey said. 

“Trust me, I had the last six months before I got that phone call to come back to work in dramas — I did not know if I was ever going to work in Hollywood again,” he said. 

Traffic light events

McConaughey also discussed how the death of his father, James Donald McConaughey, just days into working on his first acting job in the movie “Dazed and Confused” had shaped his approach to his work.

He said that dealing with the loss of his father at the same time his career took off “was challenging but it was so incredibly grounding and that’s what I mean when I say you sober up after you lose a loved one.”

“I think it helped me do a better job because I was more sober going about it,” he added. 

McConaughey used a traffic light analogy in his book to show what he had learned from these difficult periods — green light events were said to represent periods of success, while yellow and red light events reflected more challenging times. 

McConaughey said he noticed that “we love the green lights, they say ‘go proceed, more please, atta-boy, way to go’ — they’re approval, affirmation.”

Yellow and red lights, on the other hand, can be an ”interruption, they can be an intervention, they slow us down or stop our flow.”

McConaughey said he believed that those more challenging periods “have a lesson in them we’re supposed to learn and when we learn the lessons in them, that makes them green lights.”  

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