For a man with such a laid-back persona, Matthew McConaughey is actually one hell of a shape-shifter. Just when we think we have a bead on this unassuming Texas actor, he switches guises, going from the bong-powered charm of Dazed and Confused to the indie cred of Lone Star, from square-jawed Hollywood leading man in Contact to goofy romantic-comedy eye candy in films like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
But once audiences figured they had him pegged as the bare-chested king of date night, he transformed one more time — unleashing what would soon be popularly referred to as “the McConaissance.” A series of challenging adult roles that began in 2011 and culminated with a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club. According to him, though, this latest incarnation was completely accidental, prompted by the birth of his son. “I’m going to be a father for a while and I’m not going to rush into work,” he recalled thinking at the time. “Let the work come find me and just be patient, McConaughey, it’ll come.”
His latest project, Interstellar, is destined to be his biggest global success in a career that has now spanned more than 20 years. To celebrate, we’ve compiled a list of his 20 finest performances, covering both film and television. What emerges is that McConaughey hasn’t always had the best luck with projects, but he’s almost always their highlight, providing a memorable bit of color, comic relief or effortless pleasure to even the iffiest endeavor. And when he has found a great piece of material, he’s added a full-bodied humanity to his performance that’s often arresting in its simplicity. These 20 are for the time capsule.