Matthew McConaughey: Finding comfort in uncomfortable roles

Actor Matthew McConaughey, an Academy Award-nominee for his performance in "Dallas Buyers Club."
CBS News

Matthew McConaughey shared scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street," but it's his role in another film that could win him an Oscar when they ask for "the envelope, please..." next month. He talks about that and more with Lee Cowan:

The University of Texas has a lot of famous alumni, but few get a reaction quite like this:

"Are you Matthew McConaughey?  WHAT? Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!"

Matthew McConaughey was just about the age of these students when he landed his first film role … and he fell in love with acting from Day One.

"It was so much fun, and people were saying, 'Hey, you're good at this.' And I was like, 'Well, I love it!  I mean, great!  Invite me back tomorrow!'"

At 44 he's been at it more than 20 years, so he's no stranger to a red carpet. But this year is different.

"Alright, alright, alright!"

He's won a string of Best Acting awards, and been nominated for his first Oscar, all for a character most studios didn't want to touch.

"Dallas Buyers Club" is based on the life of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic cowboy-turned-crusader after he finds out he's HIV positive.

Matthew McConaughey as a man diagnosed with HIV who began smuggling non-FDA-approved medications into the U.S., in "Dallas Buyers Club." Focus Features

How many times was the film turned down? "Hundred and thirty-seven times," said McConaughey."That was the final tally."

"Why was it such a hard picture to get made?" asked Cowan.

"You read that one liner -- period piece, AIDS, drama with a homophobic hero -- those ingredients don't make anyone go, Oh I'm gonna really hear the change in my pocket. I'm gonna really be making money on that!"

His performance was one thing; McConaughey's physical transformation was another. He lost 47 pounds over four months. "I think that adds up to, like, three-and-a-half pounds a week," he said.

"You just didn't look skinny though, you really wanted to look sickly?"

"That's what I needed to do," said McConaughey. "That's where Ron was. I was measuring myself and also quietly measuring other people's reactions. And it went from, 'Oh, you're losing weight,' to, 'Oh, man, you look really skinny,'

Currently in the midst of a career renaissanc... 03:02

"And then it got to a point that people are like, 'Oh my God, are you okay?' And that's just what I needed to be for Ron."

It's not his only role people are talking about.  His new HBO mini-series, "True Detective," with Woody Harrelson, is getting attention, too.

And there there's his cameo in "The Wolf of Wall Street." McConaughey plays the chest-thumping, cocaine-snorting mentor to Leonardo DiCaprio.  

"So the chest thumping is actually a ritual for you, right?" asked Cowan.

"It's something I do to relax myself, to try to get my voice down low," he replied. "I'd be sitting there, hhhmmm hmmm hmmm, just to stay in it. Stay in my zone, and keep the rhythm."

It was DiCaprio's idea to incorporate McConaughey's rhythm into the scene.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey in "The Wolf of Wall Street." Paramount Pictures

"The last few takes, I don't think we spoke English to each other," he laughed."

The familiar drawl is all Texas, where he was born and raised.  He lives in Austin with his wife, Camilla Alves, and their three children.

He thought he'd be a lawyer, but a few years into his stint at the University of Texas, while in his fraternity house, he decided storytelling was more up his alley.

"I was the only fraternity guy in film school, maybe ever at that point," McConaughey said. "Maybe still."

He got his first shot not far from his frat house, when he landed the part of stoner David Wooderson in "Dazed and Confused."

"That's what I love about these high school girls, man: I get older, they stay the same age!"

Director Richard Linklater says he saw something in McConaughey right away: "I saw a great actor, someone who could just take a character and completely go into that character."

He put him in his very first scene in a parking lot at the Top Notch Drive-in:

"Alright, alright, alright!"

"And boy, that night changed the whole production," said Linklater. "From then on, I heard crew, the grip kinda going, 'Alright, alright, alright!' It's like when the player on the team makes a great play and the whole team goes in that direction. That's what we did from this moment on."

But during production McConaughey's father died unexpectedly.