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PARK CITY - In Jeff Nichols' "Mud," Matthew McConaughey tackles a truly charismatic spirit. A man of virtues, many of them at odds with themselves, the eponymous misfit is running from a dark, complex past and toward a brighter, idealized future in the film. He is a cauldron of opportunity for any actor, and McConaughey says that was very much what endeared him to Nichols' script in the first place.
In fact, Nichols had begun the project years ago in film school and had the actor in mind since day one. McConaughey smiles with pearly whites when asked about that fact. "I remember having a moment of going, 'Oh, I've been doing this acting thing for a while,'" the actor says, "'long enough where someone could have me in mind for an original script and write something. I like that.' And it was a side of me that I haven't ever really played. The guy's an adolescent. It's the dreamer side. I think we've all got it in us."
Indeed, Mud was a character harkening back to a certain time, "back to before you know better, and the lengths a man will go for love," McConaughey says. "If Mud ever came down to Earth and got pragmatic and said, 'Why am I chasing this girl,' if he ever had that sit-down, I think he'd die. It would be the end of him."
For some context, and at the risk of spoiling the story's measured, storybook unfolding, Mud is a character chasing his first love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), in the film. He's on the run after defending her honor in a deadly fashion, yet it's not so simple as that. Mud and Juniper have a long and complicated history, and anyone who has ever drifted apart and found his or her way back to a lover will get the dynamic immediately. That romance is at the heart of the story's themes, as Mud serves as a conduit for young Ellis (Tye Sheridan) in the film, a boy coming of age in a deteriorating family environment, desperate for truth in the fairytale ideal Mud preaches.
"Mud lives up in the clouds," McConaughey says. "He lives on that dream. He lives in that romanticism. He's an aristocrat of the heart, a prince of the heart…Ellis is getting bashed in the head with the reality about love. And here's this guy he runs into who is a living example, and a spoken example, saying, 'No, don't give up on the dream, man. Don't take the Kool-aid and get logical and realistic about this. Don't get pragmatic, man. Don't go above the shoulders on this thing. Don't try and make sense of it. It's love, man. Stick with your heart on it. And Mud's a beautiful, but some could argue sad, case, that he's going to do this the rest of his life."
On the contradictory nature of the character, Mud is marked by disgrace and nobility in the film, wisdom and lies. Regarding the latter, McConaughey notes that maybe there often isn't much of a demarkation between the two. "With Mud," he says, "if it ain't true, it ought to be. Is he full of shit? Sure, maybe. I don't know. Who's to say? But another thing about him that I kind of tapped into is this guy has stepped in shit so often and for so long he's come to see it as a God damn good luck charm. He's come to see it as like, 'Well, it must be a sign.' He's getting screwed over so often, he's chosen to go, 'That's a good luck thing.' And again, there's the dreamer. Kids do that after a while, too. His logic is astral."